Written By: Sheeza Asim Mirza
Pakistan is blessed with immense natural beauty. Each part of the country has its own charisma to mesmerize the travelers with spectacular views. There are many places which are unseen and just waiting to be explored. From the valleys and mountains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the deserts and beaches of Balochistan, we have some of the most unique combinations of natural beauty in the world.
For decades, Balochistan was considered backward, deprived and a province with lack of basic infrastructure. Today, Balochistan is different. Normalcy has returned with peace, stability, awareness and relative economic prosperity. The people of the province get the credit of this change; after all, nothing would have been possible without their willingness to reject the militancy and centrifugal forces. Though, the role of civil government has been admirable, this change and return of normalcy in the province would not have been possible without the dedicated and relentless efforts of the military, particularly Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps Balochistan. Different areas of Balochistan are being connected through road networks. Educational system and healthcare facilities and an overall development of infrastructure has remained the main aim of Pakistan Army. Pakistan Army has worked for awareness among the local masses, and efforts for mainstreaming people who felt betrayed and adopted militancy as a profession. Above all, one must not forget Pakistan Army’s role and sacrifices made by our brave soldiers in the fight against terrorism and efforts for bringing peace and stability in the province.
Balochistan has a rich history, rich traditions, people who will welcome you and places that will excite you. It has everything; it is a land of contrasts. It has places with rugged mountains like Chiltan, Takatu, Sulaiman, and plains stretching hundreds of miles. It has fertile land such as in Nasirabad and the tracks in the Pat section of Sibi district and the Makran desert zone. It is home to the hottest place in the country like Sibi and has towns with relatively cooler climate such as Quetta, Ziarat, Kan Mehtarzai and Kallat where temperature goes much below freezing point in winter and the areas remain under a thick cover of snow.
It’s a land unaltered and untouched by modern hands. Often neglected by tourists, Balochistan gives a true taste of adventure. Take a road trip by Makran Coastal Highway and you cannot help but fall in love with this land.
The 653 km Makran Coastal Highway embodies undiscovered adventures and opportunities to explore a landscape not frequented by many. The highway stretches from Karachi to Gwadar and passes through Kund Malir, Ormara and Pasni. One can literally see the most beautiful skies and all kinds of weather on this highway. The coast also has the best beaches in Pakistan with some amazing ‘road and sand’ art all the way down to Iran border. Makran Coastal Highway itself is a project of vital national interest undertaken by FWO aimed at facilitating, bridging and developing various sectors of economy and opening new avenues of prosperity. A stainless carpet-like road surrounded by mountains with camels sauntering on both sides of the track, the Makran Coastal Highway is a sheer joy to drive on. It is not difficult to forget that you’re just a couple of hours away from Karachi. The freshness of the air, and the cleanliness of the environment creates the setting for a long, in fact, a very long drive.
Once you get on this Highway, the landscape transitions as it becomes delightful and interesting, leaving the plains behind and entering into the Makran Range. The first attraction is on the left side where there are various active mud volcanoes out of which the most prominent are Chandragup I and II. There are more than 80 active mud volcanoes in Balochistan.
Then comes the serene Kund Malir beach with the greenish-blue sea that shines in the sunlight all day long. The desert beach provides a fabulous view along the sand dunes. Sea water is crystal clear and the sand on the bank of sea provides a beautiful look.
The gradient of the road changes rising towards the highest point on the Coastal Highway, the Buzi Pass. Cruising through mountains on both sides of the road, it is a dreamlike experience. Sea and wind erosion have carved rocks into interesting formations scattered across the area. One such example is the Princess of Hope, a natural rock formation that manifests a princess looking beyond horizons (maybe for hope). The formation of Princess of Hope is so perfect that it appears to be a masterpiece of a skilled artisan who has made no mistake in transforming this rock into a princess. The name Princess of Hope was given by Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie on her visit to this area in 2002.
