A big thanks to the 4×4 Offroad Club Karachi for providing the opportunity to visit Hingol National Park in Baluchistan. January 2015.
A big thanks to the 4×4 Offroad Club Karachi for providing the opportunity to visit Hingol National Park in Baluchistan. January 2015.
A few years ago, longer than I’d like to think about now, we met Jay Shah, who had come to Pakistan to visit Mata Hinglaj. Our offroad club took him to Hingol, and it was the start of a wonderful friendship. Jay wrote a wonderful writeup of his visit to Pakistan and his travels with the offroad club and his pilgramage to hinglaj, as well as a video of his trip:
I stood there amongst the trees, the wind moving through the leaves, making a whistling sound. The entire campsite was bathed in bright moonlight, so bright that you did not need a torch to cook something. Before me, the Hingol River flowed along lazily between the mountains, a silver serpent in a landscape that is otherwise harsh.
This reads like an excerpt from a fiction novel, does it not? Well one need only travel 240 kilometres from Karachi to make this fiction a reality. That is, if you have the gumption to make it out to Hingol National Park in Balochistan.
I recently had the chance to do so with the team of adventure travellers known as Offroad Pakistan. I refer to them as a team and not a group of individuals because that’s what they are, and that’s what one needs to make it through the terrain of Balochistan, which comprises bogs, jungle, mountains, and quicksand with a few wahgus (local slang for crocodiles) standing in as an audience. On this trip, the team included inventors, photojournalists, lawyers, doctors and a few lowly scribes such as myself, all with one thing in common: “the love of nature.”
Our group has been approached by the Management of Hingol National Park to help them in organizing a free medical camp at Jhal Jhau for the villagers living along the Hingol River in the Northern Part of the Park. We are going for 4 days to Hingol, Baluchistan, March 14-17, 2008 and setting up a medical camp. Read on for the details.
Click here to see the complete picture gallery of the Goran Gatti trip. This trip involved hardcore 4wheeling, as we made our way to the highest mountain, Goran Gatti, which is deep inside Hingol – no vehicle has made it there before. We didn’t make it there either, but it was a lot of fun trying!
Hingol Flood Relief is a documentary about the devastation caused by the cyclone that hit the coastal areas of Baluchistan in the summer of 2007, and the relief efforts of a small group of individuals from Karachi for the scattered settlements in the Hingol National Park.
“ /> June 24th, 2007 saw the birth of an insignificant low pressure in the Arabian sea that took a turn for the worse as it developed into a cyclone 03B christened YEMYEN, moving towards the coastal areas of Pakistan. Drawing moisture from the sea it attracted clouds from neighboring regions and soon covered the entire province of Baluchistan with rains unprecedented in living memory. Rain catchment areas in Surab, Naal and Jhao districts overflowed while Arra and Mashkae rivers delivered their share of the deluge into the one source that would take it to the sea: The mighty Hingol.
The final hurdle for the flood merely 500 meters before the Hingol River Bridge at Aghore, a wide gorge carved out by the river over millenia, but not wide enough, created yet another bottleneck. The advancing water hit against the solid section of the mountain and turned right rushing towards the opening, wiping out the road leading to Nani Mandar. This diversion created yet another rise in the level, which sped down towards the bridge. The support pillars of the bridge offered some resistance to the advancing waters but an earth filled section of the bridge still under repairs from the last flood was eroded in no time, thus cutting off this vital link on the coastal highway. The debris carried by the water stuck to the pillars stopping its flow and as the level kept rising the bridge disappeared below the murky slush. This slushy water was rising all the time and as it passed it washed away parts of the construction crew camp and Al-Hassan hotel.
The grand finale of this flood came in the form of maximum high tide +3.5 meters from the ocean, slowing down the merger of water. This resulted in a swing back action which nearly drowned the coast guards camp on the left bank of the river while depositing all the silt in this area. It took nearly a week for the level to drop down to normal, while hundreds of people remained stranded on both sides of the bridge. Hindu Yaatri’s visiting Hinglaaj Maata Temple were stranded there without food and water. Except for 2 yaatri’s who passed away due to illness, there were no casualties.
