Balochistan is the largest of the four provinces of Pakistan spreading over an area of 347,190 Sq km., constituting 44 percent of the total area of Pakistan. As compared to that of other provinces, Balochistan has clustered population in smallest proportions. The province has a diverse landscape from the 760 km long southern coastal line through the deserts and plains to the hilly ranges.
Balochistan has a strategic location bridging the Middle East and southwest Asia to central Asia and South Asia. The province has the closest oceanic frontage for the landlocked countries of central Asia. It makes up the southwest of Pakistan bordering Iran to the west and Afghanistan to the north, the Arabian Sea to the south, Karachi to the east, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the northeast.
Balochistan’s 6 divisions subdivided into 34 districts/cities. Major cities of the province include Quetta, the capital city; Gwadar, the port city, Ziarat, the land of Junipers; Turbat, the historical city; Kalat, the former kingdom of the Khan of Kalat; Hinglaj, the sacred place of Hindus; Hub, the town bordering Karachi; Chaman, northwestern town bordering Afghanistan; Pishin, a lush green agriculture town; Sibi, the city of famous Bolan pass; and Taftan, the town bordering with and accessible from Iran.
Balochistan has an exciting history tracing as far back 9000 years Mehergar civilization. The unique human settlements unearthed from the site prominently reveal a distinct shift from Stone Age hunters & gatherers to a settled life society for the first time in human history. Major features of the Mehergarh civilization included the domestication of animals, cultivation of plants, and pottery making. However, before the birth of Christ, the region had trade links with the then Babylonia.
History had it that Alexander the great passed through Balochistan in 325 B. C. and had an encounter with the Sibia tribe of Balochistan. However, following his death, Balochistan came under the rule of Seleucus Nicator whose descendants lost power to the Graeco-Bactrians. Great conquerors and warriors including Macedonians, Arabs, Ghaznavids, Mongols, and Mughals have all marched and left their imprint in Balochistan in the past.
The arrival of Muhammad Bin Qasim in 712 A.D. established the Muslim rule in the region. Mehmood Ghaznavi came to Balochistan in the 11th century. Ghorids succeeded the Ghaznivids and in 1219 it was annexed to the dominion of Sultan Mohammad Khan of Khwarizm (Khiva). The Mongols landed in the year 1223 in the south of Makran and later in 1595, it became a part of the Mughal Empire. However, later Nadir Shah of Persia captured it. But Ahmed Shah Durrani of Afghanistan established his rule in 1747 before the Khanate of Kalat emerged in 1758 when Nasir Khan-I revolted against the Afghans.
The two major Afghan wars between 1839 and 1879 helped the British to consolidate their power in Balochistan right before the arrival of Muslim rule. The British government negotiated a number of treaties with the Khan of Kalat during 1854 to 1901through the chief strategist and architect of British strategy Sir Robert Sandeman, who later became Chief Commissioner of Balochistan. The British Government gained control over the leased territory of Chaghi, Bolan Pass, Quetta, and other areas through these treaties. Other princely states including Makran, Kharan, Lasbela and Kalat state acceded to Pakistan following 1947. Balochistan was merged into one unit of West Pakistan in 1955 but following the dissolution of one-Unit, the province emerged as one of the four new provinces of Pakistan.
Culture and Heritage
Balochistan province is populated by a tribal society of nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes and clans. Despite its scarce population, Balochistan has an uncommon racial and tribal diversity. Major tribes include Baloch, Pashtoon, and Brahvi and speak their respective language, usually with an additional language or two fluently. The Baloch originally are believed to have come from Arabia or Asia Minor can be further divided into the Sulemani and Mekrani. All these major tribes are further subdivided into sub-tribes. Each tribe is headed by a Sardar (Chieftain) and each sub-tribe is headed by a Malik, Takari, or Mir.
The Balochi speaking tribes include Rind, Lashar, Marri, Jamot, Ahmedzai, Bugti Domki, Magsi, Kenazai, Khosa, Rakhshani, Dashti, Umrani, Nosherwani, Gichki, Buledi, Notazai, Sanjarani, Meerwani, Zahrozai, langove, kenazai, and Khitai. Among the eighteen major Baloch tribes, the principal ones are Bugtis and Marris settled in the ramparts of the Sulemania.
