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  • Writer's pictureSanah Alban

Balochistan: The History, Culture and Food of the Region

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

Balochistan - The land of the Baloch People, Pakistan's largest province by land area and incredibly rich in natural resources.


This is a weekly series in which I share some information about each of the regions in Pakistan and share a specialty recipe from the area.


This week, we'll be covering Balochistan.

Quetta, Balochistan. Photo by Muhammad Amer on Unsplash.

Location

The Province of Balochistan is located in the Southwest of Pakistan. It borders the Pakistani provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Afghanistan to the north, Iran to the west and the Arabian Sea to the South.


Balochistan is the largest province by land area, accounting for 43.6% of the total area of Pakistan, but is the least populated, home to only 5% of the country's population.


The Provincial Capital is Quetta (where my grandad was born and raised!). Other major cities in Balochistan are Turbat and Gwadar.


Map showing the location of Balochistan in Pakistan

Etymology

Balochistan means 'Land of the Baloch', which refers to the Baloch people. The wider, geographic Balochistan region includes the Pakistani province of Balochistan, the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan and southern areas of Afghanistan (areas in pink below).


Wider Balochistan area in pink

History

Recent excavations at Mehrgarh in Balochistan have shown evidence of a 9000 year old civilization, showing the earliest signs in human history of shifting from hunting gathering to a settled lifestyle. Domestication of animals, cultivation of plants, and perfume export were modern features of Mehrgarh civilization.


The region was invaded and ruled by different empires including the rule of Alexander the Great in 325 BC followed by Seleucus I Nicator, the Graeco-Bactrians and Macedonians. Note that due to the rugged and arid nature of the region, Balochistan has had less foreign invasion and influence compared to other provinces and empires that were successful were only able to exercise limited amount of control.


The Muslim rule of Balochistan began in 712 AD after being conquered by Muhammad bin Qasim. The 11 century saw the Ghaznavid dynasty followed by the Ghorids, the rule of Sultan Mohammad Khan of Khwarizm (Khiva) and then the Mongols in 1223. Balochistan became part of the Mughal Empire in 1595 but was later captured by Nadir Shah of Persia. In 1747, there was the Afghan Rule but then the Khanate of Kalat emerged in 1758 when Nasir Khan I revolted against the Afghans.


Mehrgarh, a Neolithic archaeological site in Balochistan.

In 1839 the British took control in Balochistan, ending the Muslim rule. Two Afghan wars between 1839 and 1879 helped the British to consolidate their power in the region.


Sir Robert Sandeman, who later became the Chief Commissioner of Balochistan, was the architect of British strategy in the region and he negotiated a number of treaties with the Khan of Kalat during 1854 to 1901. Through these treaties the British Government gained control over the leased territory of Chaghi, Bolan Pass, Quetta and other areas.


Historical sketch of Bolan Pass, Balochistan

Pakistan gained independence from the British in 1947 and the Princely states of Mekran, Kharan, Lasbela and a little later, Kalat, acceded to Pakistan. Like the other provinces, Balochistan was integrated into one unit of West Pakistan in 1955. After the dissolution of one-Unit in 1970, Balochistan was named one of the provinces of Pakistan.


Topography & Climate

Balochistan is an arid desert and mountainous region. It has four distinct zones: upper high lands, lower high lands, plains and deserts.


The climate varies between the geographical zones of Balochistan:

  • Upper highlands: very cold winters and hot summers.

  • Lower highlands: winters vary from extremely cold in northern districts Ziarat, Quetta, Kalat, Muslim Baagh and Khanozai to milder conditions closer to the Makran coast.

  • Plains: Winters are mild with the temperature never falling below freezing point. Summers are hot and dry, especially in the arid zones of Chagai and Kharan districts. The plains are also very hot in summer, with temperatures reaching 50 °C.

  • Desert: hot and very arid conditions. Occasionally, strong windstorms make these areas very inhospitable.

The record highest temperature, 53 °C (127 °F), was recorded in Sibi in 2010, exceeding the previous record, 52 °C (126 °F). Other hot areas include Turbat and Dalbandin.


Economy

Balochistan is a hub for natural resources like natural gas and coal, and minerals like chromite, barytes, Sulphur, marble, iron ore, quartzite and limestone.


Unfortunately, the majority of the population lacks basic amenities and Balochistan has the highest poverty rate, infant and maternal mortality rate and lowest literacy of the country.


The province is largely underdeveloped but projects like the construction of a new deep sea port in Gwadar are in progress. This will allow a trade corridor to and from China and Central Asia.


Aerial view of Gwadar City, Balochistan.

Language

The main languages spoken in Balochistan are Balochi, Pashto and Brahvi. The majority of the population also speak Urdu (national language).


Seraiki and Sindhi is spoken in the Kachhi and Sibi Districts. In Quetta (provincial capital) there is a mix of the linguistic groups including Urdu, Balochi, Pashto, Brahvi, Sindhi, Darri and Persian.


The language of the Baloch people is from a branch of Western Iranian languages.


