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Topography of Balochistan

Balochistan province is located at the southeastern edge of the Iranian plateau. It is a strategic bridge between the Middle East and Southwest Asia, and Central Asia and South Asia, and forms the closest oceanic frontage for the landlocked countries of Central Asia. The total area of Balochistan is 347,190 km2 (134,051 miles2), which is approximately 44% of the total land area of Pakistan. The population density in the region is very low due to the mountainous terrain and scarcity of water. The southern region is called Makran. The central region is called Kalat. Topographically, the province is an extensive plateau with rough surfaces divided into basins by mountain ranges reaching height sufficient to form obstacles to movement. It is separated from the Indus plain by the Suleiman, Kirthar, and Pab Mountain Ranges. The Balochistan plateau is a continuation of the geological configuration of the Iranian plateau and about 50% of the mountain ranges are of those found in southern Iran.

Rivers, Streams, and Lakes – ForestsSoilsClimateSeismic Activity

There are 4 major topographical regions in Balochistan. These are:

  • The upper highlands: known locally as Khorasan, these areas rise as high as 3,700 meters, and occupy the central and east-central portion of the province, with valley floors about 1,500 m above sea level. Here, the mountains reach an elevation of 3,657 m. The highlands include Makran, Kharan, and Chaghai Ranges in the West, and Suleiman, Pub, and Kirthar Ranges in the east. The upper highlands include Zhob, Killa Saifullah, Pishin, Quetta, Ziarat, and Kalat districts. They comprise a number of ranges such as Sulaiman, Toba Kakari, Murdar, Zarghoon, Takatu, and Chiltan Ranges
  • The lower highlands: these have an altitude ranging from 600 to 1,200 m (1,970 to 3,940 ft) and are located in southeastern Balochistan, except the eastern part of Kachhi, the southern end of Dera Bugti and Nasirabad districts. They are extensions of the lower highlands that exist at the boundaries of Gwadar, Turbat, Panjgur, Kharan, and Chagai districts. The lower highlands include the eastern slopes of the Suleiman Range; the lower ranges of theMakran, Kharan, and Chagai on the west; and the Pub and Kirthar Ranges on the southeast. The elevation of the valleys in this tract is 77 m above sea level or higher. These highland regions are primarily inhabited by nomadic herdsmen
  • The Plains: these extend northward along the coast into the mountains. Balochistan has a relatively small area of plains (only 15% of the landscape) relative to its total land area. The plains include the Kachhi plain, situated to the south of Sibi, extending into Nasirabad, the southern part of Dera Bugti district, and narrow plain areas along the Makran coast stretching from Kachhi to the Iranian border. The Plains of Kachhi, Lasbela and that of River Dasht cover a sizable area and are described as flat triangular inlets running up into the mountains
  • An arid desert region: this exists in the northwest, which consists of the Chagai and Kharan deserts and the swamps of Lora and Mashkel. The desert area consists of open level plains covered with black gravel, or of broad expanses of deep sand hills which sometimes assume the proportions of formidable sand mountains. This region has inland drainage and dry lakes locally known as Hamuns. Hamun-e-Mashkel and Hamun-e-Lora are 2 such large depressions/ dry lakes, which fill with water whenever it rains

Other major topographical features include volcanoes, and an extensive coastline. Koh-i-Sultan is a volcanic complex[1] situated in the Chagai district of Balochistan with at least 3 cones. This volcano is still marginally active.[2] There are a number of mud volcanoes[3] in Balochistan; in fact, the world’s largest and highest known mud volcano is located in the province. The altitude of the highest mud volcano is 91.4 m (300 ft). The mud volcanoes of Balochistan are mainly found on land, but they occasionally appear as small temporary islands off the coast of Balochistan in the Arabian Sea. Notable mud volcanoes include:

  • Chandragup (a word derived from the Indic Chandragupt)
  • Jabl-ul-Ghurab

Figure 1.6 A mud Volcano of Balochistan

Figure 1.7 A Ground-level Mud Volcano near Gwadar

The coastline is about 760 km long, with a number of peninsulas and promontories.[4] The coastal area is not effectively connected with the interior; steep hills rise abruptly beyond the narrow coastal plain. Ports, such as Somiani, Pasni, and Gwadar are all unsheltered.

