Quetta (Urdu: کوئٹہ, Balochi: کویته) is the capital of Balochistan province in Pakistan. If you are taking the overland route from Istanbul, Turkey to New Delhi, India without going through Afghanistan you will have to pass through Quetta.
Quetta is an excellent base for exploration of Balochistan. Kan Mehtarzai (2,224 metres), the highest railway station in Asia, is a two-hour drive away. Loralai, the almond bowl of the country, is 265 km away. Besides, there are numerous other valleys that are fascinating places for explorers.
The name Quetta is derived from the Pashto word "Kwatta" which means a fort possibly because it is a natural fort surrounded by imposing hills on all sides. Three large craggy mountains — Chiltan, Zarghun and Koh-e-Murdar — seem to brood upon this town, and there are other mountains that form a ring around it. Their copper red and russet rocks and crests are powdered with snow in winters add immense charm to the town.
Strategically, Quetta is an important city due to its proximity to borders with Iran and Afghanistan. There is a huge military base just outside the city. Historically, Quetta owes much of its importance to the Bolan Pass which links it to Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Excavations in the Quetta valley have proved that humans have lived there since pre-history. Modern day Quetta is a growing centre of excellence.
The population of Quetta district is approximately two million, and the city has an area of 2653 km2.
Quetta is 1,680 metres (5,500 feet) above sea level and enjoys a healthy climate. The temperature drops a few degrees below the freezing point in winter following a typical autumn when the leaves turn golden and then a wild red.
Quetta is known as the fruit basket of Pakistan. Plums, peaches, pomegranates, apricots, apples, guavas (locally called zaitoon), some unique varieties of melon such as "Garma" and "Sarda" and cherries, pistachios and almonds are all grown in abundance. Some pistachios also grow in Qila Saif Ullah. Saffron grows very well and is being cultivated on a commercial scale. Tulips are an indigenous flower of Pakistan. The yellow and red varieties of tulip grow wild in the area.
People and Culture
The inhabitants of Quetta are mainly Pashtuns. The tribes include Kakar, Ghilzai Tareen, Mandokhel, Sherani, Looni, Kasi and Achakzai. Since Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan one might think the Balochs would be in the majority, but the Pashtuns are actually the largest group and the Pashto language is widely spoken.
Besides Pashtuns and Balochis you can also find Punjabis, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Turkomen rubbing shoulders with the other inhabitants. They are known to be hospitable to visitors because hospitality is an important element of their cultures.
Nomadic tribesmen, mainly Balouchi, pass through Quetta Valley during spring and autumn with their herds of sheep and camels and their assorted wares for sale. This seasonal movement adds colour to the life of the city.
The Pashtuns pride themselves on their tradition of hospitality to guests (milmastia in Pashto). Just a greeting of Salaam Alaykum will get you far in endearing yourself to people. The rugged terrain has made the people of the area hardy and resilient. They are known for their friendliness and hospitality. To make a visitor comfortable is part of their tradition. The people inhabiting this land are proud, robust and fiercely independent.
Quetta International Airport is about 15 minutes by taxi from the city center. Flights with Pakstan International Airlines will take you here from most major cities in Pakistan such as; Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. As of 2014, there are no international flight available.
There are daily train connections with most major cities in Pakistan. The overnight sleeper Bolan Mail departs Karachi daily at 17:00, arriving after noon the next day. Another sleeer train, Quetta Express starts in Peshawar (33 h) daily at 80:00 and make stop-overs in Rawalpindi (29 h) and Lahore (24 h) on its way, arrival time in Quetta is around 17:00 the next day. Coming from Afghanistan, there is a train departing the border town of Chaman every day at 14:00, arriving later that evening just before 18:30.
One international connection is available, with Zahedan in Iran. The train departs Zahedan the 3rd and 17th of every month at 08:00, supposedly arriving the next day at 15:15. Be aware however that delays are the norm, the actual arrival time is usually between 3-6 hours after schedule. On some occasions this train might be cancelled and replaced by a bus.
