Pakistan is the land of the pure and Balochistan, the pristine. The landscape of Balochistan is quite a drastic change for those accustomed to the mellow feel of orchards and meadows. With all its rugged charm and cruel beauty, the largest province in Pakistan appeals to a different sense altogether. Its splendor lies in contrast and coexisting; and that is most evident in the oasis nestled in the midst of the sandy desert, in the water gushing out of a barren mountain and the deep blue sea grazing the pebbled shore.
Though the place is scarcely populated due to the daunting topography, the hospitality of the locals knows no bounds. It is not uncommon for visitors to be invited in for a refreshing drink of salted lassi or offered a tour. It is, however, advisable to have a guide along who happens to be fluent in the local languages of Balochi and Pashto.
It is the capital of the province and therefore one of its few densely populated cities. It is fully developed and connected to all major cities of the country by efficient transport links. The name is derived from a word meaning “Fort”, aptly titled as it is encircled by commanding mountains. The best accommodation available to tourists is the Serena Hotel, known for its remarkable architecture and scrumptious cuisines.
Liaquat bazaar, Quetta, is the best place to look for some souvenirs. The province is specially known for its rugs, hand-woven carpets, sandals and silk embroidery. Mirror work is also popular and colorful, with traditional stress on blues and reds.
The locals are fond of meat dishes, particularly ones involving mutton. One Balochi dish that has gained particular prominence is Sajji, which consists of whole lamb marinated in salt. It is eaten with Kaak, a form of bread made by rolling dough over a stone.
Ziarat is situated three hours away from Quetta. It is a popular summer retreat due to its pleasantly cool weather conditions. The name “Ziarat” literally translates to “Shrine”, and is so named because of Kharwari Baba, a local saint whose shrine is located there.
There are ample rest houses spread throughout the area as well as a Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) motel complex. You will not spot any guesthouse that doesn’t boast of a yard carpeted by lush green grass and dotted with cherry trees producing succulent fruit free to pick. Some are built on very high grounds, affording a view of the entire valley. And the absolute best feature of some of the rest houses is that you don’t have to trudge your own food along while going hiking as the staff will arrange for a four-wheeler to have your food hot and waiting at the summit.
Slight drizzles are common throughout the day. However, the nights are usually clear and one can spend a few hours just gazing and lying under the canopy of the star studded sky. It would be a folly not to bring along a few sweaters and a pair of warm socks as it is cold there even when summer is at its peak, and it snows substantially in the winter.
The 2nd largest Juniper forest in the world is located in this region, considered to be more than 5,000 years old. These add to the scenery by varying the landscape and look exquisite in the winters when they are topped by snow. These are also used in the medicines the locals concoct to treat ailments as most of them have faith in indigenous remedies.
This place is south of the main town of Ziarat and offers a spectacular view of the Koshki valley. There is a gnarled Juniper tree spelling out the word “Allah” in Arabic letters. You’ll also be offered a firearm in case you want to practice shooting or have some game bird, the Chakor, as this is the perfect place for it.
The fact that the Father of the nation chose Ziarat to spend his last days in testifies to the splendor of the place. His Residency has been declared a National Monument and is open to visitors. It is most beautifully built and the backdrop is that of hilly mountains, emerald lawns and flower gardens fully tended to. It also holds the relics of the Quaid-e-Azam.
Zizri has a few cabins for those wishing to stay overnight but most bring their own tents to pitch or have a day trip. You can climb the mountain close by, like normal people, to experience the mist on your face, or you can have a photo shoot with one of the centuries old Juniper trees, like my sisters chose to do. Either way, it makes for some amazing memories.
Hingol National Park
The area covers part of the districts of Lasbela, Gwadar and Owaran and is the largest National Park in Pakistan. Around 35 different species of mammals, 65 of amphibians and reptiles and 185 of birds is found there along with some 35 diverse species of plants.
The Makran Coastal Highway
The coast has some sunny, sandy beaches and an azure sea. Fisherman colonies are found in abundance in this area. Some amazing rock formations are found along the Highway. One of them appears to be a girl in a flowing gown, named the Princess of Hope by Angelina Jolie when she first laid eyes on it. Another is a Sphinx which has an Egyptian feel to it. There is also a Hindu Temple called the Nani Mandir, situated 6 km from the Highway.
Situated 10 km away from Quetta, Hanna Lake is a favorite among the locals due to its easy accessibility and scenic beauty. Pine trees are planted on the green slopes near the edge of the water and the Lake is full of golden fish, which can sometimes be seen just under the surface of the serene, greenish blue tinted water.
[A waterfall located at Pir Ghaib near Bolan in Balochistan. It is so blue and beautiful that one can’t even think that it is located inside the barren landscape.]
Balochistan might not be mentioned in advertisements by PTDC, but that doesn’t make it any less grand. It just adds to the mysterious aura and unexplored feel of the place, as if one is navigating unchartered waters.