Army and Navy helicopters rescued people from various parts and dropped relief goods round the clock or as weather permitted. The villagers said they have never seen the river in such a fury as far back as their memory goes. The flood of 2007 in this devastated area, shall remain fresh in peoples memories for years to come.
Flood relief camp at Aghore
14-15 July 2007
In the wake of such devastation, we the members of 4×4 offroaders club (offroadpakistan.com) began a two week long drive to collect relief goods for the flood affected families.
Originally, our members sent out word to all friends and acquaintances for the collection of medicines, but people began sending much more than just medicines. We were flooded by donations in the proverbial blink of an eye. Our homes were filled with packets of food stuffs, medicines, biscuits, bottled water, sacks of atta (wheat flour), rice, sugar, tea, daals (lentils), matches, cooking utensils, powdered milk, fruit juices, cooking oil, salt, hurricane lanterns, cartons upon cartons of medicines and other useful items. A lady went as far as making 100 small packets specially for women consisting of a towel, comb, Vaseline, soap and other feminine items, while Shehryar Mirza willingly gave up his Playstation and sat down to make nearly 450 packets containing biscuits, a packet of juice and some sweets for the children of the area. An emergency meeting was called and assignments were given to able bodied youngsters Abid Omar and Yasin Ali to handle the packing and transportation of the goods. Doctor Mansur aka “Doc” canceled his appointments and surgeries and went into “emergency mode”. Hamid Omar took control of making sure every thing was delivered, packed and ready at his factory in time. Tanya Mirza was busy flying emails and text messages to friends, checking on logistics with Abid and Yasin, getting stuff collected and moved to Hamid’s Factory, Mahera Omar was busy preparing video equipment for filming the event, Sabiha Omar was arranging/preparing meals for the trip, making sure none of us collapsed due to hunger. Patricia Mirza was collecting stuff from her friends who had willingly prepared sack loads of domestic goods and a donation of 3 cartons of ORS from a pharmaceutical company head (which proved to be nothing short of being a saviour for all). It was as if we all had joined together like a big family for this special event, responding to the appeal for help by the people of Hingol.
Relief goods were collected for approximately 450 families that included food rations as well as cooking utensils and a lantern for each family. Knowing the locals very well, each packet contained one kg of tea as traditional roti (flat bread) dipped in hot tea is what they enjoy most during the entire course of the day.
A local game warden from the Baluchistan Government, Adam, and a representative of the Bridges and Roads Department, Sumar served as our local guides and friends in the area, while the Park management deputed Mr. Abdur Rahman, Assistant Conservator, to help us in our efforts. Our relief camp included a small medical checkup center, where Dr. Caesp Noshirwan kindly volunteered to distribute medicines to about 500 persons. Most patients had developed allergies to water and heat, while many were dehydrated. The irony of it all was, even after a massive flooding, this area is a desert, and there are almost no sources of clean drinking water. Adam and Sumar were waiting at the Coast Guard camp at Aghore, with scores of men from local villages waiting in the scorching heat for their share of the relief. Those from the village of Pol Dat were called on first, as they had walked about 60 odd kms to get to the bridge where we were handing out rations.
Since the park is not very far out from Karachi and the Hingol Bridge is a mere four to five hours away by car on the Coastal Highway, it was not difficult for us to access the area. For the locals that had come from the inner Hingol region where no vehicles could go, it was a cumbersome journey to make. Since army and government handouts prioritize according to the scale of damage incurred in different areas, the upper region of Baluchistan received a quicker response in the distribution of relief. Thus those villages midway between upper and coastal Baluchistan received less in comparison. The army is working round the clock to respond, and an effort to assist them is being made by NGO’s and other philanthropists.
To scout out the damage, (and for a little bit of adventure!) one of our members, Dr. Mansur Ahmad, had brought two motor powered inflatable boats so that we might cross the river and inspect the damage further down. The locals warned of loose and ravaged crocodiles in the water, waiting, but we went ahead and scouted out the area anyway. Approximately ten feet away from the river bed the mud has turned to clay, and ones feet would continue to sink if one stood still. Driftwood carried by the flood was stuck in pockets of the riverbed and the flow was extremely uneven. Landing on an island embankment, one could see the range of the park and visualize the ‘scars of the storm’ (Courtesy DAWN News!).