Hingol National Park is spread over an area of about 1,650 sq km along the Makran Coast and is the largest national park of Pakistan. The park area covers parts of the three districts of Lasbela, Gwadar and Awaran containing a variety of topographical features and vegetation, varying from arid sub-tropical forest in the north to arid mountains in the west. Large tracts of the park are covered with sand and can be classified as a coastal semidesert. The National Park includes the creek of the Hingol River which supports a significant diversity of bird and fish species. The park is as perfect as it can get for all sorts of adventure seekers, hikers, cyclists and beach lovers. For a wildlife photographer, this is the perfect place, as this park not only contains a serene landscape but its vast reservoir of the rarest of wildlife creatures too makes it a place of global significance. The marsh crocodile, olive ridley and green marine turtles, endemic and threatened species of fish (such as the mahasheer) and schools of plumbeous dolphins are known to be found in areas around the Hingol River. The park is an excellent habitat to wild animals including ibexes, urials and chinkara, along with a number of resident and migratory birds. Mammals in the park include Sindh leopard, Indian fox, jungle cat, jackals, Sindh wild goat, chinkara gazelle, honey badger, Indian pangolin and many more. As for the birds, houbara bustard, dalmatian and spot-billed pelican, lagger falcon, red-headed merlin, kestrel, grey partridge, see-see partridge, eagle owl, Sindh pied woodpecker, bonnelli's, imperial tawny and golden eagle are also found here. There are many varieties of sand grouse like stone curlew, Indian, coroneted, painted and close-barred sand grouse.
Hinglaj Mata (Hinglaj Devi, Hingula Devi, Nani Mandir) is a Hindu temple in Hinglaj, in the middle of the Hingol National Park. It is one of the Shakti Peethas of the goddess Sati, and is a form of Durga or Devi located in a mountain cave on the banks of the Hingol River. The shrine is located in a small natural cave with a low mud altar. It is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Pakistan for the country’s Hindu community. The caretakers of the shrine and Baloch tribesmen live in a local village close by. The tribesmen revere the Hinglaj Devi temple and help the Hindu pilgrims in whichever way they can during the pilgrimage.
Balochistan has one of the most phenomenal coastal lines in the world. These beaches not only offer exceptional tourist spots but make one experience the nature’s marvels in these areas.
The very famous Astola Island is an uninhabited island, locally known as Jazira Haft Talar or ‘Island of the Seven Hills’ as it has a series of seven small hillocks. Astola Island is a popular and unique destination for eco-tourism. The isolated location of the island has helped maintain endemic life forms, such as the Astola viper. The endangered green turtle and the hawksbill turtle nest on the beach at the foot of the cliffs. The island is reported to support a large number of breeding turtle, seabirds including coursers, curlews, godwits, gulls, plovers larus hemprichii, sanderlings and several species. It is also home to coral reef and identified as a hotspot of coral, with more than 30 species of hard coral and eight species of soft coral identified here. The remains of an ancient Hindu temple of the Goddess Kali are also located at the Island, and is known to Hindus as Satadip.
Similarly, the Gwadar Beach, Pasni Beach, Sonmiani Beach and Pishkan Beach offer awe-inspiring views with shallow sands and clear water. Ormara is a port city located in the Makran coastal region. Ormara has a port and fish harbour. The Jinnah Naval Base of the Pakistan Navy is also located at Ormara. After the construction of Makran Coastal Highway and the Jinnah Naval Base, many local industries have been established here with jobs for locals. This also futher integrated the area with the mainstream Pakistan economy and major urban centers allowing for easier transport of goods, commerce and people. At the outskirts of Ormara, there is an isolated part at the Sapat Bandar Beach, where one can observe the quiet glow of bioluminescence. Bioluminescent tides, which shine quietly in the darkness, exist in many locations throughout the world. Sometimes these glowing waters seem like little twinkling stars suspended in the water. Other times they glow with almost enough brightness to read.
When you think of paradise, the first thing that comes to your mind is a beauty-laden landscape, full of resources, yet to be found. And if you have already found it but haven’t realized its true potential then that is the case with Balochistan.
From the lush carpeted greens of Chaman, Zhob, Sheerani, to the mountains of Awaran, all and around the beaches of Gwadar and Pasni–in the depth of the Saindak Copper-Gold mines is Chagai’s Reko Diq. Balochistan’s unsustainable beauty spreads to every corner, even the barren ends. Blue sky blazes red and orange at sunrise and sunset times, and turns into a fairyland at night.