The Pashtoon tribes include Kakar, Ghilzai Tareen, Mandokhel, Sherani, Luni, Kasi, and Achakzai.
Brahvi speaking tribe include Raisani, Shahwani, Sumulani, Sarparrah, Bangulzai, Mohammad Shahi, Lehri, Bezenjo, Mohammad Hasni, Zehri , Sarparrah, Mengal, Kurd,Sasoli, Satakzai, Lango, Rodeni, Kalmati, Jattak, Yagazehi and Qambarani.
Men in all three tribes (Balochi, Pashtoon, and Brahvi) of Balochistan wear the same dress with slight dissimilarities. The traditional dress constitutes Turban, a common headwear, wide loose trouser (shalwar) and knee-long shirt (Qameez) of different colors. Woman wear typical shirt having embroidery work on usually with embedded small round mirror pieces having a big pocket in front. To cover up, long rectangular scarf (Dopatta or Chaddar) piece of cloth cascading down the shoulders, are used.
Although the cultural landscape of Balochistan portrays various ethnic groups and people speak different languages yet there is a similarity in their literature, beliefs, moral order and customs based on Islam which provides a strong foundation for unity and common social order.
Arts & Craft
Balochistan has a long and a rich tradition of producing handicrafts and are known all over the world for unique and intricate production of handicrafts including hand-made Balochi shoes, fine mirror work, embroidery, marble work, and fine quality precious stones. Their needlework, especially “Kowchik” stitching, “Jok” and “Moshamka” using with various colors and shades is unique to different parts of the province. Women particularly are skilled at embroidery and their skills usually are reflected in their traditional costumes, caps, purses, belts, tablecloths, cushions, wall hangings etc with elaborated geometric and abstract designs. Balochi nomadic tribes have alluring arts and crafts famous for their design, decor, and durability.
Historically free from foreign invasion and influence, the Balochi culture retains a unique identity in the history of mankind. Its cultural heritage dates as far back as to Stone Age and inherits relics in the form of stone tools, rock carvings, and engravings to date. Since the hunting and gathering era people came and left their distinct cultural heritage in the region and the legacy continued.
People are hospitable, sincere in dealings, and welcoming with open arms. The lifestyle, particularly the dress code and traditions are very alluring and distinct from that of other communities. Balochi handicrafts are very famous that included woolen items, rugs, leather and metalwork, jewelry, musical instruments, baskets, and ropes. Likewise, gold ornaments such as necklaces and bracelets are an important aspect of Baloch women’s traditions. The most favored items of women’s jewelry are dorr; heavy earrings fastened to the head with gold chains and also a gold brooch (Tasni) made in different shapes and sizes by local jewelers and is used to fasten the two parts of the dress together over the chest.
Balochi people have a rich traditional melodious culture. The tradition of a Baloch mother singing lullabies to her children has played an important role in the transfer of knowledge from generation to generation since ancient times. Folk songs and tribal poems are sung all over the country and famous folk dances including Attan, Chap, Lewa, and jaffarki and considered the identity of the people. Balochi people annually on March 2 with festivities to celebrate their rich culture and history
There are three major provincial languages spoken in Balochistan – Balochi, Pashtu and Brahvi. The Balochi language is an ancient language with its roots tracing back to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European family. It has resemblance with languages such as Sanskrit, Avesta, Old Persian, and Phalavi, which are either at the verge of extinction or considered to be as dead languages. Most of the people living in the cities and towns usually understand and speak more than two local languages. In addition to local languages, the majority of the population understands and speaks Urdu, the national language, while English is the source of communication in the literate fraternity and in official correspondences. Seraiki and Sindhi are the languages spoken in Kachhi and Sibi districts of Balochistan. Quetta, the capital city, is the melting pot of all linguistic groups accommodates not only Urdu, Balochi, Pashtu, Brahvi and Sindhi speaking people but Darri and Persian speaking ones as well. Moreover, Dehwar tribe of Sarawan sub-division in Kalat also speaks a language derived from Persian.