Displaced animals have not yet been located, and animal casualties have not been documented. Some Ibex have been spotted in the mountainous region by locals. A more serious problem the floods have created is the displacement of a population of about forty odd marsh crocodiles, locally known as wagoo, in the Hingol bridge vicinity that divides the park. Before the floods, the crocodiles had a small enclave where they lived, and the locals accordingly avoided the area. These crocodiles have now been scattered, leaving the locals fearful of entering the river, if even to cross to the other side. Reports were also made that a few of these giant animals were seen coming out of the ocean, some 10 km away from the bridge vicinity.
The initiative to donate for a good cause, we noticed, is very much present among the people of Karachi. People want to give relief and they want to help others. The only issue is the question of accountability. One hears of stories from the locals as well as in philanthropic circles about government officials leading their trucks loaded with relief goods to their own homes and then on to those it was intended for. There is no guarantee that your donation, your contribution, will actually get to those who need it most. This is what Offroadpakistan offered to the people who donated, we wanted to make a personal delivery. This project was part of one of our larger aims; to create awareness in the community for individual initiative, which plays an important part in nation building. Along with this, community involvement in such projects also creates empathy and compassion, played out in the various friendships our club has developed with locals over the years.
We are thankful to:
Leaving the warmth of my sleeping bag reluctantly, I stepped out of the tent to be greeted by a sight that prompted me to get my camera in a vain attempt to capture nature at its best. The pine needle like long leaves of “Gaz”, a native plant that grows along rivers and nallahs in Balochistan, sparkled like a jewel-studded Christmas tree. Dew drops formed at the tips of millions of Gaz leaves glowed in the golden sunlight shying the most expensive and articulately cut diamonds.
Our group comprised of seven vehicles with people from diverse spheres of life; medical doctors, engineers, IT professionals, businessmen, financial managers, filmmakers, bankers, architects and technicians. Leaving the masks of their professional lives behind, these men and women are genuinely interested in conserving nature, wildlife protection, camping and offroading.
Our route was planned along the Hingol River to Aryan, a distance of 35 kilometers, and then turning left, following a water course for 27 kilometers to Goran Gatti Mountain. The park has a unique setting, not only being the largest National Park of Pakistan covering a mind boggling area in excess of 610,439 Hectares or nearly 6200 Sq.Kms., but also the only one with integrated terrestrial and marine habitats. The Hingol River, the largest river outside the Indus river system snakes through the park for over 100 kilometers and forms the link between mountains, valleys, riverine habitats, coastal sand dune areas, estuary and the Arabian Sea.
The river had breached its banks due to a flash flood a month earlier and areas along it were still soft, making our progress extremely slow. Having to make a way avoiding quicksand and eroded landscape was a challenge for men and machines. The slow pace and a late departure from the Wildlife and Forest Departments’ camp office at Aghore forced us to make camp at a suitable place before sunset, much before our planned spot, Aryan.
Unlike other National Parks and Game reserves of Pakistan, where mostly the topography, ecosystems and scenery is similar throughout the designated area, Hingol National Park is diverse.
Every kilometer traveled shows a different vista, traveling 10 kilometers upstream along the river from Aghore, a Coast Guards Check Post and Hingol river bridge, the ancient Hindu Pilgrimage site of Nani Mandar, one of the most revered in Hindu religion lies nestled in a depression of a nearly 800 feet high mountain. A stream flows in front of the Temple through the valley, lush green with grand old trees. Hindus from all over Pakistan visit this temple while those from across the border yearn for an opportunity of a pilgrimage. Since the completion of the Mekran Coastal Highway, more and more worshippers throng the Temple, where cement structures have been made without proper planning ruining the once serene, peaceful place, while all the garbage left behind and noise pollution is having an adverse affect on the wildlife and is a matter of serious concern for the Park Management.
Leaving the road – in fact the only road within the park besides the coastal highway – to Nani Mandar and moving further upstream is where the grandeur of the park starts to unfold. There are no tracks at all and one has to make way through sand dunes, shingled land and at times over boulders while fording the river several times. The guides know the area very well. Traveling another 20 odd kilometers the river passes through the flat land of Aryan.