It consists of places like the Bolān Pass, a mountain pass through the Toba Kakar Range. Turbat, the divisional headquarters for Makran and a small inland town near the hills, with its 300 varieties of dates. Panjgur, the principal date-growing area located further north. It is the location of the Ziarat Residency where Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah lived and spent his last days of life, and is a famous tourist site. The residency catches the tourists' attention due to its unique location and the wonderful hilly surroundings. The weather is really pleasant during summertime and the local people are hospitable, but in winter the weather is severe. During summer time the apple and cherry gardens provide a pleasant view for tourists.
Ziarat is also very famous for its juniper forest. Junipers are found in Ziarat district and Zarghoon mountains and some other mountainous areas of Balochistan known as the second largest juniper forest in the world. There are many important species found in this ecosystem including animal and birds, the chakor partridge, bushes and ground flora which local people use as indigenous treatments for a variety of diseases. The junipers are considered to be the real treasure of Ziarat. There are trees in the valley which are more than 5,000 to 7,000 years old. A walk in these beautiful forests will definitely make your heart listen to the magic whispers of these old trees. Jhal Magsi is one of the most beautiful tourism spot in Pakistan. The specialty of Jhal Magsi is that God has blessed this place with two opposite natural attractions. First one is the water falls at Pir Chattal Noor Gandhawa. Second one is the huge desert safari, which is famous for Jhal Magsi Jeep Rally.
Quetta is the capital city of Balochistan and is known as “Fruit Garden of Pakistan” due to diversity of fruits like plums, peaches, pomegranates, apricot, apples, some unique varieties of melon and cherries. Pistachios and almonds are also grown in abundance.
The name of Quetta is derived from the word “Kuwatta” meaning fort and no doubt it is a natural fort surrounded by hills on all sides.
Hanna Lake is 10 km from Quetta and one of the main attractions of the city. The greenish-blue water of lake with swimming golden fish provides a rich contrast to the sandy brown hills in the background.
The word Baloch by its connotation is meant nomad. Baloch culture is opposite to the general perception about it. Though Balochistan is area of barren lands, deserts and mountains, the Baloch culture is full of traditions, arts and crafts. No doubt, Balochistan is also known for its tribes and festivals. Another distinct feature of Baloch culture is the storytelling tradition. Poets and storytellers are highly respected in Baloch culture.
People of Balochistan are humble, open-hearted, loving and respectful. The province represents numerous ethnic groups and different languages, yet there is a likeness in their beliefs, values and customs. Common religion is the binding factor among all these groups. Balochi people are very hospitable; they consider their guests as a blessing of God. Another feature of Balochistan culture is faithfulness and sincerity in all relationships. There is no place or respect for unfaithful people in prevalent moral order. If fidelity is reciprocated with disloyalty or betrayal it is never forgotten. People of Balochistan are very originative and hardworking. The most popular art and craft of this region is the Pishey art work, out of which variety of products like bags, shoes, hats, wall hangings and baskets are made. Embroidery of Balochistan is one of the most delicate forms of needlework. Balochi rugs are widely known for their finishing and tempting patterns.
Baloch culture is rich in folk music and dances. The instruments used are mainly a flute, locally called Nal, Tamboora and Soroz. A common Baloch folk dance is known as Dochaap. Other dances include the Lewa, Latti and Hambo.
Baloch cuisine is a delight of longstanding cultural heritage of Balochistan. Balochi cuisine contains a mix of flavors from across the continent. While tasting Balochi food, we can easily get the Afghani taste in them as well. Balochi people are mostly fond of meat, particularly mutton and lamb. Balochi biryani and some dry dishes and curries are also very popular. From the delicious Rosh to the Khada kabab and Shrumbay. There are variety of dishes that may solely be enjoyed within the Balochi spirit and setting. Sajji is the favorite dish of most people.
There is an Asian proverb “Better see something once than hear about it a thousand times”. The serene beauty and natural resources are the center of the gorgeous Balochistan province. If you sit shoulder to shoulder with locals and, yes, with tourists too, what you will hear, smell, taste, and participate in, will be nothing less and nothing more than the simple magic from which nations like ours are born.