The highway connects eastward to Karachi and westward via Koh-e-Taftan to Tehran, Iran, 1,435 km away. The road to Sibi connects it with Punjab and upper Sindh. The road via Loralai - Fort Monro -D.G. Khan and Multan is a shorter route for Punjab. The Chaman Road is a link between the country and the Afghan border.
The city centre is small enough that a visitor can reach most places by foot. It is a place of ancient monuments, wide tree-lined boulevards and sterling British architecture. Even more compelling, Quetta has a dramatic setting, with a mountainous backdrop on all sides. Most sights can be easily seen in a day: the impressive Archaeological Museum of Baluchistan, the fort or the city’s many colourful bazaars—great places to pick marble, onyx, and some of the finest carpets in Pakistan.
The main thoroughfare and the commercial centre of Quetta is Jinnah Road, where the Tourist Information Centre of Pakistan's Tourism Development Corporation is located as well as the banks, restaurants and handicraft shops. Shahrah-e-Zarghun, a tree-lined boulevard, runs parallel to Jinnah Road, here many important buildings like the Governor's House, Post and Telecommunication Offices are located.
Auto-rickshaws give Quetta polluted air, and are the most popular and the cheapest way to get around the city but they are rapidly being replaced by more environmentally friendly 4-stroke CNG rickshaws.
From the airport - When you arrive at the airport you will likely be besieged with touts offering you taxis and rooms. It's wise not to book anything through them and arrange a taxi yourself to the hotel of your choice. Some of the mid-range and most top-end hotels offer a courtesy shuttle from the airport.
If you want to enjoy an excursion near the city, you can visit to Hanna Lake. It is in the hills overlooking Quetta, approximately 10 km from the city and very close to the Urak, where benches and pavilions on terraces have been provided. Golden fish in the lake come swimming right up to the edge. A little distance away, the waters of the lake take on a greenish blue tint. Right where the water ends, pine trees have been planted on the grass filled slopes. The turquoise water of lake is a stark contrast to the brownish-green hills that surround the area.
Wagon service operates from city bus station at Circular Road. The transport can be hired through the PTDC Tourist Information Centre, Muslim Hotel, Jinnah Road Quetta.
Hazarganji Chiltan National Park
Hazarganji literally means "Of a thousand treasures". In the folds of these mountains, legend has it, that, there are over a thousand treasures buried, reminders of the passage of great armies down the corridors of history. The Bactrian, Scythians, Mongols and then the great migrating hordes of Pashtuns, all passed this way.
In the Hazarganji Chiltan National Park, 20 km southwest of Quetta, Markhors, have been given protection. The park is spread over 38,437 acres, altitude ranging from 2,000 to 3,200 metres.
Nature lovers, students, scientists and researchers are welcome to visit the park at any time of the year. For overnight stay, accommodation is available at the Forest Department Rest House located five kilometres inside the Park.
Park Rangers help the visitors to see animals. Access trails have been developed in the park for visitors. A small museum of natural history is located near the Park entrance.
It is a waterfall and picnic point located 70 km from the city centre on Sibi Road.
Located 10 km west of Quetta
- Archaeological Museum, Fifa Road. Open 9AM-3PM daily. Has a collection of rare antique guns, swords and manuscripts. It has a display of Stone Age tools, prehistoric pottery and articles found from Mehrgarh. There are also coins, manuscripts and photos of Quetta before 1935 earthquake.
- Geological Museum, Sariab Road (near Balochistan University). Has a collection of rocks and fossils found in Balochistan. The Command and Staff College Museum is worth a visit for those interested in British military history. It is housed in the former bungalow of Field Marshal Montgomery.
Amusement and Recreation
The Askari Park at the Airport Road and Liaquat Park on Shahrah-e-Iqbal offer amusement and recreational facilities. Balochistan Arts Council Library is located on Jinnah Road. The Chiltan Hill viewpoint on Brewery Road offers a panoramic view of Quetta. Karkhasa is a recreation Park situated at distance of 10 km to the west of Quetta. It is a 16 km long narrow valley having a variety of flora like Ephedra, Artemisia and Sophora. One can see birds like partridges and other wild birds in the park. Limited recreational facilities are provided to the visitors through the Forest Department, Spinney Road, Quetta.
