Quetta is the capital of the biggest province of Pakistan, Baluchistan, which occupies nearly 50% of the country by land mass. The province is often described as having relatively slower development compared to the rest of the country due to its position and various territorial issues that have hampered the spread of modern technologies, but it is nonetheless one of the richest places in cultural as well as natural resources in the country. The capital itself is proof of it: a high-altitude settlement, positioned well over 1,600m with a marvellously diverse set of cultural influences due to regular interactions with both surrounding tribes and the peoples across the border.
Many claim that Quetta takes its name, which is derived from a word in the local language that means “fortress”, from the impressive hills surrounding it and rendering the location naturally fortified. The hills have their own names: Koh-i-Murdaar, Zarghun Ghar, Koh-i-Chiltan, and Koh-i-Takatu. These are not measly peaks by any definition, the highest points of all three pass 3,000 metres easily, with the Zarghun Ghar’s most elevated spot going over 3,500 metres above sea level. If indeed the city’s name is derived from the word for fortress, these hills lend more than enough justification for such an etymology.
A curious thing that those with an interest in architecture and engineering shall notice about this place is that many of the city’s buildings are built with an eye to being earthquake-resistant. That this is so is a result of an incident that took place several decades ago. In the middle of the 1930’s, Quetta was devastated by an earthquake that slew a good part of the city’s population and levelled many of its buildings. Even the most conservative estimates of the death toll following the 7.7 magnitude quake quoted at least 30,000 dead. Even now, surviving photos of the city after the quake are sufficient to cause shudders: whole streets and neighbourhoods were reduced to mere rubble after the 3-minute tremors, with aftershocks reaching magnitudes of over 5 being felt around the region. As a result, many of the buildings built afterwards were ones with added resistance to earthquakes.
Such a quake has not happened for some time, though. There are many places to visit in Quetta without you having to worry about your safety. For one, there is the gorgeously clear Hanna Lake, which tourists and vacationers regularly come to for some boating or picnicking. There are amenities like boat rental services, terraces, as well as restaurants around this body of water. Then there is the city’s Geological Museum, where one may find various artefacts and fossils from Baluchistan Province-which happens to be rich with such remnants of the past, not just for prehistoric beasts (witness the largest mammal to have ever walked on land, for instance, which is named the Beast of Baluchistan for a reason) but also for prehistoric humans. There is also a national park nearby, the Hazarganji Chiltan National Park, where one may see animals such as Pakistan’s national animal, the enormous and corkscrew-horned goat called the Markhor.