Notable mountain passes[5] of the province include:

  • Bolan Pass: This is at an elevation of 152 m (500 ft) above sea level at the mouth, and 1,800 m (5,900 ft) at the head of the pass. The pass has a total length of 86 km, with varying breadth. The principal peaks in this area are the Nodgwar (3,167 m, or 10,390 ft), Shug (3,140 m, or 10,300 ft), Zen (2,840 m, or 9,310 ft) and Pir Mard (2,484 m, or 8,150 ft)
  • Chagai Passes: The principal passes in Chagai are Lusi Pass, Haften Pass, Noti Pass, Jalwar Pass, Pir Puchi Pass, Tatagar Pass, Pahrod Pass, Nimik, and Tafui Pass
  • Marri-Bughti Passes: Nari Pass, Kuchal Pass, Spintangi Pass, Arand Pass, Auger Pass, Sembor Pass, Pazha Pass, Kuba Wange Pass, Mar Pass, Lunial Pass, Dojamak Pass, Dangar Pass, and the Nafusk Pass. Mountain Peaks in the Marri-Bugti areas include the Dung (2,091 m, or 6,861 ft), Lakar (2,080 m, or 6,820 ft), Sialu (2,472 m, or 8,112 ft), Tikil or Tikhil (2,100 m, or 6,886 ft) and Siah Koh (1,680 m, or 5,505 ft), among others

The general configuration of the mountains in the balochistan Province resembles the letter “S”. Some of the more notable mountain ranges of the province are:

