Winter in Quetta, Balochistan, Pakistan - February 2011
Quetta is one of my favourite cities in Pakistan. It is unique in the sense that it looks well planned and is surrounded by mountains, which are snow-capped in winter. Quetta can be quite cold in winter and hot in summer. The geography and location of Quetta give it a very non-South Asian feel. There is also quite a mix of people belonging to the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. The majority in the city are the Pashtuns but you also have the Baloch, the Brahvi in good numbers too. There are the Hazaras and also migrants from Punjab and Sindh, some of them Hindus too. Sadly there is a civil war raging in some parts of Balochistan and it is not as safe to visit as it once was. The situation maybe worsened if the Americans feel that the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omer, is hiding there as they want to conduct drone attacks on what they believe to be aliban training camps. Quetta is a beautiful city and deserves peace and I wish the violence disappears.
Quetta (help•info) (Pashto: کوټه, Urdu: کوئٹہ, Hazaragi: کویته, Brahui: Koŧá) is the largest city and the provincial capital of the Balochistan Province of Pakistan. It is known as the "Fruit Garden of Pakistan", due to the diversity of its plant and animal wildlife. Situated at an average elevation of 1,654 metres (5,429 ft) above sea level, the city is a major stronghold along the western frontier of the country. The city is also home to the Hazarganji Chiltan National Park, which contains some of the rarest species of wildlife in the world and to a research institute, the Geological Survey of Pakistan.
Quetta sits near the Durand Line border with Afghanistan and is an important trade and communications centre between the two countries as well as an important military location occupying a vital strategic position for the Pakistani Armed Forces. The city lies on the Bolan Pass route which was once the only gateway to and from South Asia. The city was the closest city to the 1935 and the 2008 earthquakes both of which resulted in a great deal of damage to the city and significant loss of life.
Quetta is also spelled Kuwatah which is a variation of Kuatta, a Pashto word,. It is believed the city's name is derived from the four imposing hills (Chiltan, Takatu, Zarghoon and Murdaar) that surround the city.
The area was originally inhabited by Kasi (A tribe of Pashtun), the first detailed account of Quetta is from the 11th century when it was captured by Mahmud of Ghazni during one of his invasions of the Indian sub-continent. In 1543, the Mughal emperor Humayun rested in Quetta on his retreat to Persia, leaving his one-year-old son Akbar in the city until his return two years later. The Khan of Kalat ruled Quetta until 1556, when the Persians conquered the city only to have it retaken by Akbar in 1595. In 1828 the first westerner to visit Quetta described it as a mud-walled fort surrounded by three hundred mud houses. Although the city was occupied briefly in 1839 by the British during the First Afghan War, it was not until 1876 that Quetta became part of the British Empire, with Robert Sandeman being made the political leader for Baluchistan. The arrival of British troops led to the establishment of road and rail links and the introduction of schools, mainly for strategic purposes.
The British made the largely Pashtun area part of British Balochistan. In April 1883 it was combined with Pishin into a single administrative unit.
By the time of the earthquake on May 31, 1935 Quetta had developed into a bustling city with a number of multi-story buildings. The epicentre of the earthquake was close to the city and destroyed most of the city's infrastructure and killed an estimated 40,000 people. After many years the city has been rebuilt mainly with local funds. Structures are now generally earthquake resistant comprising of mainly single story structures with bricks and re-inforced concrete. However multi-story buildings are also built, while the number of buildings of three to five floors are being constructed in the city.
On joining Pakistan, Quetta was made the capital city of the newly created province of Balochistan before it was combined with other Balochi states (Kalat, Makran, Lasbela and Kharan) to form the Baloch province. Quetta was supposed to remain the capital of the province until 1971.
