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Topography of Punjab Province

Predominantly, Punjab comprises of a leveled plain, in addition to some mountainous and hilly areas, which are mostly situated in its northwest and extreme southwest. Adjacent to these mountains is a plateau, known as the Potwar, Potohar, or Potowar Plateau. A desert belt, known as Cholistan, lies in the southeastern side of the province.

Punjab can be divided into 4 broad topographic regions as follows:

  1. Mountainous and Hilly areas
  2. Potowar Plateau
  3. Plain Areas
  4. Desert Areas

Rivers, Streams, and LakesForestsSoilsClimateSeismic Activity

Mountainous and Hilly Areas Punjab province

The mountainous/ hilly areas of Punjab consist of a number of important mountain tracts:

  • The first tract of mountains and hills is located in the northwest of the province and consists of the sub-Himalayas or Siwaliks Range in the northeast, and the Salt Range in the south of this tract
  • the Suleiman range of mountains (southwestern Punjab),
  • Kala Chitta Range
  • Kirana Hills

The mountains and hills in the north of Attock and northeast of both Rawalpindi and Jhelum districts consist of an extension of the sub-Himalayas or Siwaliks Range. The height of these mountains varies from 2,000 meters to 2,500 meters above Mean Sea Level (MSL).

The Salt Range is located in the central part of Jhelum and the northern part of Sargodha district. These hills run in an east-west direction, reaching heights varying from 500 to 1,000 meters above MSL.

The Suleiman Mountains are the southern extension of the Hindu Kush mountain system, located in southwestern Punjab. The highest peak is the Takht-e-Suleiman in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which is 3,382 meters high.

The Kala Chitta Range of mountains is located in the Attock district in northern Punjab. This range rises to an average height of 450-900 meters (3,000 ft) above MSL and extends for about 72 km (45 mi) in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Kala Chitta Range extends eastward across the plateau towards Rawalpindi.

The Kirana Hills is a small mountain range which spans approximately 64 km (40 mi) across the districts of Sargodha and Jhang.

Potowar Plateau; Punjab province

The Potowar Plateau is bounded in the north by Kala Chitta (Salt Range) and the Margala ranges (foothills of the Himalayas), in the east by Jhelum River, in the south by the Salt Range and in the west by the Indus River. Most of the area of the plateau slopes from northeast to southwest and drains through the Soan River into the Indus. However, the southeastern part of the plateau slopes more towards the east and drains into the Jhelum River. It is a plain region, cut by deep ravines and form ridges.

The elevation of the Potowar Plateau varies from 300 to 600 m (1,000 to 2,000 ft) in a system of residual hills and hillocks formed from glacial debris as remnants of the Ice Age. The Kala Chitta Range or Salt Range thrusts eastward across the plateau towards Rawalpindi; the valleys of the Haro and Soan rivers cross the plateau from the eastern foothills to the Indus. Most of the hills and rivers are bordered by dissected ravine belts. The streams, due to constant rejuvenation, are deep set, and of little use for irrigation purposes.

Plain Areas; Punjab province

The plain areas of Punjab are a part of the Great Indus Plain. While the southern part of the plain (known as Lower Indus Plain) is mostly in Sindh, the northern part of the same plain (known as Upper Indus Plain) forms a greater part of the Punjab province (both East and West Punjab), with the greater part of it in Pakistan. This has been formed by the River Indus and its tributaries. This plain slopes gradually towards the Arabian Sea. Near Sargodha, Chiniot, and Sangla some old dry hills rise above the plain; these hills are known as the Kirana Hills.

Land which lies between 2 rivers is known as “doab” (two waters) or interfluves. The Punjab plain is divided into doabs including the Bari doab (land between Sutlej and Ravi), the Rechna doab (land between the Ravi and the Chenab), the Chaj doab (land between the Chenab and the Jhelum) and the Sindh Sagar doab (land between the Kirana Bar in the middle of the Chaj doab).

