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, 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 Uplands, the Punjab and the Sindh Plains.
High Mountain Region: 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 the Hindukush. The Himalayas spread in the north-east and the Karakoram rises on the north-west of the Himalayas and extends eastward up to Gilgit. The Hindu Kush mountains lie to the north-west of the Karakoram, but extend eastward into Afghanistan. With the assemblage of 35 giant peaks over 24,000 ft. high (7,315m), the region is the climbers' paradise. Many summits are even higher than 26,000 ft.(7,925 m) and the highest K-2(Mt.Godwin Austin) is exceeded only by Mt.Everest. Inhospitable and technically more difficult to climb than even Everest, it has taken the biggest toll of human lives in the annals of mountaineering.
The passes are rarely lower than the summit of Mt. Blanc and several are over 18,000 ft. (5,485 m). The Karakoram Highway, that passes through the mountains, is the highest trade route in the world. Besides, the region abounds in vast glaciers, large lakes and green valleys which have combined at places to produce holiday resorts such as Gilgit, Hunza and Yasin in the west and the valleys of Chitral, Dir, Kaghan and Swat drained by rivers Chitral, Pankkora, Kunhar and Swat respectively in the east. Dotted profusely with scenic spots having numerous streams and rivulets, thick forests of pine and junipers and a vast variety of fauna and flora, the Chitral, Kaghan and Swat valleys have particularly earned the reputation of being the most enchanting tourist resorts of Pakistan.
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 Capital of Pakistan, and Swat and Chitral hills, north of river Kabul. Although the climate of the region is extremely diverse, according to aspect and elevation, yet as a whole it remains under the grip of severe cold from November to April. May, June and July are pleasant months. The southeren slopes receive heavy rainfall and consequently are covered with forest of deodar, pine, poplar and willow trees. The more northerly ranges and north-facing slopes receive practically no rains and are, therefore, without trees.
K-2 (8611m): It is the second highest mountain the world. It was first attempted by Martin Conway's expedition in 1902 which was composed of British, Austrian and Swiss climbers. Ashraf Aman was the first Pakistani climber to climb on top of K-2 with five other climbers of the Jap-Pak expedition in 1977, with Ichire Yoshizawa as its leader and Isao Shinkai as the technical leader.
Nanga Parbat (8125m): It is also known as the killer mountain. It claimed the life of AF Mummery, leader of an expedition and two porters in 1895. Since then Nanga Parbat has cost scores of lives, though quite a few have successfully scaled it. Harmann Buhl was the first to set foot on this formidable peak in 1953. In spite of its bloody past record, Nanga Parbat is still the most sought after target. Its dangerous challenge seems to add spurs to the determination of climbers.
Hidden Peak (8068m): This peak was first attempted in 1892 by Martin Conway's expedition who gave it this name because it was hidden by the neighbouring peaks of Baltoro glacier. The peak was first conquered in 1958 by an American expedition. Nick clinch was the leader. The climbing leaders Peter Schoening and Kanfuran were the two summiters.
Broad Peak (8047m): This peak was also named by Martin Conway and was first attempted by a German expedition headed by Karl Herligk offer in 1954. The peak was climbed in 1957 when the entire team of four climbers with Marcus Schmuck scaled it.
In the far-north of Pakistan are valleys which are closed within the silent, brooding forts of these mountains and are almsot as high as the mountains themselves. Here dwell, from times immemorial, various tribes differing in race and culture. If one tribe has Mongol features, its neighbour is obviously Aryan. Separated by insurmountable obstacles, these tribes very often live a totally land-locked existence blissfully unaware of the world beyond. But, a traveller is simply wonderstruck by one common element - Islam.
Every-where you hear the familiar Assalam-o-Alaikum, the universal Muslim greeting and welcome. and no matter how small or poor the inhibtation, the same muezzin's call to prayer "Allah-u-Akbar rings in the thin mountain air, issuing from the minarets of mosques hidden in the inaccessible fold of these ranges pulsates an infinite variety of life; animals reptiles, birds, insects and plants. There is, of course, the yak which is an enormous but docile beast, at once the beast of burden and food. It is notable in the wildlife of these regions, but, its hunting is strictly restricted and in many areas totally forbidden by law.
