ISLAMABAD: Gilgit Baltistan’s sports and tourism minister Raja Nasir Ali Khan has promised to turn a traditional winter festival in the region, which kicked off in Ghanche district on Saturday, into a national event from next year by inviting people from other parts of the country.
The three-day Shyok Winter Festival, named after a river that meanders through the area, has been organized by the district administration in collaboration with the Canadian High Commission and Aga Khan Rural Support Program.
The festivities have attracted hundreds of people who are interested in watching cultural and traditional games of Gilgit Baltistan along with ice hockey which has been introduced in the area for the first time.
“With this festival, a series of winter sports [will continue across] Gilgit Baltistan,” the minister told Arab News over the phone. “Similar festivals are also planned in Ghizer, Hunza, Skardu, Astore and Diamer this year.”
“Next year,” he continued, “we will arrange a national level winter festival to which other provinces will also be invited.”
Known for its picturesque landscapes, Gilgit Baltistan is a mountainous area in Pakistan’s northern region that borders China and Afghanistan. It is among the country’s most popular tourism destinations and was listed by Forbes among ten “coolest places” to visit in 2018.
According to the sports and tourism minister, nearly two million local and international backpackers attended various festivities in the area last year while more than 155 high-altitude climbers summited the world’s second tallest mountain, K2, which is also located in the region.
“We want to see tourists coming to GB in winter as well,” he said. “That’s why we are promoting winter activities here and want to keep the area open for tourists [throughout the year].”
Addressing the inauguration ceremony of the festival, Canadian High Commissioner to Pakistan Leslie Scanlon highlighted Gilgit Baltistan’s potential to generate more tourism by arranging such activities.
“While I recognize we are in a world-famous region for rock climbing, trekking and mount climbing, I hope that Gilgit Baltistan will also become a world-famous region for ice hockey for boys and girls and men and women,” she said.
Rana Haider Tahir, assistant commissioner in Ghanche district, said the event had a major scope for the development of the area.
“This festival is a celebration of all cultures in Baltistan region, especially the valley situated across the Shyok River,” he told Arab News over the phone.
He informed the authorities were also going to inaugurate a museum along with an information technology park and school for people with disabilities during the three-day event.