Geography and climate
Quetta has a desert climate (Köppen BWk) with a significant variation between summer and winter temperatures. Summer starts in late May and goes on until early September with average temperatures ranging from 24-26 °C (75-78 °F).The highest temperature in Quetta is 42 °C (108 °F) which was recorded on 10 July 1998. Autumn starts in late September and continues until mid-November with average temperatures in the 12-18 °C (55-65 °F) range. Winter starts in late November and ends in late March, with average temperatures near 4-5 °C (39-41 °F).The lowest temperature in Quetta is −18.3 °C (−0.9 °F) which was recorded on 8 January 1970. Spring starts in early April and ends in late May, with average temperatures close to 15 °C (60 °F). Unlike most of Pakistan, Quetta does not have a monsoon season of sustained, heavy rainfall. Highest rainfall during 24 hours in Quetta is 113 millimetres (4.4 in) which was recorded on 17 December 2000., Highest monthly rainfall is 232.4 millimetres (9.15 in) which was recorded in March, 1982. and the highest annual rainfall is 949.8 millimetres (37.39 in) recorded in 1982. In the winter snow is the principle mode of precipitation with snow falling mostly in the months of December, January and February.
The city saw droughts in the year 2000, and 2001. During these years the city didn't received snowfall and received below normal rains. While in 2003 the city received snowfall after a long period of five years. In 2004, and 2005 Quetta received normal rains with snowfall while in 2006, 2007 and 2009 the city doesn't revived any snow, except 2008 when Quetta received snowfall of four inches in four hours on 29 January 2008. While on 2 February 2008 Quetta received ten inches of snow in just 10 hours. These are the heaviest snowfall for the city in the last ten years. During the winter of 2010 it doesn't received any snowfall and saw below normal rains due to the presence of El-Nino over Pakistan.
Quetta comprises approximately 2,653 km2 (1,036 square miles) and consists of series of valleys which act as a natural fort surrounded on all sides by a number of imposing hills named Chiltan, Takatoo, Murdar and Zarghun. There are no natural boundaries between Quetta and its adjoining districts of Dera Ismail Khan to the northeast, Dera Ghazi Khan and Sibi to the east, Sukkur and Jacobabad to the southeast, Karachi and Gawadar to the south and Ziarat to the southwest. The closest major city is Kandahar in Afghanistan which is located to the west of the Quetta.
Government and politics
Under the latest revision of Pakistan's administrative structure, promulgated in 2001, Quetta was restructured as a City District, and divided into two towns Each town in turn consists of a group of union councils (U.C.'s).:
Quetta is on the western edge of Pakistan and is well connected to the rest of the country by a network of roads, railways and airways.
At an altitude of 1,605 metres (5,260 ft) above sea level, Quetta Airport is the second highest airport in Pakistan. Pakistan International Airlines, Shaheen Air International and Airblue all have regular flights between Quetta and the other major cities of Pakistan including Islamabad, Gwadar, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar while Pakistan International Airlines operates direct flights to Manchester, Dubai, New York and other major international airports.
Quetta Railway Station is one of the highest railway stations in Pakistan at 1,676 metres (5,495 ft) above sea level. The railway track was laid in 1890's during the British era to link Quetta with rest of the country. The extensive network of Pakistan Railways connects Quetta to Karachi in south, by a 863 km (536 miles) track, Lahore in northeast (1,170 km or 727 miles) and Peshawar further northeast (1,587 km or 986 miles). A metalled road runs alongside the railway that connects Quetta to Karachi via Sibi, Jacobabad and Rohri. A track from the Iranian city of Zahedan links to Quetta via Taftan. Service was temporarily discontinued in 2006 due to unrest in Balochistan. Since 2008 railway service has come under attack by the Balochs, especially in the Bolan Pass area resulting in the bomb blast on the railway tracks and firing on trains, creating a sense of insecurity amongst the traveling public.
Recently there has been a proposal to construct a railway track that will link Gawadar to China and Gawadar with Quetta via Kalat. Although the distance from Quetta to Lahore is only 700 km (417 miles), there is no direct track on this route because of the Sulaiman Range that lies in the east of Quetta. All northeast-bound trains for Punjab or the North-West Frontier Province must first go over 350 km (218 miles) south to Rohri, Sindh (near Sukkur) before continuing north to Punjab and North-West Frontier Province.