The central parts of these doabs are higher than the ravines and are called bars. Some of these include the Nili Bar (in Bari doab), the Ganji Bar (the old course of the rivers Beas and the Ravi), the Sandal Bar (in Rechna Doab) and the Kirana Bar (in Chaj doab). These bars are scalloped interfluves in between two rivers.

The sub-mountain plain area, west of the Indus, known as Derajat, lies in between the Indus and the foothills of the Suleiman range (Suleiman piedmonts) and is divided into the districts of Dera Ghazi Khan and Dera Ismail Khan. It has a flat or undulate surface.

The annually flooded riverine area is called Bet. Agriculturally, it is the most important area. Most riverine areas lie along the river basins.

Desert Areas; Punjab province

The southeastern part of the Indus plain, from eastern Bahawalpur to the Tharparkar region in the south, is an extension of the Thar Desert which is located between Pakistan and India. It is separated from the central irrigated zone of the plains by the dry bed of the Ghaggar River in Bahawalpur and the Eastern Nara Canal in Sind. The desert is known as the Cholistan or Rohi Desert in Bahawalpur and the Pat or Thar Desert in Sind. The surface of the desert is a maze of sand dunes and sand ridges which occasionally rise to 150 meters above the surrounding areas.

In Punjab, parts of the Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar, and Rahim Yar Khan districts together form the Cholistan or Rohi desert. The Cholistan is spread over an area of 16,638 km2 of which 10,006 km2 are located in Bahawalpur, 2,528 km2 in Bahawalnagar and 4,040 km2 in Rahim Yar Khan. The desert is divided into Greater and Smaller Cholistan. The Greater Cholistan desert extends over an area of 11,200 km2 in the extreme south with mostly sandy surfaces and sand ridges (rocky), which is commonly known as Rohi.

The Smaller Cholistan desert, also called Hakra, consists of a low surface area alongside the cultivated area. This is a barren plain known as Dehar. It comprises 4,800 km2 and its soil is alluvial and calcareous.

Rivers, Streams, and Lakes; Punjab province

The Punjab province of Pakistan has 5 major rivers and their numerous local tributaries. All of these five rivers originate from the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayan Mountains. After traveling hundreds of miles through the high mountain valleys, these rivers ultimately enter the plains and plateaus of Punjab via the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province of Pakistan, the State of Kashmir, and India.

What makes Punjab unique is its river link canal system, first devised by the British in the early 20th century and then expanded by Pakistan under its Indus Basin Water treaty.

The Indus (Sindh) is the northern-most and the upper-most of the rivers and also the sixth river of undivided Punjab. The eponymous five rivers are Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej. Beas merges into River Sutlej (retaining the name of Sutlej) at Harike near Ferozepur (Indian Punjab), just before crossing the border into Pakistani Punjab.

Other important Rivers of Punjab include the Soan River in Potowar Plateau, Haro River near Kala Chitta Range in Attock district (these two Rivers flow into Indus River) and Tawi River which flows through Sialkot district and into River Chenab.

In addition to the rivers, Punjab has numerous nullah/ streams which originate from the mountains/ hill ranges and flow through various parts of the province. Some of the important streams/ nullahs of the province are: Kanshi Stream (Tehsil Gujar Khan; Rawalpindi), Lingh Nullah (Tehsil Kahuta; Rawalpindi), Palkhu Nullah (Wazirabad and Sialkot), Nullah Aik (Wazirabad), Tamrah Nullah (Rawalpindi district), Ghalam Nullah (Rawalpindi), Soj Nullah, Wahan Nullah, Gabbir Nullah, Tarpi Nullah, Dharabi Nullah and Sahaa Nullah (all in Chakwal district), Bhimbar and Bhandar Nullah (both in Gujrat district), Khot, Beghwala, and Dek (all in Gujranwala district), Degh Nullah (Sialkot district), and Khanwah, and Sohag nullah (Okara district).