Discussing our progress of the day around the campfire we decided to keep our camp intact the next morning and move ahead with provisions to return back by sunset. The route to Goran Gatti Mountain skirts left following the bed of a hill torrent that brings water from Goran Gatti and its adjoining areas.
Only one of our guides, Adam, had been to Goran Mountain some years back and that too on a camel back. According to him the progress would be even slower than the track along Hingol.
The Hingol River actually flows along the Ornach – Naal fault line, a confluence of two major tectonic plates namely; the Eurasian plate and the Indian Sub Continent plate, while the Arabian plate also meets these two plates in this area and is in the subduction zone.
Cumulative effects of these plate movements are clearly visible in a north – south direction. The area on the right (east) side of Hingol River is dried mud mountains and hills pushed upwards when the plates collided, and some active Mud Volcanoes still spew out large flows of mud mixed with methane gas. The largest and the highest known active Mud Volcano in the world, Chandragup, is situated within the park boundary along the coast, while there are countless more in the range that runs parallel along the river on the right side. The left side with Jabal Hinglaj and the Goran Gatti Mountain are solid rock. This contrast in the topography, the mud mountains eroded by wind and water action over millennia on one side presenting a unique appearance and the Rocky Mountains displaying layers of strata, signatures of upheaval and formation are awe inspiring.
The journey ahead proved even more difficult as the Jeeps precariously slid down a near vertical descent of about 35 feet down to the riverbed which greeted the vehicles with soft sand apparently seeming like a hard surface. With tyres sinking in sand and the extra power of four wheel drive mode, we managed to proceed and cross the river.
Another fording of the river brought us to the village of Dandel, a small settlement. There are no schools or dispensaries in any of the villages within the park boundaries. The locals cultivate small patches of arable land planting wheat, Jowari and caster seed plants. As one moves further beyond the flat land of Aryan, a wall of mountain stretching from one end of the horizon to the other blocks the way. There between these mountains is Poldat, a V shaped gorge carved through the blocking mountain running a length of approximately 40 kilometers in an East – West direction through which the river emerges.
Our guide informs this is as far as the Jeeps can manage to go. True enough, the river is full of boulders, some as big as two roomed houses. All along, while driving through the narrowing valley I could see pieces of driftwood and other material that the water carries during a flood, stuck in cracks nearly 60 feet above the ground. Imagine a wall of water 60 feet high and a kilometer wide thundering towards you with vertical cliffs on both sides and no place to run – pretty scary indeed. Any unwary trapped in such a situation would end up somewhere deep in the Arabian Sea.
Our return journey was even more difficult; the ground had become softer and resulted in few vehicles getting stuck. Salim Khan however, managed to free his vehicle using his long experience of four wheeling. Khalid Omar fried the clutch disc of his “most powerful Jeep”. Wazir Ahmads 1941 “original” Jeep was given a push and winched out while “Pakistan’s most powerful Jeep” succumbed to the wrath of a ‘fly’: Ahmad Omar was trying to swat a fly that somehow found a way in the Jeep and the vehicle fell in a three feet ditch breaking the rear axle.
Ali handed over the control of Nissan to Raeda to be winched up a slope of nearly 45 degrees, I wonder why? Rashid Maqbool’s Defender had taken a plunge in the river earlier, and accepted being winched up the slope after attempting it once. Mansur Ahmad, “Doc” orchestrated the winching up of 6 vehicles with precision. Which vehicle made it up on its own; I leave it for you to guess.
While the park is situated on a tectonic plate boundary, it also has the unique distinction of being located at the converging area of three zoogeographical regions including the African, more precisely Ethiopian plant and animal species like Acacia Senegal, Euphorbia caducifolia and Commiphora, Chinkara Gazelle, Cairo spiny mouse, Sandgrouse and Larks. The Palarctric Region which includes Europe-North Africa-Northern Asia, with resident and migratory species such as Sindh Ibex, Afghan Urial, Partridges and like Houbara Bustard and Brown-necked Raven. Oriental Region being third stretches from South East Asia to Pakistan with species like the Bengal Fox, Indian Porcupine and Peninsular Desert Wolf.
