What Are The Relief Features Of The Western Mountains Of Pakistan?


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Pakistan covers an area of 796,095 sq km lying between latitude 24 degree and 37 degree North and longitude 62 degree and 75 degree East. The country borders Iran on the west, India in the east, Afghanistan in the north and north-west and the People's Republic of China in the north-west to north-east.

Pakistan is a land of many splendours. The scenery changes northward from coastal beaches, lagoons and mangrove swamps in the south to sandy deserts, desolate plateaus, fertile plains, and dissected upland in the middle and high mountains with beautiful valleys, snow-covered peaks and eternal glaciers in the north. The variety of landscape divides Pakistan into six major regions: The North High Mountainous Region, the Western Low Mountainous Region, the Balochistan Plateau, the Potohar Upland, the Punjab and the Sindh Plains.

Stretching in the north, from east to west, are a series of high mountain ranges, which separate Pakistan from China, Russia and Afghanistan. They include the Himalayas, the Karakoram and Hindukush. With the assemblage of 35 giant peaks over 24,000 ft (7,315 m) high, the region is the climber's paradise. Many peaks are higher than 26,000 ft. The world's second highest peak K 2 (the "K" is the initial letter of the name of mountain Karakoram) tops at 28,250 ft. Inhospitable and technically more difficult to climb than even "Everest" they have taken the biggest toll of human lives in the annals of mountaineering. This region is home not only to some of the world's highest peaks but also some of the longest glaciers- huge solidified rivers of ice sliding ponderously down into the valleys where they melt, adding to the flood of the mighty Indus and its tributaries. Baltoro and Pasu - both over 50 km long, are two famous glaciers. Besides these peaks and glaciers the region abounds in large lakes, and green valleys, which have combined at places to produce beautiful resorts such as Gilgit, Hunza, Chitral, Kaghan and Swat. Due to numerous streams and rivulets, thick forests of pine and junipers, and, a vast variety of fauna and flora, the Chitral, Kaghan and Swat have particularly earned the reputation of being the most enchanting tourist resorts of Pakistan.

The access route to this region is along famous Karakoram Highway. This high way is probably most dramatic road in the world and is an engineering marvel. Stretching 616 km from Thakot, not far north of Islamabad, it climbs 15,072 ft to the top of the Khunjerab Pass, which marks the border between Pakistan and China. It was built as joint project between the Chinese and Pakistani governments. A great part of it was carved by explosives and bulldozers out of the scree and sheer rock faces of the mountains. For each kilometer laid down, a life was lost in rockfalls and avalanches. Landslides and earth tremors still pose a threat to travellers. Experts from the Pakistan Army's Frontiers Works Organization, the engineering section charged with maintaining the road, predict they will be patching and rebuilding continuously for the next 50 years at least. Nevertheless, it has effectively linked up Pakistan's northern areas with the mainstream of national life. By cutting the journey to the federal capital (Islamabad) from several days to a mere 18 hours it has given a significant boost to regional trade and commerce.

South of the high mountains, the ranges lose their height gradually and settle down finally in the Margalla hills (2,000 - 3,000 ft) in the vicinity of Islamabad.

The Western Low Mountain Region spreads from the Swat and Chitral hills in a north-south direction, and covers a large portion of the North-West Frontier Province. North of the river Kabul their altitude ranges from 5,000 to 6,000 ft in Mohmand and Malakand hills. South of the river Kabul spreads the Koh-e-Sofed Range with a general height of 10,000 ft. Its highest peak, Skaram, being 15,620 ft. South of Koh-e-Sofed are the Kohat and Waziristan hills (5,000 ft) which are traversed by the Kurram and Tochi rivers, and are bounded on south by Gomal river. South of the Gomal river, the Sulaiman mountains run for a distance of about 483 km in a north-south direction. At 11,295 ft is the highest peak called Tahkt-e-Sulaiman.