A large number of streams originate from the Suleiman Mountains of Dera Ghazi Khan district, which have been discussed in more detail in the chapter on Dera Ghazi Khan district.

Famous lakes of the province include Kallar Kahar (Chakwal district), Khabbeki Lake (Salt Range), Namal Lake (Mianwali district), Rawal Lake (Islamabad), Simli Lake (Islamabad), Uchhali Lake (Sakesar Valley, Salt Range), Subri Lake (Muzaffarabad district), Rangla Lake (Muzaffargarh), Jahlar Lake (Salt Range), Nahi Shah Lake and Bud Lake (Sargodha district), Chashma Barrage Lake (Mianwali district), and Kharal Lake (Okara district).

Figure 1.8 Village Chitta on the banks of Uchhali Lake

Figure 1.9 Kallar Kahar Lake, Punjab

Forests; Punjab province

There are various types of forests in the province like coniferous forests (evergreen forests, mostly found in Murree, Rawalpindi district), scrub forests (northwestern thorn scrub forests), range lands, irrigated plantations, riverine forests, canal-side plantations, roadside plantations, rail-side plantations, and miscellaneous linear plantations. In addition to the public sector forestry resources, tree cover exists in farmlands both in the form of woodlots and linear avenues along field boundaries and watercourses.

The statistics of designated forest areas of the province are shown in the following table, based on Punjab Development Statistics 2018-19:

Total Forest Area 1,648,612 A Linear Plantations[1] 46,981 km
Compact Forests (Govt. of Punjab, GoP) 528,752 A Un-classed forests[2] 280,860 A
Reserved Forests[3] Under GoP 796,132 A Resumed Land[4] 39,122 HA
Other Forests 3,549 A Chos Forests[5] (Area under GoP 197 A

Table 1.3 Punjab Forests (Punjab Development Statistics)

According to the Punjab Forest Department,[6] various types of forests and their area in Punjab province are as follows:

Irrigated Plantations 1,71,900 HA Riverine Forests 71,104 HA
Scrub Forests 273,704 HA Coniferous 45,897 HA
Coniferous/ Scrub Forest 12,425 HA Range Lands 82,281 HA
Deserts 15,470 HA Miscellaneous 5 HA

Table 1.4 Punjab Forests (Types; Punjab Forest Department)

Some of the important irrigated forests of the province are Changa Manga (Lahore district), Gatwala Irrigated Plantation (Faisalabad district) and Chichawatni Plantation (Sahiwal district).

Riverine forests are being depleted due to shortage of water, since these are mainly dependent on inundation from rivers. Important ones are located in the Jhelum District along Jhelum River. The coniferous forests and scrub forests are mainly located in the Rawalpindi Division, mostly in the Murree region.

Some of the forests of Punjab province include Jhoke Riverine Forest, Bela Qila Jowar Singh, Dungi Reserved forest, Rakh Baral Reserved Forest, Pakhowal Reserved Forest, Bahawalpur Plantation, Kawah Gar Reserved Forests, Chichawatni Reserved Forest, Kala Chitta Reserve Forest, Mitha Tiwana Reserved Forest, and Warcha Reserved Forest.

Soils; Punjab province

The soils[7] of Punjab are varied according to ecological distribution, based on the following regions:

  • Northern mountainous regions
  • Potowar upland plateau
  • Sandy deserts
  • Piedmont Plains[8]
  • River terraces

Mountainous Regions; Punjab Province

A high disparity exists in the climate of mountainous regions. Murree and its surrounding regions are high precipitation zones (recording up to 1,800 mm of mean annual rains). Towards the north, west, and south, rainfall gradually declines. Thus, absence of soil salinity, or sodocity, is a universal peculiarity of this region.

The region is constituted of two distinctly different landform divisions, each with its own soil pattern. The mountain slopes are occupied by residual-colluvial shallow (on an average about 50 cm thick), loamy soils with lots of rock fragments. Generally, their organic matter content is fairly high. The sub-stratum comprises weathered bed rocks. The valleys are either nearly level or have only gentle slopes. Here the soil material is mostly alluvial.

