The irrigation water which sustains agriculture in Baltistan ( one of the main regions of northern Pakistan with 12 of the 30 highest recorded peaks in the world !) comes almost entirely from the melting of the glaciers. For the local people, glaciers are essential to their survival; the body of folklore which has grown up around these life-giving sources of water is fascinating. Glaciers are believed to be either male or female, their gender influencing the fertility of the land they irrigate, as well as the characteristics of the people who cultivate the fields. Thus male glaciers are believed to produce higher yields and a more virile male population, but less attractive women. Female glaciers meanwhile produce lower yields, less “manly” men, but particularly beautiful women. Not surprisingly, there is little or no consensus between villages as to the gender of the relevent glaciers.
More importantly, the people of Baltistan believe that they can induce glaciers to “mate” and produce offspring, thus creating new sources of irrigation water. First a suitable site for the new glacier has to be found. Then large chunks from two glaciers, one male and one female, are carried to the spot. And if conditions are right, the new glacier gains a momentum of its own after around 7 years, thereafter providing a permanent source of irrigation water.
This tradition seems to be dying out with no new glaciers having been created in the last 40 years. Nevertheless, it’s a testament of the ingenuity of the Baltistani people in the face of their harsh environment.