baltistan style testua / text by: simon elias itzulpena / traslation by: aritz branton argazkiak / photos by: pedro
Hushe is a mountain village located in the region of Baltistan, one of several parts of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan. At first sight buildings are hardly visible in the surroundings. One thousand people, blending in with the ochre coloured landscape, live here. It is a stark and impressive location, which both money and electricity seem unable to access. Yet in the village of Karakorum style is every bit as important as it is at Broadway Market brunchtime.

According to José Gaspar Birlanga, professor of Aesthetics, “Fashion’s very nature is narrative”. A longer or tighter fitting salwar kamish (the traditional dress worn by both Pakistani men and women), a felt cap studiously placed a moustache shaped into the most implausible forms tell the
tale of a people who crossed the mountains from Tibet and established themselves in one of the most inhospitable regions on Earth.

Api Dablat is the oldest woman in this hamlet, located at an altitude of almost 10,000 feet and surrounded by snowy peaks. Different sources claim
she is between 100 and 125 years old. As we enter the adobe family dwelling we find her sleeping on the ground in foetal position. Her grandson wakes
her up:“Api, Api, these men from abroad have come to see you.” Resting her head on one hand and smiling so broadly, which lets us see her gums in detail, she answers: “Excuse me for not getting up.”

Hassan is her grandson; he wears a brown salwar kamish which allows him to blend in with the adobe buildings. Hassan has lost two of the fingers of his right hand due to frostbite. When tourists ask him how the amputations actually happened, he answers sarcastically:“I have a huge finger-eating Muslim dog.”

Yasin is a shirdar, a porter boss. His tasks range from hiring and weighing luggage to controlling the logistics of the hundreds of loads mountain expeditions have to carry. Yasin is from Shigar, one of Baltistan’s most fertile valleys, and he also has his own style. His long moustache is combed in waves.

Fashion, as the famous sociologist Georg Simmel once said, “is the child of thought and thoughtlessness”. It is a profoundly human phenomenon that can be found anywhere around the world. Manssur is from the valley of Hunza, but every summer he works in the mountains of Baltistan as a guide for trekking groups. His elegance has made him famous. Even in the most difficult passes, at almost 16,500 feet, he wears immaculate shirts and pleated trousers. He shaves every day and sports a large moustache. Manssur is known as the dandy of the Karakorum.“Style is of the essence, it reflects your personality, the presence with which you gain or lose respect”, he states while rolling a hashish cigarette, the aroma of which he included in his wardrobe years ago.

The message of these men and women living in one of the most remote regions of the world is that style has nothing to do with money. Style is a facial expression or a detail pinned onto a jacket, such as Apo Ali’s metal bird, hardly visible beneath his long beard. Style is the way one sits, speaks or watches. Two men with long moustaches holding hands have plenty of style. So does a chewing-gum wrapper on a cap. Elegance is the free and distinguished expression of being, and it stands out just as much in Berlin or New York as in Baltistan. Nonetheless, the grace of Balti shepherds with flowers in their caps is far removed from the boulevards of capital.