  • Sarlet Range in Chagai Area: The average height of peaks in this range is 183 m (600 ft) and the range is about 96 km long. The most prominent peak is called Chari Ting or Socru, and is at an elevation of 1,929 m (6,330 ft)
  • Raskoh Range: This is the extension of the Khawaja Amran off-shoot of Toba Kakar Range. The highest peak is called Raskoh or Ispedar at 3,017 m (9,899 ft). Other notable peaks of this range include Sheikh Hussain, at 2,095 m (6,875 ft), Kambar at 2,648.7 m (8,690 ft), Kambran at 2,596 m (8,518 ft), Ziro at 2,233.9 m (7,329 ft) and Morti-ai-Sar at 2,153.4 m (7,065 ft)
  • Kacha Koh Range: This range is approximately 160 km in length. Its principal peaks are Drana Koh at 1,110.7 m (3,644 ft), Saindak Koh at 1,081 m (3,547 ft), Kacha Koh at 2,183.6 m (7,164 ft), Lar Koh at 2,337.5 m (7,669 ft), Robat Koh at 1,604.5 m (5,264 ft) and Koh-i-Malik at 1,716.6 m (5,632 ft)
  • Chapar Range: This range runs in an east-west direction. The Mekh-e-Rustan hills, at 1,289.9 m (4,232 ft), are on the east, with an abrupt conical peak. The Kasanen or the (lesser) Chapar at 1,271 m (4,170 ft) is on the west, and the central portion of the range is known as Mazanen or the Greater Chapar
  • Koh-i-Sultan Range: The principal peaks of this range are the Sher Khan Chakul at 2,074.47 m (6,806 ft) and Neza-i-Sultan at 1,331.96 m (4,370 ft)
  • Harboi Hills: Some of the more famous peaks of this range include Zendami at 2,872.4 m (9,424 ft), Kahku at 2,996 m (9,830 ft), Koh-i-Siah at 3,112 m (10,210 ft), Koh-i-Maran at 3,270.5 m (10,730 ft) and Meboi at 2,798 m (9,180 ft)
  • Mula Hills: The principal subsidiary ranges are the Nagan Hills on the north of this range, as well as the Palki Hills at 2,386.6 m (7,830 ft), the Mukhi 2,375.6 m (7,794 ft), and Shahmoz 2,668.5 m (8,755 ft), which are in the center and Bolan 2,031.5 m (6,665 ft), Gindari 1,629.76 m (5,347 ft.) in the south, bordering Mula Hills[6]
  • Kirthar Range: This range forms the boundary between Sindh and Balochistan. The Zandak Hills at 2,264.7 m (7,430 ft), Siah Hills at 2,097 m (6,881 ft), Dirri at 1,763.88 m (5,787 ft), Kuchak-na-Kabar at 2,096.4 m (6,878 ft) and Andrej at 1,979.98 m (6,496 ft) are some of the notable peaks of this range
  • Pab Range: This range runs from near Kappar in the Simon Valley, west of Zidi, to the mouth of the Hub River. Pharas Hill at 2,364.9 m (7,759 ft) is the highest point in this range
  • Gorr Hills or western Jhalawan Range: This range forms the eastern boundary of Kharan, dividing it from the Jhalawan Valleys of Gidar, Surab, Rodenjo, and Dasht-e-Garan. Gwandan Hills, that are northwest of Surab, include the peaks of Apak at 2,447 m (8,029 ft), Ziri Peak at 2,170 m (7,120 ft.) and Miskin at 2,190.6 m (7,187 ft)
  • Suleiman Range: This range stretches through Zhob district on the east, and from Gomal River on the north to River Indus in the south. The highest peak in this range is about 3,444 m (11,300 ft), and is known as the Takht-e-Suleiman or Solomon’s Throne. Other hills of this area are the Shinger at 2,827.9 m (9,278 ft.) and Torghar at 2,291.2 m (7,517 ft)
  • Jandran Range: The highest peak in this range reaches 2,047.6 m (6,718 ft); it runs in an east to southwest direction, separating the Kohlu Plateau from the Khetran region
  • Kasa Range: The highest point of this range is 3,445 m (11,303 ft); it contains Juniper forests. One of its peaks, Gund, at 2,859.9 m (9,383 ft), is in the north of Tanda Salam Valley. Another high peak is called Malik Saler with a height of 3,246.7 m (10,652 ft)
  • Makran Coast Range: The highest peak of this range is Shak, at 1,577.9 m (5,177 ft) in the northeastern end of the range
  • Siahan Range: This range separates Makran from Kharan, runs in a south-southwest and east-northeast direction, and unites with the Jhalawan Hills near Sheraza, with a total length of 283 km (176 miles). Near Panjgur, the range bifurcates; the southern spur is called Koh-i-Sabz, the highest point of which is 1,645.9 m (5,400 ft), and it is crossed by a defile called Taak-i-Growag. The highest point on the east is called Razak, which is 2,059.8 m (6,758 ft) high. The other defile is called Tank-i-Zurrati, through which the Rakhshan River passes
  • Murdar Range: This is one of the ranges surrounding the Quetta Basin and is connected to the Zarghun Mountains, which separate the Quetta Valley on the west from the Pingar Valley. Its mean elevation is about 2,438.4 m (8,000 ft) and it rises to 3,184 m (10,446 ft.) at its highest point, which is east of Quetta
  • Zarghun Range: This range is 24 km east-northeast of Quetta, and forms the apex of the mass of mountains springing from Mula Pass. There are 2 notable peaks which are simply called the “big peak” and the “little peak”; the big peak is 3,577.7 m (11,738 ft) high, and the little peak is 3,404.6 m (11,170 ft) high. In the Pushto language, these are called the Kuchnae Sar and Loe Sar respectively
  • Takatu Range: This range is at the northern end of Quetta Valley, and is the outlying spur of the Zarghun Range. Two peaks reaching 3,471.7 m (11,390 ft) and 3,456 m (11,340 ft) in height at the center of the range, are its highest peaks
  • Toba Hills: This range is divided into 2 parts. The smaller one, on the east, is known as Toba Kakari and the larger on the west is called Toba Achakzai, which has an elevation of 2,469 m (8,100 ft)
  • Khwaja Amran: The highest peak in this range is called Amran, which rises to a height of 2,701.7 m (8,864 ft)
  • Mashelakh Range: The main height of this range is more than 2,133.6 m (7,000 ft) and the highest point is 2,429.9 m (7,972 ft)
  • Chilton Range: This range is parallel to the Mashelakh and Murdar Ranges, and the highest peak is at 3,194.3 m (10,480 ft). The range gradually decreases in height as it runs northwards
  • Nagar Hills: The northern extension of this range includes Bhaur at 2,200.7 m (7,220 ft) and Zamuri at 1,512.4 m (4,962 ft). The highest point is the Nagan Peak in the center of the range, with a height of 2,414 m (7,920 ft). The height of this range gradually decreases toward the south, from 2,377 m (7,800 ft) east of Daraj Valley and 2,133.6 m (7,000 ft.) at Bhaurand, to 1,024 m (3,360 ft) at Waro opposite Bibi Nani in the Bolan area
  • Bangulzai, Kurd Hills: West of Nagar hills, this range is primarily controlled by the Bangulzais, Kurds, and Sahtakai tribes. Highest peaks of this range are Dilband at 2,673 m (8,770 ft), Isped at 2,505 (8,219 ft), Pandan Ghat at 2,292.4 m (7,521 ft), Sakht at 2,238.8 m (7,345 ft), Talang at 2,471.9 m (8,110 ft), Zen at 2,554.5 m (8,381 ft), Nodgwar at 3,166.9 m (10,390 ft.) and Pir Murd at 2,484 m (8,150 ft)
  • Khilafat Hills: Located north of Harnai Valley, the principal peak of this range is Khilafat at 3,486.9 m (11,440 ft). The principal subsidiary ranges are Pil Mountains at 2,965.7 m (9,730 ft), Bibai Range reaching 3,028 m (9,934 ft), Surghar Range reaching 3,067.5 m (10,064 ft), Khushob Range at 3,032.8 m (9,950 ft), Janoksar Range at 2,947.4 m (9,670 ft), Zharghat Range at 3,123 m (10,247 ft) and Balsarg Range at 3,074.8 m (10,088 ft)