Tracing its roots back to the ancient Mehergar civilization, the Sibi festival is one of the major attractions drawing tourists every year which is characterized by folk music performance, cultural dances, handicraft stalls, cattle shows and a number of other amusing activities. Likewise, Buzkashi is a peculiar festival showing velour of Balochi people on horse-back by two teams using unique skills of snatching a goat from each other.
The province of Balochistan is endowed with tremendous tourist attractions. Its scenic beauty is characterized by a diverse landscape from the golden beaches at the Arabian Sea to the hills of Sulaiman Range. The land is rich in marine life, mud eruption volcanoes, natural beauty, sacred places, archaeological sites, caves, historic monuments, hiking trails, passes and highways, cultural heritage, fruit orchards, flora & fauna, and mineral deposits. Balochistan has the second largest Juniper Forest in the world in Ziarat, Zarghhon and Harboi hills.
Balochistan is the largest and the richest province blessed with natural resources. Its economy is largely based upon the production of natural gas, coal, and other variety of minerals. Though the province remained largely underdeveloped during the past, several major development projects including the construction of a new deep sea port at the strategically important town of Gwadar, and the Gwadar International airport are underway which are believed to bring about tremendous economic gains in near future. The port is projected to be the hub of an energy and trade corridor to and from China and the Central Asian republics.
The upper highlands of Balochistan are very cold in winters and warm in summers while lower highlands vary from extremely cold in the north to mild conditions near Makran coast. Summers are usually hot and dry with temperatures rising as high as 120 degrees F (50 degrees C). Winters are mild in the plain areas usually temperature remaining above freezing point. Its desert areas are hot and arid with strong windstorms sometimes making these areas quite inhospitable.
Balochistan is extremely arid with average annual precipitation of 2 to 20 inches (50 to 500 mm). Even its wettest hilly areas receive 8 to 20 inches (200 to 500 mm) of rain annually while the western deserts receive 1 to 2 inches (25 to 50mm). However, when it rains, it comes in sudden bursts and causes temperatures to vary enormously. Evaporation rates are higher than the precipitation and generally, vary from 72 to 76 inches (1830 1930 mm) per annum.
Best time to visit
Spring (March-May) and autumn (Sep-Nov) with haze-free pleasant days and cool nights are the ideal times to visit Balochistan. Spring is characterized by green fields full of wildflowers while in autumn mostly orchards filled with ripe fruits and trees expressing themselves in diverse colors. Summers are always very hot in major cities with the temperature hitting as high as 52 degrees while the hill resorts remain comparatively pleasant with temperature on average remains around 30 degrees.
Things to do
Balochistan’s rich cultural and traditional heritage, archaeological treasure, its alluring landmarks, natural beauty, deserts, mangroves, serene beaches and rock formations along the Makran Coastal Highway make the province a destination of choice. Besides its landscape, the warmly welcoming people and their delicious collection of traditional food is yet another strong basis to visit Balochistan.
Balochistan shares a running border with Iran to its west and is accessible from Iran via Taftan through a metal road. To its northwest, Balochistan is connected with Afghanistan by Chaman Border while the south is connected with Karachi via RCD highway. Balochistan is also well connected with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa via Zhob. One of the easiest yet scenic way to reach Quetta capital of Balochistan is from Sukkur via Bolan Pass the terrain is very scenic and spectacular.
The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is the highest paved international road and a major trade artery linking China and Pakistan at the Khunjerab Pass at an elevation of 4,733 meters. The highway is also a legendary tourist attraction encompassing a rich blend of historic landmarks, cultural diversity, and natural beauty – a thrill for adventure lovers.