Potowar Upland Plateau; Punjab province

The Potowar Plateau generally has a flat to gently undulating surface locally broken by gullies and low hills/ ranges. The surface soil materials are loess deposits, residual mantle on sandstones and shale bedrocks, or narrow strips of silty/ loamy alluvium along major streams like Soan, Haro, and Kanshi. In fact, the present landscape has been shaped by soil erosion. Loess plains are a characteristic landform of this region. These comprise of thick deposits of calcareous, fine, wind-laid sediments that have undergone strong profile development followed by erosion and a second cycle of Pedogenesis.[9]

A second important group of soils has formed in residuum derived from sandstones and shale. Soils developed from sandstone range from very shallow—loose, calcareous, undeveloped sands/ loamy sands on sloping semi-arid parts subject to active erosion—to very deep—humidified, moderately structured, non-calcareous, sandy clay loams on old stable flat to slightly concave, surfaces in the sub-humid climatic zones. The soils derived from shales are generally moderately deep, weakly developed, calcareous clayey/ silty clays.

A third kind of soil is the alluvium. The soil materials are mainly loamy and calcareous.

Sandy Deserts; Punjab province

These include vast areas of Aeolian sand deposits occurring in the Thal and Cholistan deserts of the province. The landscape is constituted of an intricate pattern of ridges and hollows formed by systemic wind action.

Piedmont Plains; Punjab province

This region is constituted of the vast, gently sloping plains between the Suleiman Range and the Indus River. The area is made up of alluvial sediments brought down from the adjacent mountains by hill torrents and deposited in the depressions that form at the foot of the mountains and hills. During deposition, some sorting of the sediments takes place, usually in keeping with the transportation capacity of the carrying water. Due to their higher position and limited availability of water, considerable sections of the Piedmont Plains are uncultivated.

Generally, the lowest parts of the plain have silty clays and silty clay loams, the mid-reaches are occupied by silty/ loamy soils, and the upper-most belt is coarse textured.

River Terraces; Punjab province

The River Terraces of Punjab can be divided into 3 kinds: the Old River Terraces, the Sub-recent River Terraces and the Recent River Terraces. The Old River Terraces comprise of the scalloped interfluves (Bars)[10] occupying the middle parts of the major rivers (Doabs) of Punjab. These areas generally have a flat surface, interrupted only by some natural levees or channel remnants. It is made up of river alluvial soils brought down from the Himalayas and deposited during the Pleistocene epoch. In general, the sediments are loamy in the northern reaches and become silty towards the south. The sediments are characteristically calcareous and of mixed mineral makeup.

The Sub-recent River Terraces consist of the areas between the Old River Terraces and the present day flood plains of the rivers. The nature of sediments, depositional pattern and their surface configuration are similar to the Old River Terraces (Bars). Age-wise, however, they are much younger, having been deposited during sub-recent times.

Recent River Terraces or plains consist of present flood plains of major rivers occurring as narrow belts along river streams. The area is subject to periodic flooding. Sedimentation is still occurring in some parts, especially those areas overlooking the rivers. The area is generally free of salinity and sodicity. The soils are stratified, and laminated, and fall in the entisols[11] category.

Climate; Punjab province

The climate of Punjab is continental, with marked temperature fluctuations both seasonally and on a daily basis. Pakistan’s section of Punjab is characterized by a semi-arid climate, with increasing aridity from east to west and from north to south.

Punjab has 3 major seasons:

  • Hot season (April to June): Temperature rises as high as 44 °C (110 °F)
  • Rainy season (July to September): Average annual rainfall ranges between 96 cms (Sub-mountain region) to 46 cms (in the plains)
  • Cold weather (October to March): Temperature goes as low as 4 °C (40 °F)

Transitional seasons are as follows:

  • Pre-hot season (March to mid-April): This is a transitional period between the cold and hot seasons
  • Post-Monsoon (September to end of November): This is the transitional period between the rainy and cold seasons

Pre-hot Season or Spring; Punjab province

By early March, the winter season begins to fade and by the middle of April, the weather transitions to the hot season. There are some occasional showers in this season, sometimes accompanied by hail storms and squalls which can do a lot of damage to crops. The winds are usually warm and dry during the last days of March. Harvests are usually carried out during this season, which is also termed as spring.

