By Ubaid Sahil
The Northern region of Pakistan is renowned for its breathtaking beauty, adventurous routes, snow-capped peaks, abundant wildlife, and welcoming indigenous communities. This region encompasses Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, and the upper regions of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Its awe-inspiring landscapes are often compared to the Swiss Alps, and it is home to some of the world’s highest peaks, including K-2, Nanga Parbat, and Broad Peak. Visitors exploring Northern Pakistan often consider it one of the world’s most thrilling regions, offering a plethora of exciting routes and activities. The area is rich in unique and indigenous cultures, with some of the world’s most distinctive yet endangered languages, making it one of the most multilingual regions globally. The freshwater from melting glaciers forms spectacular alpine rivers that wind through the valleys. The unique wildlife in this region attracts thousands of visitors annually. Let’s take a closer look at the splendid facets of Northern Pakistan to truly appreciate its beauty.
Northern Pakistan is home to diverse cultures and ethnicities. The mountain-dwelling communities of this region follow unique cultural practices. People living in the upper mountains reside in huts, herding their cattle across pastures. They are the sole inhabitants of these pastures and live in harmony with their livestock. Their simple lifestyle revolves around peace and simplicity. They are exceptionally hospitable, often offering tourists fresh milk, cheese, lassi, and other dairy products. From weddings to funerals, every ceremony is distinctive. During weddings, the entire village joins the family in celebration, while during funerals, the community rallies around the grieving family to offer support. Their kindness extends to everyone. Some lead remarkable lives, spending the entire year traveling with their cattle from the mountainous pastures to the vast plains of Punjab and other regions, adapting to the changing seasons. In the arrival of spring and late autumn, these nomadic people can often be seen traveling along the main highways and roads, transitioning from the mountains to the plains or vice versa.
Domestication of animals is common in this region, where cattle, horses, donkeys, goats, sheep, and Desi chickens are raised. Additionally, every mountainous household traditionally maintains a dog for security purposes. During the day, these animals are cared for as integral members of the family and are crucial for daily life. A variety of dairy products such as milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, and lassi are produced from these animals. Horses and donkeys play a crucial role in transporting goods across the rugged mountain terrain, while Desi chickens provide a steady supply of fresh eggs. The responsibility of caring for these domestic animals varies across regions, with some assigning this duty to men and others to women. These animals are also integral to agriculture in the region. The agricultural landscape includes the cultivation of crops like wheat, barley, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cauliflower, turnips, peas, beans, as well as a wide array of fruits including apples, pears, cherries, apricots, nuts, grapes, berries, almonds, persimmons, figs, and plums. Some of these fruits are dried and distributed throughout the country, ensuring a year-round supply. The majority of their daily food comes from their own cultivation of vegetables, including potatoes, peas, tomatoes, beans, and various others.
The winter season arrives here with extreme cold and snowfall. In some areas, snow blankets the land for up to 12 months of the year. Despite the harsh conditions, these remote regions are home to indigenous people of the North who share their habitat with Markhors, snow leopards, bears, and Ibexes. To combat the extreme cold and snowfall, the locals rely on warm houses and insulated clothing. Typical homes are equipped with fire braziers and stoves, and wood for heating is collected and stored throughout the year. Additionally, they ensure a heated environment for their livestock during the snowy months. Alongside wood, grass for the animals is gathered and stored during the summer for winter sustenance. In these remote areas, power supply and network connections often face disruptions due to heavy snowfall, prompting the use of traditional lighting methods. The winter season is the peak period for tourists to visit Northern Pakistan. The region’s economy heavily relies on the tourism sector, attracting thousands of visitors annually from across the country. Tourists can partake in snowboarding, skiing, camping, hiking, trekking, climbing, ice skating, and sledding, creating lasting memories.
The ethnic diversity of this region is remarkable, with numerous ethnicities calling it their home. From the famous Kalash ethnic group to the multilingual and multicultural Dardic and Kohistani cultures, the Northern region truly presents a mosaic of mountainous cultures. Various festivals are celebrated on different occasions to represent this cultural diversity. Women play a crucial role in the lives of the Northerners. The exquisite handicrafts made by Northern women are sold nationwide, and they also preserve fruits for the winter. Marriages typically occur at a very young age, often below the age of 20. Some marriages happen uniquely, with small children being betrothed to each other for a lifetime from their childhood. When they reach adulthood, their marriages are held at a very young age. This way, marriages and bonds are anticipated for years.
The Himalayas, Karakoram, Hindu Kush, and Pamir mountain ranges offer spectacular travel destinations, including the Hunza Valley, Baltoro Glacier, Deosai National Park, Astore Valley, Chitral Valley, Shimshal Valley, Swat Valley, Skardu, Fairy Meadows, Rama Meadows, Concordia, and the base camps of K2, Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak, and many other high-altitude peaks. The awe-inspiring beauty of these mountains represents Pakistan on the international stage, drawing thousands of foreign visitors annually.
Northern Pakistan is currently facing significant challenges, with the most notable being cultural and linguistic colonization. The unique and indigenous cultures and languages of these remote regions are under threat from larger cultures and languages, making them the most threatened communities in Pakistan. Other challenges include economic issues, inadequate infrastructure, and climate change-related concerns.
Ubaid Sahil is a student and writer from Swat Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com