Pakistan is divided into five major geographic areas: the northern highlands; the Indus River plain, the Desert areas, the Potwar and Balouchistan Plateau and Salt Range, and the Sistan Basin. All the Rivers of Pakistan, i.e., Sindh, Ravi, Chenab, Jhelum, and Sutlej originate from India. Some geographers designate additional major regions. For example, the mountain ranges along the western border with Afghanistan are sometimes described separately from the Balochistan Plateau, and on the eastern border with India, south of the Sutlej River, the Thar Desert may be considered separately from the Indus Plain. Nevertheless, the country may conveniently be visualized in general terms as divided in three by an imaginary line drawn eastward from the Khyber Pass and another drawn southwest from Islamabad down the middle of the country. Roughly, then, the northern highlands are north of the imaginary east-west line; the Balochistan Plateau is to the west of the imaginary southwest line; and the Indus Plain lies to the east of that line.
lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: K2 (Mt. Godwin-Austen) 8,611 m
a) The Northern Highlands
The northern highlands include parts of the Hindu Kush, the Karakoram Range, and the Himalayas. This area includes such famous peaks as K2 (Mount Godwin Austen, at 8,611 meters the second highest peak in the world). More than one-half of the summits are over 4,500 meters, and more than fifty peaks reach above 6,500 meters. Travel through the area is difficult and dangerous, although the government is attempting to develop certain areas into tourist and trekking sites. Because of their rugged topography and the rigours of the climate, the northern highlands and the Himalayas to the east have been formidable barriers to movement into Pakistan throughout history.
K2, at 8,619 meters (28,251 ft), is the world's second highest peak
South of the northern highlands and west of the Indus River plain are the Safed Koh Range along the Afghanistan border and the Sulaiman Range and Kirthar Range, which define the western extent of the province of Sindh and reach almost to the southern coast. The lower reaches are far more arid than those in the north, and they branch into ranges that run generally to the southwest across the province Balochistan. North-south valleys in Balochistan and Sindh have restricted the migration of peoples along the Makran Coast on the Arabian Sea east toward the plains.
Several large passes cut the ranges along the border with Afghanistan. Among them are the Khojak Pass, about eighty kilometers northwest of Quetta in Balochistan; the Khyber Pass, forty kilometers west of Peshawar and leading to Kabul; and the Broghol Pass in the far north, providing access to the Wakhan Corridor.
Less than one-fifth of Pakistan's land area has the potential for intensive agricultural use. Nearly all of the arable land is actively cultivated, but outputs are low by world standards. Cultivation is sparse in the northern mountains, the southern deserts, and the western plateaus, but the Indus basin in Punjab and northern Sindh has fertile soil that enables Pakistan to feed its population under usual climatic conditions.
b) The Indus plain
The name Indus comes from the Sanskrit word sindhu, meaning ocean, from which also come the words Sindh, Hindu, and India. The Indus, one of the great rivers of the world, rises in southwestern Tibet only about 160 kilometers west of the source of the Sutlej River, which joins the Indus in Punjab, and the Brahmaputra, which runs eastward before turning southwest and flowing through Bangladesh. The catchment area of the Indus is estimated at almost 1 million square kilometers, and all of Pakistan's major rivers—the Kabul, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, and Sutlej—flow into it. The Indus River basin is a large, fertile alluvial plain formed by silt from the Indus. This area has been inhabited by agricultural civilizations for at least 5,000 years.
The upper Indus Basin includes Punjab; the lower Indus Basin begins at the Panjnad River (the confluence of the eastern tributaries of the Indus) and extends south to the coast. In Punjab (meaning the "land of five waters") are the Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, and Sutlej rivers. The Sutlej, however, is mostly on the Indian side of the border. In the southern part of the province of Punjab, the British attempted to harness the irrigation power of the water over 100 years ago when they established what came to be known as the Canal Colonies. The irrigation project, which facilitated the emergence of intensive cultivation despite semi-arid conditions, resulted in important social and political transformations. Satellite image of the Tarbela Dam
Pakistan has two major river dams: the Tarbela Dam on the Indus, near the early Buddhist site at Taxila, and the Mangla Dam on the Jhelum, where Punjab borders Azad Kashmir built as part of the Indus Basin Project. The Warsak Dam on the Kabul River near Peshawar is smaller. These dams, along with a series of headworks and barrages built by the British and expanded since independence, are of vital importance to the national economy and played an important role in calming the raging floodwaters of 1992, which devastated large areas in the northern highlands and the Punjab plains.