Pakistan has more glaciers than any other land outside the North and South Poles. Pakistan's glacial area covers some 13,680 sq.km which represents an average of 13 per cent of mountain regions of the upper Indus Basin. Pakistan's glaciers can rightly claim to possess the greatest mass and collection of glaciated space on the face of earth. In fact, in the lap of the Karakoram of Pakistan alone there are glaciers whose total length would add up to above 6,160 sq. km. To put it more precisely, as high as 37 per cent of the Karakoram area is under its glaciers against Himalayas' 17 per cent and European Alps' 22 per cent. The Karakorams have one more claim to proclaim; its souther flank (east and west of the enormous Biafo glacier) has a concentration of glaciers which works out to 59 per cent of its area.
There is a historical reason for the fact that we, and the world outside, are better acquainted with glaciers in the Nanga Parbat region. It is through this region, hazardous though it is, that man has trudged to and fro since the beginning of his civilized history of movement and migration. The Siachin glacier is 75 kms. The Hispar (53 kms) joins the Biafo at the Hispar La (5154.16 metres / (16,910 ft) to form an ice corridor 116.87 kms (72 miles) long. The Batura, too is 58 kms in length. But, the most outstanding of these rivers of ice is the 62 kms Baltoro. This mighty glacier fed by some 30 tributaries constitues a surface of 1291.39 sq. kms.
Western Low Mountains Region:These western low mountains spread from the Swat and Chitral hills in a north-south direction (along which alexander the Great led his army in 327 B.C) and cover 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 Mohamand and Malakand hills. The aspect of these hills is exceedingly dreary and the eye is everywhere met by the dry rivers between long rows of rocky hills and crags, scantily covered with coarse grass, scrub wood and dwarf palm. 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.
The whole area is a tangle of arid hills composed of limestone and sandstone. South of the Gomal River, the Sulaiman Mountains run for a distance of about 483 kilomaters in a north-south direction, Takht-e-Sulaiman (11,295 ft.) being its highest peak. At the southern end lie the low Marri and Bugti hills. The area shows an extraordinary landscape of innumerable scarps, small plateaus and steep craggy out-crops with terraced slopes and patches of alluvial basins which afford little cultivation.
Kirthar Range: South of the Sulaiman Mountains is the Kirthar Range which forms a boundary between the Sindh plain and the Balochistan plateau. It consists of a series of ascending ridges running generally north to south with broad flat valleys in-between. The highgest peak named Kutte ji Kabar (dog's grave is 6,878 ft. above sea level. Bleak, rugged and barren as these hills are, they afford some pasturage for flocks of sheep and goats. The valleys are green with grass and admit cultivation up to a highest of 4,000 ft.
Historical Passes: The western mountains have a number of passes, which are of 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.
Although the country is in the monsoon region, it is arid, except for the southern slopes of the Himalayas and the sub-Mountainous tract which have a rainfall from 76 to 127 cm. Balochistan is the driest part of the country with an average rainfall of 21 cm. On the southern ranges of the Himalayas, 127 cm. of precipitation takes place, while under the lee of these mountains (Gilgit and Baltistan) rainfall is hardly 16 cm. Rainfall also occurs from western cyclonic distrubances originating in the Mediterranean.
It is appreciable in the western mountains and the immediate forelying area; here the rainfall average ranges from 27 to 76 cm. The contribution of these western distrurbances to rainfall over the plains is about 4 cm. A large part of the precipitation in the northern mountain system is in the form of snow which feeds the rivers. The all-pervasive aridity over most of Pakistan, the predominant influence on the life and habitat of the people, coupled with the climatic rhythm, characteristic of a monsoon climate, are conducive to homogeneity of the land.