Other noteworthy animals that visit or reside within the park are Spot-billed Pelicans, Green and Olive Ridley Turtles, Indian Cobra, Marsh Crocodiles, Leopard, Caracal, Hyena, Afghan Hedgehog and many more.
The recent development of Mekran Coastal Highway linking Karachi with Gawadar Harbour and Industrial Development Zone has given new impetus to the region and has linked Hingol National Park in a modern infrastructure framework. The modernization is bound to have an affect on the ecology of the park and is timely to plan for the development of Hingol National Park in retaining its rightful title of “Jewel of Balochistan”.
Having seen just the south central part of the park and natural beauty of this pristine land we returned back to Karachi, already planning for yet another camping trip.
Photographs by Taimur Mirza, Richard Seck, Mahera Omar and Khizar Rashid
As a child in 11th Grade, we were told by our English Teacher, Mrs. Hughes, to write a book on a topic that interested us the most. While others chose to write about vacations in faraway lands, my inspiration came from a black & white photograph of my father standing in front of his Jeep with late Dr. Rizvi with a hunted Ibex spread out in front of them. This photograph was taken in the 1960’s at a place called Hingol.
The Hingol National Park, largest National Park of Pakistan, is one of the three sub projects of the Protected Areas Management Project (PAMP). The principle objective of project is to achieve the sustainable conservation of globally and nationally significant habitats and species through community participation.
The Hingol National Park Management is organizing a two-day consultative workshop
on “Scientific Surveys for Park Management” on 2nd and 3rd of February 2007 at, Karachi, in order to finalize the management plan of the Park.
At the milestone “Aghore 42 Kms” on the Coastal Highway driving towards Ormara/Pasni a small sign post on the left indicates the track for “Sapat Check Post” of the Coast Guards. Visible from the highway on a clear day, one can see the tallest mud volcano in the world. ‘Chandragup’ standing at nearly 500 feet in height, the magnitude of its immense size gets noticeable as one gets closer. The second volcano ‘Ramagup’ also becomes visible, at nearly 250 feet with a massive crater in the center filled with greenish-brown water bubbling every once in a while.
This was my second trip along the Hingol river in two months, this time with Doc Mansur who had missed the earlier trip due to prior commitments. Azhar Khan was keen to come along for a yet another attempt at hooking a “Mahasher” from “Poldat” a place he had not been able to reach in 4 years and several offroading trips in the area.
i.e frequently asked questions about the Hingol. We’ve missed quite a few, so feel free to add your question in the comments, and we’ll update this FAQ soonest. Read on….
They were on their way to Khuzdar from Karachi, following the old camel trail, when they came across a wizened old local. He was surprised to come upon this caravan of jeeps on this little used dirt track and asked them where they were headed. To Khuzdar, they said. The old man stared at them in stunned disbelief- “sahib, aap ko malum nahin key Khuzdar tak to eik bohut achhi sarak jati hai.” But given the choice, the members of Karachi’s Offroaders Club would rather choose a dirt track than a tarred road.
In 1945 when there was an earthquake off the Mekran coast which resulted in thousands of deaths from the subsequent tidal waves, or tsusami as they would now be called. There were reports from aircraft flying in from the west of volcanic eruptions in Las Bela province, Baluchistan. I didn’t believe the volcanic eruption story as the geology wasn’t right so I and friend Peter Wolf took leave and went on a private expedition to see what had happened.
KARACHI: I have just got back from a 7-day, 3,000-kilometre trip through the coastal and southern region of Balochistan. There were 24 of us, in seven jeeps – all tried and tested members of a Karachi-based off-roaders club, people who scorn paved roads and are happiest when trundling along uncharted dirt tracks, preferably in low gear. Our journey took us from Karachi to Aghor Camp on the Hingol River, from there through the wonderfully named Buzi Pass to Ormara, then via Pasni to Gwadar, from there to Turbat, the headquarter of Makran division, and on via Hoshab to Panjgur, Awaran, Jhal Jhao, Bela and back to Karachi.