Quetta is connected by metalled roads to the rest of the country. A recently built road connects it with Karachi through Mastung, Kalat, Khuzdar and Lasbela. Other major roads are Quetta to Karachi following the Sibi, Jacobabad, Sukkur and Hyderabad route and two roads from Quetta to Lahore one (the older) via Sibi, Sukkur, Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalpur and Multan the other route via Khanozai, Muslimbagh Loralai, Fort Mondro, Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan. Quetta is also connected with Afghanistan through Chaman and to Iran through Mastung, Nushki, Dalbandin and Taftan.
Quetta has a number of institutions of higher education. The prestigious military Command and Staff College, which was founded by the British. The city is home to the University of Balochistan which was established in 1974, the Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences, Sardar Bahadur Khan Women's University, the Geological Survey of Pakistan, the Sandeman Library and two government colleges affiliated with the University of Peshawar.
Flora and fauna
A wide variety of mammals such as Markhor, Balochi language: مار خور (mounatin goat), leopards, wolves, hyena, rabbits, wild cats and porcupines are to be found in the Quetta region. Local birds species include partridge, warblers, shikra, the blue rock pigeon, rock nuthatch, golden eagle, sparrows, hawks, falcons and bearded vultures. Flora in Quetta is both numerous and rare. A total of 225 species have been identified in the area including; pistachios, juniper, wild olives, wild ash and wild almonds. Also found are a wide range of shrubs including; wild fig, barbery, wild cherry, makhi and herbs such as ephedra intermadia and gerardiana.
Quetta is a tourist attraction for foreigners to whom it is advertised as a "thrilling location, full of adventure and enjoyment". Among the attractions are the bazaars located on the Shahrah-e-Liaquat (Liaquat Bazaar and Suraj Gang Bazaar and Shahrah-e-Iqbal (Kandahari Bazaar). In bazaars the colourful handicrafts, particularly Balochi mirror work and Pashtun embroidery both of which are admired world-wide. Afghan rugs, fur coats, embroidered jackets, waist-coats, sandals and other traditional Pashtun items are also famous.
Balochi carpets are made by the nomadic tribes of the area. They are generally not nearly as fine or expensive as either the Persian city products or even the Turkoman tribal rugs from further north, but they are generally more authentic than the copies of Turkoman and Persian designs often found in the major cities of Pakistan. The rugs range in price and size, from lower priced crude examples to fine and valuable pieces. Many are small enough to be portable.
For those interested in local cuisine, there are many dishes to try. The famous Pashtun tribal cuisine “Roash” which non-locals call “Namkin” is to be found in both city restaurants as well as in the outlying areas. Some of the finest mutton in the country is raised around Quetta and is a mainstay of local cuisine. The Pashtun tribal dish, “Landhi”, is made of a whole lamb which is dried and kept fresh during the cold winters. "Khadi Kebab" is a lamb barbecue while "Sajji" (leg of lamb) and "Pulao" are other local dishes. The best restaurants are Usmania, Tabaq, Green Hotel, Gulab Hotel, Lal Kabab, and the Abasin Hotel all of which serve both Pakistani and western food while the Cafe China is one of the oldest and most reputable Chinese restaurants. A number of small hotels located along Alamdar road provide accommodation for tourists.
Hanna Lake, which nestles in the hills ten kilometres (six miles) east of the city, is a startling turquoise pool which contrasts markedly with its bare brown surroundings. An attraction for holidaymakers, with facilities for boat hire and a lakeside restaurant it is crowded by hikers and campers in holiday periods. At one end there is an irrigation dam while on the eastern shore line there is Hayat Durrani Water Sports Academy, the only water sports training center in Balochistan Province. The Hana Lake Development Authority, the Hayat Durrani Water Sports Academy and Merck Marker (Pvt.) Ltd have planted a range of trees in the Hanna Lake Mountains both for beautification and the protection of the environment.
The Hazarganji Chiltan National Park, 20 km (13 miles) south-west of Quetta, Markhors is a protected park area. The name of the park, "Hazarganji" literally means "Of a thousand treasures" is spread over 32,500 acres (132 km2) at an altitude ranging from 2,021 to 3,264 metres (5,625 to 10,700 feet). In the folds of the mountains, according to legend, there are over a thousand treasures buried, reminders of the passage over the ages of great armies including the Bactrians, the Scythians, the Muslims, and the Mongols. Pir Ghaib is a waterfall and picnic point located 70 km from the City Center on Sibi Road. Kharkhasa is located 10 km (6 miles) west of Quetta in a 16 km (10 miles) long narrow valley which contains a variety of flora and fauna species. The Chiltan Hill Viewpoint in the park provides a panoramic view over the city. A visit to the nearby cities of Kirani and Ziarat are popular scenic places for tourists traveling to and from Quetta.