Rivers, Streams, and Lakes of Balochistan

All rivers and streams are part of 3 major drainage systems. These are:

  • Coastal drainage system: This is characterized by small, ephemeral streams, and hill torrents
  • Inland system: Rivers and streams that do not possess any significant perennial flow. These dominate the central and northwestern areas of the province
  • Indus drainage system: Nari, Kaha, and Gaj Rivers are part of the Indus drainage system, located in the northeastern margins of the province

The flow in rivers is typified by spring runoff and occasional flash floods. The riverbeds are dry, and look like small streams. Stream gradients are high, and the rate of runoff is very rapid. The Zhob River Basin drains toward the northeast into the Gomal River, which ultimately joins the Indus River. Streams along Balochistan’s border with Punjab and Sindh flow toward the east and southeast into the Indus River. Streams and rivers in central and western Balochistan drain toward the south and the southwest into the Arabian Sea. Some areas located in Chagai, Kharan, and Panjgur districts drain into playa[7] lakes, locally called Hamun as in Hamun-e-Lora and Hamun-e-Mashkel.

The important rivers/hill torrents in Balochistan are Zhob, Nari, Bolan, Pishin, Lora, Mula, Hub, Porali, Hingol, Rakshan, Chattar, Kaha, Lehri, Sanghar, Shadi, Sori janubi, Vehowa (Suleiman Range) and Dasht.

Some of the streams/intermittent streams of the province include Zer Tangai, Wangarah, Viasta Tor, Haranch, Torga Chur, Zam Khwara, Vahowa Nadi, Tsaparai Mastai Shela, Siwari nullah, and Sherwai Khwara. In addition, a large number of fresh water springs also flow down the mountains.

There is only one Perennial Lake in Balochistan, called Hanna Lake in Quetta. The other lakes are all seasonal, and are called Hamuns. The notable ones are:

  • Hamun-i-Lara
  • Hamun-i-Mashkel, also called RCD Lake

In Panjgur district, there are a large number of seasonal lakes including Panjgur Lake (also called Isa-i-Ab), and Shakarak. Another seasonal lake of the province is Zangi Nawar Lake, in Nushki district. In addition, there are a number of wetlands of international importance, only some of which are protected under the government of Pakistan laws.

Figure 1.8 Hanna Lake, Quetta

Figure 1.9 Hub Dam on River Hub, Balochistan

Figure 1.10 Zhob River

Forests of Balochistan

The main forest types of Balochistan are coniferous forests, scrub forests, subtropical desert forests, riverine or bela forests, and mangrove forests. The coniferous forests occur at an elevation of 1,500-3,500 m and include the chilghoza (pinus gerardiana) forests and Dry Juniper (juniperus excels) forests. The province has one of the largest areas of Juniper forests in the world; they cover approximately 141,000 HA, and are believed to be the oldest in the world.[8]

Scrub forests occur at an elevation of 500-1,500 m. There are 3 types of scrub forests in Balochistan: dry temperate scrub forests, dry subtropical broad leaved forests and tropical thorn forests. Wild olives (olea ferruginea), guli pista or wild pistachios (Pistacia khinjuk), another variety of pistachio known as Persian turpentine tree (P.atlantica) and (cabulica), are the main species of flora in the scrub forests. Salt tree (Haloxylon persicum), lana or khar and harmal (h.salicornicum-rhazya), camelthorn bush (Alhagi maurorum) and Halfa grass (Desmostachya bipinnata) are the main species found in the subtropical desert forests.

The following table shows the type and area of forests of Balochistan as per Balochistan Development Statistics 2018-19:

Total Forest Area 1,126,464 HA Coniferous Forests 145,107 HA
Irrigated Plantation 115 HA Riverine/Bela Forests 14,171 HA
Scrub Forests 575,026 HA Coastal/Mangroves Forests 17,132 HA
Rangelands 374,913 HA

Table 2.3 Balochistan Forests

Some of the Reserved forests of the province include Kapip Reserved Forest (Zhob district), Gadabar Reserved Forest (Loralai district), Taghar Reserved Forest (Quetta), Talli Reserved Forest, Nargasi Reserved Forest, Ziarat Juniper Forests, Tor Shor Reserved Forest, Mazar Reserved Forest, and Sasnaman Reserved Forest.