There are religious and social festivals celebrated by the people of Quetta. Two major religious festivals are Eid-ul-Azha and Eid-ul-Fiter. On these festivals people adorn their houses, wear new dresses, cook special dishes and visit each other. Eid-Meladun-Nabi is another religious festival. It is a celebration of the birth day of the Muslim prophet, Muhammad.
Numerous colourful social festivals are also source of jubilation. Sibi festival that traces its roots to Mehrgarh, an archeological site of ancient human civilization, attracts people from across the country. It is attended by common folk, ministers and other government officials. Folk music performances, cultural dances, handicrafts stalls, cattle shows and a number of other amusing activities. Buzkashi is a peculiar festival showing the valor of Pashtun people. It is celebrated on horseback by two teams that use their skills to snatch a goat from each other.
Local handicrafts, specially green marble products, mirror work and embroidered jackets, shirts, and hand bags, pillow covers, bed sheets, dry fruits, etc.
The main bazaar is on Jinnah Road. Prominent bazaars of Quetta are located on Shahrah-e-Iqbal (Kandahari Bazaar) and Shahrah-e-Liaqat (Liaqat Bazaar and Suraj Gang Bazaar). Here you can find colourful handicrafts, particularly Balochi mirror work and Pashtun embroidery. The Pashtun workers are expert in making fine Afghani carpets, with their pleasing and intricate designs, fur coats, jackets, waist-coats, sandals and other creations of traditional Pashtun skills.
Balochi carpets are made by the nomadic tribes of this area. They are generally not nearly as fine or expensive as the Persian city products, or even the Turkoman tribal rugs from further North, but they are generally better than Afghan carpets and more authentic than the bad copies of Turkoman and Persian designs that the cites of Pakistan produce. They definitely have a charm of their own. They range from relatively crude rugs that can, with some bargaining, be had be purchased for very reasonable prices to fine and valuable pieces. Many are small enough to be carry.
In the old bazaars are old tea-shops, which are the local social clubs. There are also many popular eating houses offering different types of delicacies. Among the popular delicacies is Sajji (leg of lamb), which is tender and is not very spicy. It is a whole leg of lamb marinated in local herbs and spices and barbecued beside an open fire. It is very popular among the locals and is offered with great insistence to the guests. The Pathan tribesmen of the valley also enjoy Landii (whole lamb) and Khandi Kebab. Landhi s a whole lamb which is dried in shade and kept for the winters. Kebab shops are very popular, the best being Lal Kebab, Tabaq, Cafe Farah and Cafe Baldia. They serve Pakistani and Continental food. The Chinese restaurant that is one of the oldest in town is Cafe China. Some of the finest mutton in the country is raised around Quetta. It has a delicious smell which can be sampled in the 'Pualao that most of the eating houses.
There is famous Lehri Sajji house and Mir Afzal Karahi at Jinnah Road. The most famous is the Khadi kebab kebab which is just behind the street at Liaquat Bazaar
The Pashtun people are also known for their refreshing green tea and Dood Pati shops
Very few places can compete with Quetta valley in having wide range of tasteful fruits, exported to all parts of the country as well as abroad. There you can find plums, peaches, pomegranates, apricots, apples, olives, different types of melon, water-melon, cherries, pistachios, almonds and other dry fruits. Saffron and tulip are also grown and cultivated on a commercial scale. The fruits heaven is Urak, called Samaristan meaning the land of fruits in Persian.
- Being an Islamic country, Alcohol is banned but is available for non Muslims. None of the hotels have bars, although at some alcohol can be ordered as room service.
There is a liquor store on the main street though it's difficult to find (it's best to ask your hotel, which should be able to provide directions).
- Quetta is well known for its Kawa (Green Tea) and Shere Chai also known as Dood Pati Chai. Kawa has a unique flavour, and is usually served sweet, lemon and ginger powder are optional additions.
- Sharbat-e-Sandal is a sweet, non-carbonated drink unusually found in markets in summer. It has a good taste and a yellowish-green transparent colour - look out for the black seeds. Served ice cold.
- Shees Hotel, M.A. Jinnah Road, 823015. Centrally located. The rooms are a good value, and the manager is helpful.