Starting from Hasanabdal in Punjab province of Pakistan, the Pakistani section of the highway culminates at the Pak-China border at Khunjerab Pass. The entire highway passes through the rugged terrain of KPK, twisting northeast along the bank of River Indus, and glides through the Karakoram and Pamir Mountains until it meets the Chinese section at Khunjerab Pass. The Chinese section of the highway continues further along the Pamir Mountains to Kashghar. The Karakoram Highway is called the Friendship Highway in China. Yet, due to its rugged terrain, high elevation, and hard conditions in which it was forced through, it is sometimes referred to as Eighths Wonder of the World.
The total length of the KKH is approximately 1300 (810 mi) km, with 887 km in Pakistan and 413 km in China Though the new route does not follow exactly the old silk route but the track follows mostly the same region so it can be said as revive of the old Silk Route. It is estimated that each kilometer constructed cost a labor, both Pakistani and Chinese. The Chinese workers who died during the construction are buried in the Chinese cemetery or China Yadgar in Danyore near Gilgit.
Historically the Karakoram Highway was a caravan trail – one of the several branches of the ancient Silk Route that has hosted traders, pilgrims, warriors, and common men for several centuries whose movement along the route brought about tremendous changes in social, cultural and economic aspects of the lives of residents.
Construction of the Highway
Long before the Karakoram Highway or the KKH was constructed the northern areas (now Gilgit-Baltistan) were attracted by the Russians, Chinese, and the British merely due to its strategic importance yet the access to the region was a sheer challenge. The British being in power during the 1800s decided to sustain their authority by building an all-weather communication infrastructure along the Indus. Materializing the idea was not an easy task though. The British simply improved an old Srinagar foot track into a mule track at the initial phase and later another seasonal passage was devised through Chilas over the Babusar Pass to connect to the Kaghan valley which hardly remained open for 3 months a year during summers.
Following the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the Srinagar road was blocked permanently. It was the time when the northern areas were divided into several states functioning under the local rulers. In the year 1958, to build an all-weather road link between Swat and Gilgit, Indus Valley Road (IVR) was conceived. Its construction was started as a joint venture of the two governments in 1959. In 1966, under a Sino-Pak agreement, the government decided to develop the IVR into the Karakoram Highway. Near the completion phase, the construction work was discontinued due to financial constraints when the war broke out between Pakistan and India in 1971 but the valuable assistance from China made it possible to carry on.
At the initial stage, the KKH was to construct from Thakot to the Khunjerab Pass and then to be linked to the highway on the Chinese side. But later the entrance was shifted from Thakot to Hasan Abdal and the project was completed in 1979. The highway was opened to the general public in 1986. During the course of construction, about 800 Pakistanis and 200 Chinese workers lost their lives, mostly in landslides, yet the unofficial toll is believed to be much higher.
Reconstruction of the Karakoram Highway
In June 2006, a MoU was signed between Pakistan’s NHA and China’s CRBC to upgrade the KKH with overall width expansion from 10 to 30 meters to accommodate heavy-duty vehicles even in extreme weather conditions. However, the construction was carried out but the width remained almost the same as the original.
During the course of construction, the Attabad incident took place on 4 January 2010 when a section of the highway was damaged by a massive landslide in the Attabad valley of Hunza, about 19 kilometers upstream from Hunza’s capital of Karimabad,. The landslide shaped the 23 km long Attabad Lake, interrupted the flow of Hunza River and general travel along the Karakoram Highway. Construction of the tunnels through a revised 24 km long route began in July 2012 and was completed in September 2015. The realigned route through newly constructed 5 tunnels and a bridge restored the road link between Pakistan and China.
Socio-Economic Significance of the Highway
The entire region being mountainous the highway slashes through the collision zone between the Eurasian and Indian plates where China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan come within 250 kilometers (160 mi) radius. Essentially because of the enormously complex Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan, KKH has strategic and military significance to these nations, particularly Pakistan and China. The construction of Karakoram Highway has not only enriched trade and tourism between Pakistan and China but has contributed significantly to the improvement in living standards of the local population. CPEC is expected to bring enormous economic gains to the region but China and Pakistan are planning to link the Karakoram Highway to the southern port of Gwadar in Balochistan through the Chinese-aided Gwadar-Dalbandin railway, which extends to Rawalpindi.