Figure 1.11 Kapip Reserved Forest, Zhob

Soils of Balochistan

The soils of the province are derived from limestone, sandstone, and shale. On the mountain peaks and upper slopes, generally 75% of the surface is bare rock. At the foot of the mountains, gravelly fans and terraces are found, with older soils having a gravelly structure. The soils of the piedmont plains are generally deep, free-draining loams and silty loams, with occasional patches of clay and sandy loams. Most of the potentially arable soils are confined to the piedmonts and river plains, where the soils are generally fine textured and deep.

Figure 1.12 Makran Coastal Range

Figure 1.14 Train tracks traversing Bolan Pass

Climate of Balochistan

The climate[9] of Balochistan is generally arid. Since the province includes varied natural divisions, like upper highlands, lower highlands, plains and deserts, differences of climate are also extreme. Generally, the climate is temperate, or otherwise in proportion to local elevation above sea level. Climate conditions similar to those of Sindh prevail in the plains and lower highlands, but in the upper highlands, the seasons of the year are as well marked as in Europe. Climatically, according to aridity, the province can be divided into 4 zones:

  • Hyper Arid areas (average annual rainfall 0 to 100 mm) are Chagai, Kharan, Makran coastal areas, and southeast regions of Lasbela
  • Arid areas (average rainfall 150 mm) northeast of Zhob, Loralai, Sibi, Kachhi, Lasbela plains, and Pab-Mor Ranges
  • Semi Arid areas (rainfall 200 to 250 mm) include the Suleiman Range, Toba Kakar area, Marri-Bugti areas, and Pab-Kirthar ranges
  • Dry areas (rainfall 250-400 mm) include Northern Suleiman and Brahvi Ranges (Kalat area)

Based on the climatic and edaphic[10] factors, the province can be broadly categorized into 4 Agro-Ecological Zones as follows:

  • Coastal Areas: The districts of Lasbela, Gwadar, and Turbat are included in this zone. It has moderate temperatures and low rainfall. Rain is mostly received in winter. In Lasbela, the weather is hot for about 8 months
  • Plains: Here, the summers are hot and dry, characterized by hot winds, dust storms, and towering whirlwinds. This zone includes Jafarabad, Kachhi, Sibi, Bolan, and Dera Bugti. In the summer, the temperature can go up to 52 °C but the mean temperature remains 41 °C
  • Uplands: These are subtropical, continental highlands, with dry temperate continental winter rains. It is characterized by cold winters with both winter and spring rains. The districts of Quetta, Pishin, Qilla Abdullah, Ziarat, Zhob, Killa Saifullah, Loralai, Barkhan, Musakhel, Kalat, Mastung, Khuzdar, and Awaran are included in this zone. In winter, snow falls on central Quetta-Kalat region, which is also exposed to dry and cold Kandhari Hava (wind), which blows from the north. This region is further divided into humid, sub humid, semi arid, and arid regions
  • Desert: This zone is characterized by cold winters, very hot summers, and practically no rains. Annual rainfall here is 51 mm. It includes the districts of Chagai, Kharan, and Panjgur

The entire Balochistan province lies outside the influence of the Monsoon, and rainfall is scanty and uncertain.

Figure 1.15 Map showing precipitation pattern of the Province[11]

Seismic Activity Balochistan

Most of the province is located in Zones 2A and 2B of the Seismic Zone Map of Pakistan, which means minor to no damage or minor to moderate damage due to earthquakes. However, Loralai, Kharan, Kalat, Zhob, Sibi, some parts of Gwadar, Pasni, and Lasbela districts fall in Zone 3, which means moderate to severe damage due to earthquakes. Quetta, and parts of Muslim Bagh as well as Kharan district belong to Zone 4 which is a severe damage zone.

[1] Volcanic Complex is a compound volcano consisting of related volcanic centers and their associated lava flows.

[2] Himalaya to the Sea: Geology, Geomorphology, and the Quaternary. John F Shroder

[3] Mud Volcanoes are formed where there are deep deposits of oil and gas below the surface.

[4] A highland that juts out into the sea or a large lake beyond the coastline.

[5] Extracted from Provincial Census Report 1998, Balochistan by GoPakistan.

[6] 1998 Provincial Profile, Balochistan by GoPakistan.

[7] Playa lakes are round hollows in the ground, and are seasonal in nature


[8] Balochistan Conservation Strategy, IUCN

[9] Extracted from Provincial Profile Balochistan 1998, GoPakistan

[10] Edaphic conditions are based on soil conditions like texture and drainage.

[11] Source: Balochistan Conservation Strategy by IUCNP