- Armani Hotel, Airport Rd (Airport Road towards Afghanistan), ☎ +92 300 380 0976. Check-in: 20:00, check-out: 11:30. Variety of accommodation for all travellers. Friendly environment for all guests, with an international clientele.
- Bloom Star Hotel, 8 Stewart Rd (in a side street of Jinnah Rd near train station), ☎ +92 81 283-3350. Check-out: 12:00. Clean Hotel with two gardens where you can pitch a tent. Also has a parking area. camping Rs300, Single with bathroom Rs600.
- Hotel Four Season (On Abdul sattar Rd), ☎ +92 81 2827496.
- Quetta Serena Hotel (In Cantonment area, crossing of Zarghoon Rd and Hali Rd.), ☎ +92 81 2820073, fax: +92-81-2820070. One of the best hotels around, centrally located and offers lots of service. Prices start at US$170 per night.
Quetta is firmly planted on the overland to/from Iran route and sees its fair share of travelers, and most don't run into problems. Balochistan gained some media attention as a hideout and winter home for the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and some high-profile wanted men have been captured here. While this may invoke fear in some, you're unlikely to be bothered here, as they're more in hiding and trying to blend in than out starting trouble.
Currently the general level of safety for foreigners deteriorated as the Head of the UNHCR office in Quetta was kidnapped and taken to Afghanistan. If you are on an official mission or high-profile business some caution should be exercised.
All in all the people of Quetta are friendly but don't question their religion, culture and tradition. The Pashtuns pride themselves on their tradition of hospitality (milmastia in Pashto) to guests. Just a greeting of Salaam Alaykum will get you far in endearing yourself to people.
FM100 Pakistan is the state-run radio channel with local news and other information. FM105 is an ew private radio channel which in a short time have captured the young audience of Quetta valley due to its modern and open approach to songs and current affairs.
All regional languages are represented at local TV-stations including Pashto, Brahui, Baluchi, Punjabi, Persian, drama and current/youth affairs are the main trends.
Driving through wild roses and fruit orchards, you may reach the Urak Valley at a distance of 21 km .
Filled with numerous fruit orchards, the Pishin Valley is 50 km away from Quetta. These orchards are irrigated by ‘karez’. There is the attraction of cool waters, i.e. man-made lake with Bund Khushdil Khan (Tareenan).
A visit to Quetta May be considered incomplete without a trip to Ziarat (133 km from Quetta, 3 hours by car), a hill town 8000 feet above sea-level, where the founder of Pakistan Quiad-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah spent his last days. Air-conditioned coach and taxis take anything between an hour or two from Quetta, an ideal and relaxing summer retreat with rows of juniper trees and ever green slopes.
While Ziarat abounds in tall chinar trees and juniper grows wild as does walnut and a variety of other trees, the area west of this hill station leading up to the Afghan border is rocky and barren. The drive through this unfriendly terrain provides one the grim reminder of the fierce tribes who roamed free in the region and kept the British weary and fearful. The border village of Chaman is also a major trading centre for a variety of fruit, a large quantity of which is still brought in from Afghanistan.
This Pass will lead you directly to the Chaman Border of Afghanistan, 153 km from Quetta. The scenic beauty is simply enthralling. The border journey is to be materialized through Khojak Sheela, a 4 km long tunnel, at an elevation of more than 1945 metres above sea level.
Over the centuries several armies from Central Asia and north intruded into the lands of India through this pass. It is a picturesque hilly road, although you may encounter member of Al-Qaeda.
While cruising through the hilly tract between Quetta and Kalat, you cansee the route to Zahidan, Iran. Koh-e-Taftan and Saindak copper mines are en route.
The entire population of Kharwari Baba and for that matter of the entire Ziarat, migrates to Harnai in extreme winter. Harnai Pass, about hours drive from Loralai, is just as spectacular as the Khyber Pass near Peshawar.
Mehrgarh, ancient civilization
During recent decades, a lot has been done to explore the culture and civilization of ancient people. An important site near Quetta is Mehrgarh; people there had farming by 7000 BCE, the earliest known in India or Pakistan.