THe Western Mountains have a number of passes, which are special geographical and historical interest. For centuries, they have been watching numerous kings, generals and preachers passing through them and the events that followed brought about momentous changes in the annals of mankind. Khyber Pass, the largest and the most renowned of these, is 56 km long and connects Kabul in Afghanistan with the fertile vale of Peshawar in the NWFP. The Tochi pass connects Ghazni in Afghanistan with Bannu in Pakistan and the Gomal Pass provides a route from Afghanistan to Dera Ismail Khan, which overlooks the Punjab Plain. The Bolan Pass connects the Sindh Plain with Quetta in Balochistan and onward through Chaman with Afghanistan.

Balochistan Plateau lies in the East of Sulaiman range. The average altitude is about 2,000 ft. The physical features of the plateau are very varied but mountains, plateaus and basins predominate the scene. The mountains are carved off by innumerable channels and hill torrents, which contain water only after rains. Very little water, however, reaches the basins lying on their foot. Comparatively more important rivers are Zhob, Bolan, and Mulla located in the northeastern portion of Balochistan. Kalat Plateau at 7,000 -8,000 ft, in the center of Balochistan is the most important plateau. The largest desert is found in Balochistan. This is an area of inland drainage and dry lakes, the largest of which is Hamum-e-Mashkhel which is 87 km long and 35 km wide. The surface is littered with sun-cracked clay, oxidized pebbles, salty marshes and crescent-shaped moving sand dunes. The area is known particularly for its constant mirages and sudden sandstorms. Balochistan is rich in mineral wealth of natural gas, coal, chromite, lead, sulphur and marble. The reserves of natural gas at Sui are among the largest in the world. The gas is piped to Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Multan, Faisalabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Quetta for use as industrial power.

The Potohar Upland commonly called the Potohar Plateau, lies to the south of northern mountains and is flanked in the west by River Indus and in the east by River Jhelum. This 1,000 - 2,000 ft upland is a typical arid landscape with denuded and broken terrain characterized by undulations and irregularities. These are a few outlying spurs of Salt Range in the south, and those of Khair Murad and Kala Chitta Range in the north. The ramparts of the Salt Range stretching from east to west in the south separate Potohar from the Punjab Plain. The real importance of the Salt Range lies in the large deposits of pure salt at Khewra and Kalabagh and the large seams of coal at Dandot and Makerwal.

The Punjab Plain comprises mainly the province of Punjab. It is the gifted fertile land of River Indus and its five eastern tributaries - Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas. The plain spreads from the south of Potohar up to Mithankot, where Sulaiman Range approaches river Indus. A unique network of canals extensively irrigates the entire plain. This system has been greatly expanded and improved in recent years by the construction of link-canals, dams, and barrages. Two large dams - Tarbela Dam on river Indus and Mangla Dam on river Jhelum having water storage capacities of 11.1 million acre ft and 5.55 million acre ft respectively, have been built. Irrigation is also supplemented by summer and winter rains (15 - 20 inches) and a variety of crops are produced. The major ones being wheat, rice, cotton, and sugarcane. The region has earned the name of grainary of Pakistan.

Sindh Plain comprises mainly the province of Sindh and stretches between the Punjab Plain and the Arabian Sea. River Indus flows here as a single river. The plain comprises of a vast fertile tract stretching westward from the narrow strip of flood plain on the right bank of River Indus, and a vast expanse of desert stretching eastward from the left bank. It is the heart of the Indus Valley Civilization dating back to 3rd millennium BC. Thousands of tourists from all over the world are attracted every year to visit the ruins of Moenjodaro near Larkana. This area yields abundant crops of rice, wheat and cotton. There are many lakes in Sindh which attracts thousands migratory birds during the winter season from Central Asia. Manchhar lake with its highly pulsating expanse of about 200 sq miles of area is the largest lake. Further south stretches the Indus Delta, which is a savage waste. At the extreme northwestern end of delta stands Karachi, the largest city and the industrial and commercial hub of Pakistan. It is also a port for Pakistan and terminal of Pakistan's railway system.

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