Tourism Potential along the Karakoram Highway (KKH)
The Karakoram Highway has sought to receive international recognition and is now ranked as a niche adventure tourism destination. From Hassan Abdal (about 50kms from Rawalpindi city) the dual carriage asphalt ribbon leaves dusty plains of Punjab and enters through the lower Himalayas of Hazara district while heading north winding through several interesting natural and historic sites until the Pakistan section of the road meets the Chinese part at Khunjerab border in upper Hunza valley.
The Pakistani section of the highway is connected through more than 90 small and large bridges while making the way through the junction point of three mighty mountain ranges – the Karakorams, the Hindukush, and the Himalayas – and also the high Pamirs in Gilgit-Baltistan. From Hasan Abdal the highway winds through many beautiful spots up to Thakot where it meets the Indus River. The highway further traverses parallel to the Indus River for almost 300 km to the junction point and joined by the Gilgit River. The highway then passes through Gilgit after almost 40 km, the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, where Gilgit River is joined by the Hunza River and continues through the valleys of Nagar and Hunza for another 280 km before it climbed to Khunjerab border.
The entire 887 km section of the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan from the plains of Punjab to the culmination at the Khujerab border, the land is extremely diverse and rich in tourist attractions – from the272 BC edicts of Ashoka in Mansehra to the world’s highest metal border at Khunjerab Pass encompassing a blend of attractions including rocky and snow-crowned mountain peaks, glaciers and rivers, tiny mountain valleys and terraced fields, fruit laden orchards and serene pastures, hiking trails and challenging treks, the junction point of three mountain ranges in the world and the collision point of Eurasian and Indian plate, people with diverse cultural background speaking different languages and dialects, and the four distinct seasons manifesting a diverse range of natural colors. The Karakoram highway is a paradise for cyclists and bikers to explore thoroughly.
Major Attraction along the Karakoram Highway (KKH)
To begin with, the historic 4-yard thick and 16 yards high fortress in Haripur (Now serving as police station); then Major James Abbott’s historic city – Abbottabad; the 272 BC edicts of Ashoka of Maurya dynasty inscribed on three large boulders in Mansehra; more than 20,000 pieces of rock art and petroglyphs dating back to between 5000 and 1000 BC concentrated at ten major sites between Shaital and Hunza; access to Fairy Meadows and Nanga Parbat BC, stunning views of Nanga Parbat (The Killer mountain and 2nd highest in Pakistan 8,126m high); Junction point of three mountain ranges; Kargah Buddha and Henzal Stupa near Gilgit town; attractions in Gilgit city; Chinese Graveyard and ancient rock carvings in Danyore; Monument in Rahimabad; Collision point of Eurasian and Indian Plate near Chalt; Sections of ancient silk rote along the highway; Rakaposhi View Point; Altit Fort & Baltit Fort; Duikar; Karimabad town, Altit old settlements, and ancient village of Ganish; Haldikish; Attabad Lake and Borit Lake; Passu Cathedrals and Batura Glacier; scenic views of Rakaposhi, Diran, Golden Peak, and Lady Finger; Hoper valley and Hoper Glacier, Passu valley and glacier, and the tiny terraced valleys along the gorge leading to Khunjerab, and the Hunza River, Gilgit River and Indus River are all part of this beautiful journey.
The KKH was ranked as “third best tourist destination” in Pakistan by “The Guardian”. It provides mountaineers and cyclists easy access to the attractions along the highway including mountains, glaciers, and lakes and also to interact with people. The highway also provides access to the two major tourist destinations –Gilgit and Baltistan – which host the highest mountains and longest glaciers outside polar region besides manifesting wealth of attractions.
For travelers along the KKH, there are sufficient food and accommodation arrangements. The major stopovers recommended are at Besham, Chilas, Gilgit, Hunza, and Sust where tourists can find standard accommodation at a reasonable price. There are also several short excursions to the nearby mountains, glaciers, and valleys one can carry out between Gilgit and Khunjerab. The best time to travel along the KKH is between April and November. The border at Khunjerab remains closed from the end of November until the start of April every year.