Hot Season or Summer; Punjab province

The temperature begins to rise steadily beginning in February. Though the real hot season starts in mid-April, the rising temperature breaks the high pressure belt in the northwest of the Indian peninsula. June is the hottest month. In most parts of the province, particularly in the southern side, high temperatures and aridity are the main characteristics of this season.

Rainy Season; Punjab province

This is the most welcome season, as the rains provide a welcome relief from the scorching heat of the summer. The agricultural year begins with its advent. Monsoon winds reach the region in the first weeks of July. The Bay of Bengal branch of the Monsoon current is the main source of rainfall.

Post-Monsoon Season; Punjab province

The Monsoon normally recedes by the middle of September. With this, a gradual change in weather takes place, which continues till the end of November. Thus, October and November are the months with transitional climate between the rainy and winter seasons. The weather remains generally dry and moderate.

Winter Season; Punjab province

The winter season in Punjab is experienced during the months of early December to the end of February. The temperatures are the lowest in January, when the mean temperature falls to 12 °C during day time and to 5 °C during the night.

Temperatures; Punjab province

Temperatures in summer may exceed 50 °C at certain places. In winter, some areas experience frost for a short period. Average temperatures range from -2 °C to 40 °C (Min to Max respectively), but can reach 47 °C (117°F) in summer and -5 °C in winter.

Rainfall; Punjab province

Climatically, Punjab falls in 3 zones on the basis of rainfall:

  1. arid deserts of Thal and Cholistan with less than 300 mm annual rainfall,
  2. semi-arid areas of southern Punjab and Potowar Plateau with 300-600 mm rainfall and
  3. dry subtropical tract of central and northern Punjab and Salt Range with annual rainfall ranging from 600-1,200 mm.

The region near the foothills of the Himalayas receives heavy rainfall, while the region at a distance from the hills receives scanty rainfall and high temperatures.

The major portion of the annual rainfall in Punjab is experienced during the Monsoon period, when the Monsoon current in the Bay of Bengal enters from the southeast. The normal onset of the Monsoon in Punjab is during the first week of July.

Winter Rainfall, Punjab province

During the winter season, the weather in Punjab is normally cool and dry. This type of weather is associated with the passage of western disturbances through the region. The importance of winter rainfall in Punjab is immense, primarily because of its timing and effectiveness. In the area adjoining the Siwalik Hills, winter crops are dependent on this rainfall. The sub-Siwalik region receives more than 100 mm of rainfall from December to March.

Seismic Activity; Punjab Province

Most of Punjab’s regions fall in Zone 2B of the Seismic Zone Map of Pakistan; this is the minor to no damage zone. The northern regions like Lahore, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad areas belong to Zone 2A, which is the minor to moderate damage zone.

[1] Tree plantations along roads, canals, and railway lines

[2] Government Forests that are neither protected nor reserved.

[3] Area controlled by Forest Department

[4] Land taken over by government under various Reforms or Martial Law Regulations

[5] Land taken up for soil & water conservation.

[6] Legal classification and Forest Types; Punjab Forest Department, 2013; Latest available

[7] Punjab Province Census Report 1998, published by Population Census Department, Pakistan

[8] Piedmont Plains are those plains which are found on the foot of mountains or hills, formed by the deposition of materials.

[9] Pedogenesis or soil evolution (formation) is the process of soil development.

[10] Interfluves is a region between the valleys of adjacent watercourses, esp. in a dissected upland.

[11] Entisols are defined as soils that have not been affected by any changes and that are unaltered from their parent material.