Culture

As mentioned previously, Balochistan has not has had as much foreign influence compared to the other provinces as the rugged and harsh terrain prevented foreign claim to the land. This has allowed the Baloch people to enjoy a great degree of autonomy throughout their history and the culture to form its own unique identity. The traditions are very distinct from the neighboring communities of the country,


The Baloch culture has its origins in Iran rather than the sub-continent. The Baloch people originally lived around the Caspian Sea before migrating to their preset day location over a course of many hundred years.


Balochistan is made up of many tribes, the three major tribes are Baloch, Brahvi and Pashtun. Tribal traditions are still followed where there is a tribal chief called a Sardar and the head of a sub-tribe is known as Malik, Takari or Mir.


Brahvi, Balochi and Pashtun tribes are known for their hospitality. A guest in one house is often a guest for the whole village!


A wide loose shalwar and knee-length shirts are worn by both men and women. A turban is common headwear for men. Women's clothing are beautifully embellished with mirror pieces and the dress will have a big pocket at the front (see images below).


Jashn-e-Kalat is a festival celebrated in Balochistan to honor the culture of the province. the festival includes circus performances, rifle shooting and other cultural programs and shows.


Balochi man in Turban (left), traditional women's dress (right)


Folk music, dance, crafts and drama are a significant part of Balochi culture. Check out some Balochi music in the links below!

  • Daanah pah daanah - Brahvi folk song (this article about the song is very intersting! Specifically: “All the Balochi melodies are derived from the stroll of a camel and hence they are based on a beat of six. That is what makes the melody of “Daanah Pah Daanah” very different as compared to Sindhi or Punjabi melodies which are based on the gallop of a horse with a beat of four,”)

  • Laila O Laila - Balochi folk song

  • Mubarik Mubarik - Balochi and Punjabi song by Balochistan's Banur's Band and Atif Aslam.

  • Washmallay - Balochi folk song, traditionally sung as part of wedding festivities. Singers add their own lyrics whenever it is sung as opposed to one person writing this song in its originality. This song transcends music and time!

  • Nar Bait - Brahvi and Balochi song

  • Naseebaya - traditional Nar Sur combined with modern urban-electronica.


Cultural celebrations in Balochistan

Sights

Balochistan has many historically significant sites and breathtaking natural landscapes to visit:

  • Hingol National Park: Pakistan's largest national park including dramatic rock formations like the Princess of Hope and Sphinx, and a mud volcano.

  • Beautiful waterfalls like Moola Chotok Waterfalls and Pari Chashma

  • Ziarat Juniper Forest: the world's 2nd largest Juniper forest

  • Mehrgah: Neolithic archaeological site dating back 9000 years!

  • Mountains like Koh-i-Chiltan and Koh-i-Takatu

  • Railway tunnels like Killa Abdullah (Pakistan's longest railway tunnel) and many other British era tunnels.

This video will give you an idea of how beautiful this province is:

The Beauty of Balochistan by Balochistan Heights.


Left to right: Ziarat Juniper forest, Moola Chotok Waterfalls, Princess of Hope and Hingol National Park.


Food

Balochi food is popular all over Pakistan for it's unique taste and cooking methods, differing from other parts of the country. Traditional food in Balochistan is very meat focused, but I have managed to find some veggie friendly foods for my list!


Veggie friendly:

  • Kaak: known as stone bread is traditional flatbread prepared by wrapping the dough around a rock then cooking this around a bonfire

  • Mint lassi: traditional yoghurt based drink topped with finely chopped mint leaves

  • Jelly Kheer: traditional cardamom rice pudding but with jelly, mixed fruits, cream, pistachios and almonds.

  • Krud: dried fermented milk, eaten in small pieces with roti or as an accompaniment to any dish, used in place of salt or made into a paste to use in other dishes.

  • Kocha: Chickpeas and red kidney beans prepared in a Krud and desi ghee sauce

  • Kruthghwadi: Pieces of roti in a Krud and desi ghee sauce


Meat dishes (vegetarians please skip!):

  • Sajji: marinated lamb stuffed with rice and spitfire roasted. This dish originating in Balochistan is famous all over the country.

  • Khaddi kabab: whole lamb (sometimes stuffed with rice) barbequed in an underground mud pit.

  • Abgoosht: lamb shank, chickpea and white bean broth.

  • Landhi: salt rubbed lamb, dried out in the summer months (almost six months) for use in the winter.


Balochi food left to right: Krud (dried fermented milk balls), Kocha (chickpea and kidney beans in a white sauce made from the Krud), Kaak (stone bread cooked around a bonfire),


My thoughts

I was very interested to learn about Balochistan since my Nana (grandad) was born and raised in Quetta, so knowing more about the region has given me some idea of what he grew up around and my possible ancestry! I find it fascinating that the culture has been preserved throughout the years with not as much foreign influence as the other provinces. Balochistan is a beautiful province (I urge you to watch the video I linked above) with so many natural wonders and so much potential, it is truly a shame there is so much poverty and this province often goes ignored. The fact that I found it quite difficult to piece all this information together can give you some indication! Balochistan, it's culture and people are truly beautiful and deserve so much more!


taw ammē sāh o ammē ǰān, Balōčistān, Balōčistān!

Thou art our soul and our life, Balochistan, Balochistan!











Stay tuned for this week's Balochi specialty recipe!

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