The Quetta Geological Museum, located on Sariab Road has a collection of rocks and fossils found in Balochistan. The Command and Staff College Museum is a museum dedicated to British military history. It is housed in the former bungalow of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. The Quetta Archaeological Museum, located on Fifa Road has a collection of rare antique guns, swords, manuscripts and a display of Stone Age tools, prehistoric pottery and articles found in Mehrgarh. There are also coins, manuscripts and photos of Quetta before the 1935 earthquake. The Balochistan Arts Council Library is a newly opened facility which houses a variety of arts and crafts from Balochistan province.
A number of cultural and religious festivals are held in the city every year. The two Eid festivals which mark the end of fasting and the end of the Hajj allow the majority Muslim community to put on musical shows, distribute sweets and presents. Buzkashi is a peculiar festival celebrated by Pashtuns in which two teams on horse-back attempt to snatch a goat from each other.
Quetta, real name is Shaal (a Balochi word, شال Quetta District ), was historically part of the Khanate of Balochistan, Khan of Kalat, until it was invaded by the British Raj in the mid-19th century, during the First Anglo-Afghan War. The city in general is dominated by Baloch people and Pashtun people followed by Hazaras, Punjabi and others as the minority groups. Most of the Pashtun people in Quetta arrived after 1970s, from Afghanistan due to harsh economic conditions and later Soviet invasion.
Pashto is the main language spoken throughout the city. Other languages include Brahui, Balochi, Urdu, Hazaragi, Sindhi, and Punjabi. The city has expanded from a population of just 11,000 in 1891 to a total of between 565,137 to 676,941 according to the 1998 census which makes it the ninth biggest city in Pakistan. Although the majority were repatriated back to Afghanistan through the UNHCR, a small number of registered Afghan refugees are still to be found in and around the city but are not counted in the national census of Pakistan as they are citizens of Afghanistan deemed to be remaining in the country temporarily.
About 99% of the people are Muslims, that includes the majority Sunni sect and the minority Shias most of whom are the Hazaras. Christian, Hindu, and Sikh population are the other people living in the city.
The residents of the city are avid sports fans. In Quetta, unlike most of Pakistan, football rather than cricket is the most popular sport. Football teams from Quetta include Quetta Zorawar, Afghan Football, Hazara Green Football, Baluch Football and Quetta Bazigars Club. In cricket, Quetta is home to the Quetta Bears.
In field hockey, Quetta has produced Zeeshan Ashraf and Shakeel Abbasi, who are current members of the Pakistan national field hockey team. In mountain climbing and caving, Hayatullah Khan Durrani (Pride of Performance), the chief executive of Hayat Durrani Water Sports Academy at Hanna Lake. In Kayaking, Muhammad Abubakar Durrani, National Junior Champion was selected for the world Junior Canoeing Championship in 2009 in Moscow. In Boxing Olympians from Quetta include: Syed Agha Ibrar Shah,Abdul Salam Khan Kakar, Asghar Ali Changezi and Haider Ali Changezi. Weight lifting Dilawar Khan Khilji, Mohammad Rafiq Khan Khilji and Mohammad Alam Khan Kakar were the famous weightlifters.
In squash, Hiddy Jahan Khan was ranked among the top-6 players in the world from 1970 through to 1986. British Open champion Qamer Zaman also hails from Quetta. Other famous squash players include: Zarak Jahan Khan, Abdul Wali Khan Khilji, Hamayoon Khan Khilji, Zubair Jahan Khan, Shams ul Islam Khan Kakar, Tariq Rahim Khan Kakar and Shaied Zaman Khan. The Ayub National Stadium is the largest stadium in the city and the site of international cricket and football matches.