c) The Desert Areas:
The Cholistan desert spans an area of 16,000 square kilometers. The name "Cholistan" is derived from the Turkish word "chol," meaning "desert," though the desert is locally known as the Rohi. The desert hosts an annual jeep rally, which draws many tourists.
Indus Valley Desert
The Indus Valley Desert is located in the northern area of Pakistan. The desert spans an area of 19,500 square kilometers and is surrounded by northwestern scrub forests. The Indus Valley Desert lies between two major rivers in the region, the Chenab and the Indus.
The Kharan Desert is located in Northeast Balochistan (a Pakistani state). The desert was used for nuclear testing by the Pakistan military, making it the most famous of the five deserts. The desert is in the center of a large empty basin.
Home in Thal
The Thal Desert is located in northeastern Pakistan between the Indus and Jhelum rivers. A large canal-building project is currently underway to irrigate the land. Irrigation will make most of the desert suitable for farming.
View of Thar desert
The Thar Desert spans a stammering 446 square kilometers and covers large areas of both Pakistan and India. It is the seventh largest desert on the planet and the third largest in Asia.
d) Potwar Plateau
Tilla Jogian, 2nd highest peak in Potwar
The Potwar Plateau (also spelled Pothwar, Potowar or Potohar) is a plateau in the province of Punjab, Pakistan and the western parts of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The area was the home of the Soanian Culture, which is evidenced by the discovery of fossils, tools, coins, and remains of ancient archaeological sites. The local people speak the Potwari language. Potohar Plateau is bounded on the east by the Jhelum River, on the west by the Indus River, on the north by the Kala Chitta Range and the Margalla Hills, and on the south by the Salt Range.
The Balouchistan Plateau is located in the south-west of Pakistan with altitudes mainly ranging from 600-3010 metres. This is an extensive area of 347,190 sq. km with a number of distinct natural topographical and drainage features.
The Salt Range is a hill system in the Punjab province of Pakistan, deriving its name from its extensive deposits of rock salt. The range extends from the Jhelum River to the Indus, across the northern portion of the Punjab province. The Salt Range contains the great mines of Mayo, Khewra, Warcha and Kalabagh, which yield vast supplies of salt. Coal of a medium quality is also found. It is believed that the Salt Range was founded by the horses of Alexander the Great's army.
e) Sistan Basin
Satellite image of the Sulaiman Range
Balochistan is located at the eastern edge of the Iranian plateau and in the border region between Southwest, Central, and South Asia. It is geographically the largest of the four provinces at 347,190 km² or (134,051 square miles) of Pakistani territory; and composes 48% of the total land area of Pakistan. The population density is very low due to the mountainous terrain and scarcity of water. The southern region is known as Makran. The central region is known as Kalat.
The Sulaiman Mountains dominate the northeast corner and the Bolan Pass is a natural route into Afghanistan towards Kandahar. Much of the province south of the Quetta region is sparse desert terrain with pockets of inhabitable towns mostly near rivers and streams. The largest desert is the Kharan Desert which occupies the most of Kharan District.
This area is subject to frequent seismic disturbances because the tectonic plate under the Indian plate hits the plate under Eurasia as it continues to move northward and to push the Himalayas ever higher. The region surrounding Quetta is highly prone to earthquakes. A severe quake in 1931 was followed by one of more destructive force in 1935. The small city of Quetta was almost completely destroyed, and the adjacent military cantonment was heavily damaged. At least 20,000 people were killed. Tremors continue in the vicinity of Quetta; the most recent major earthquake occurred in October 2008. In January 1991 a severe earthquake destroyed entire villages in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, but far fewer people were killed in the quake than died in 1935. A major earthquake centred in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's Kohistan District in 1965 also caused heavy damage.