Quetta, capital of Balochistan
Sitting at 1,680 metres (5,500 feet) above sea level, Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, occupies a strategic position since the boundaries of Iran and Afghanistan meet here, and the Bolan Pass lies on important lines of communications. Located in a river valley, it is connected by rail with Lahore, (727 miles), with Peshawar (986 miles), and Karachi (536 miles). A new road connects it with Karachi through Khuzdar, Makran and Las Bela. It is also connected with Zahidan (Iran) by rail.
Quetta derives its name from the Balochi "Kuwatta", which means a fort. The city is surrounded by imposing hills like Chiltan, Takatoo, Murdar and Zarghun. It lies 1692 meters above sea level at the mouth of Bolan Pass. The inhabitants are mainly Pathans, Baluch and Brahvis, therefore Pushto, Balochi, Brahvi and Urdu languages are widely spoken. It is famous for its honey sweet apples and many other verities of fruit. Quetta abounds in various varieties of apples and grapes. The orchards clutter the entire suburbs of Quetta and other important towns. For the abundance of fruit, Quetta is rightly called as the Fruit Basket of Pakistan.
Quetta’s main thoroughfare and commercial centre is along Jinnah Road, while Sharah-e-Zarghun is a captivating tree-lined avenue with important government buildings including the Governor’s house. The Archaeological Museum off Khudabad Road is an interesting place to visit with its collection of old guns, swords and manuscripts. The Geological Survey also houses a museum with display of ancient rocks and fossils. Quetta’s city bazaars like the Kandahari Bazaar on Shahrah-e-lqbal, the Liaquat Bazaar and Suraj Gang Bazaar on Shahrah-e-Liaquat are essential for travellers. They are stocked with traditional handicrafts items including fabrics decorated with the famed Balochi mirror work and embroidery, hand woven carpets, richly embroidered silks, fur coats and jackets and footwear. You could also pick up items crafted from green marble, copper ware or shop for a good stock of dry fruits.
Quetta is a food-lover’s paradise, with some of the best meat dishes being served at roadside cafes. You could savour the delicious Sajji or roasted leg of lamb or bite into juicy bits of tender kababs. The Landhi, dried whole lamb, is a favourite with nomadic tribals who stock them for the long winters. Besides traditional Balochi cuisine the city restaurants also serve a variety of Pakistani, Chinese and Western fare.
Quetta serves as a base for excursions deeper into the rugged landscape of Balochistan. There are several getaways at short distances from the city besides lakes, passes and hill resorts slightly further off. The Hazarganji Chiltan National Park, literally encapsulating thousands of treasures, is 20 km southwest of Quetta. It is a 3,000 hectare reserve in the mountains, created as a protected habitat for the Markhor, the national animal of Pakistan. Besides the majestic long-horned and straight horned Markhor, other species in the Park include the ‘Gad’ sheep, leopards, wolves, striped hyenas, hares and porcupines. Several avian species like the chakor, partridge, warblers, blue rock pigeons, golden eagles, falcons and bearded vultures are found here. Reptiles include monitors, wild lizards, geckos, the Afghan tortoise, pythons, cobras and horned vipers. The Park is a storehouse of some 225 plant species including pistachio, junipers, wild olives, wild ash and wild almonds. There is a forest rest house at the National Park that can be booked through the Divisional Forest Officer at Spinney Road, Quetta. Just near
the entrance is a small museum of natural history.
Besides the Chiltan National Park, there are several beautiful spots around Quetta, including the Karkhasa Recreational Park just 10 kms away and the captivating Urak Valley 21 km away. The approach road to the valley is lined with fruit orchards and wild rose bushes. At the end of the valley the visitor is greeted with a waterfall crashing down amidst apricot and apple orchards. At the mouth of the Urak Valley is the beautiful emerald green Hanna Lake. Girded with sandy brown hills, the lake has been developed as a tourist spot with terraces and pavilions running down to the lakeside. There is a regular wagon service running from the bus stand at Circular Road in Quetta.
50 km from Quetta is the Pishin Valley and Bund Khushdil Khan. The valley abounds in fruit orchards irrigated by tapping ground water to create artificial springs or karez. The man-made lake of Bund Khushdil Khan is 16 kms. away, and a favourite spot for duck shooting in winter. Pir Ghaib, 70 kms. from Quetta on the Sibi Road is a picturesque retreat with waterfall and streams rippling through palm trees. This spot is accessible only by jeep.
Kan Mehtarzai at 2,224 metres is 2 hours away from Quetta and is famed as the highest railway station in the world.
133 km from Quetta is the pristine mountain resort of Ziarat. 3 hours by car and at a height of 2,449 metres, the resort is surrounded by one of the world’s oldest juniper forests. Fruit orchards, flowering trees, surround a pleasant government tourist motel complex with rooms and cottages, and honey growing farms. Ziarat is also popular for hiking and trekking expeditions into the deep valley, while the Chashma walk is a stretch of flat ground between the towering hills and ravines. The path leads up to natural springs or chashma that feed the town of Ziarat.
An important landmark in Ziarat is the Quaid-e-Azam Residency, where the founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah spent his last few days. 8 kms. from Ziarat is the shrine of Kharwari Baba. A highly revered saint, the Baba is believed to have rested in the valley and blessed it. After his death, his followers buried him in the valley and a shrine marks the spot. During the Muslim festival of Eid, there are special celebrations at the shrine marked by wrestling and marksmanship contests.