Heidelberg University

Human-Ecological Dynamics of Land-Use in Chitral,
Eastern Hindu Kush, Pakistan

Project Team:

Duration & Funding:
    1997 - 1998: German Research Foundation (DFG)

    Priority Programme "Culture Area Karakorum" (CAK)

Selected Publications

The project has three main research goals, analyzing the human-ecological dynamics in terms of distribution of vegetation, pastoral practices and recent landscape transformation in Chitral.

Chitral is the meeting ground of three major climatic, floristic and ecological regions. The eastern Hindu Kush delimit the Irano-Turanian (winter rain), Sino-Himalayan (summer rain), and the Central Asiatic (permanently arid) regions. Flora and vegetation mirror the transitional status of the Chitral triangle. Arranged along prominent altitudinal belts, the vegetation of the eastern Hindukush displays complex regional and local patterns. The most prominent climate gradient of Chitral is a sharp decrease of precipitation from south to north. This is overlaid and modified by a general trend towards winter precipitation in the west and summer rain in the east. The vegetation of Chitral includes a fairly diverse array of formations ranging from various forest types to desert, along an altitudinal gradient covering more than 4000 m. Besides these prominent climatic gradients, properties and distribution features of vegetation types have been modified, to a locally different extent, by human impact in the context of mixed mountain agriculture and forest exploitation (Vegetation Map in Nüsser & Dickorè 2002).

Likewise the pastoral migration patterns as strategies for utilising the grazing resources at the marginal belts of human habitation in Chitral are examined. Beyond the common features of combined mountain agriculture, pastoral utilisation strategies vary between different tributary valleys in the region. Although the influence of heterogeneous environmental settings needs to be considered, differences in resource utilisation mainly stem from distinct settlement processes and territorial rights of access and utilisation, which in turn evolved from ethnic and social segregation (Nüsser 1999, Nüsser et al. 2012).

Furthermore, the project investigates cultural landscape transformation in Chitral. Comparisons of historical photographs and replicates serve to demonstrate change and persistence of cultural landscape structures. Due to the general population growth, the development of the cultural landscape is characterized by recent village enlargements and corresponding extensions of cultivated areas while the individual field sizes decrease. The regional centre of Chitral Town is characterized by a higher building density and expansion of urban structures (Nüsser 2001, Dittmann & Nüsser 2002).



Chitral Town, The Central Place of the Eastern Hindu Kush (M. Nüsser 1997).


Herding near Kiyar High Camp, Ojhor Valley, 3500 m (M. Nüsser 1997).

  • NÜSSER, M. (1999): Mobile Tierhaltung in Chitral: Hochweidenutzung und Existenzsicherung im pakistanischen Hindukusch. In: JANZEN, J. (Ed.): Räumliche Mobilität und Existenzsicherung. Festschrift Fred Scholz. Berlin (= Abhandlungen - Anthropogeographie 60): 105-131.
  • NÜSSER, M. (2001): Understanding Cultural Landscape Transformation: A Re-Photographic Survey in Chitral, Eastern Hindukush, Pakistan. In: Landscape and Urban Planning 57 (3-4): 241-255.
  • DITTMANN, A. & NÜSSER, M. (2002): Siedlungsentwicklung im östlichen Hindukusch: Das Beispiel Chitral Town (North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan). In: Erdkunde 56 (1): 60-72.
  • NÜSSER, M. & DICKORÉ, W.B. (2002): A Tangle in the Triangle: Vegetation Map of the Eastern Hindukush (Chitral, Northern Pakistan). In: Erdkunde 56 (1): 37-59. Map only:
  • NÜSSER, M., HOLDSCHLAG, A. & FAZLUR-RAHMAN (2012): Herding on High Grounds: Diversity and Typology of Pastoral Systems in the Eastern Hindu Kush (Chitral, Northwest Pakistan). In: KREUTZMANN, H. (ed.): Pastoral Practices in High Asia. Agency of 'Development' effected by Modernisation, Resettlement and Transformation. Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London, New York (= Advances in Asian Human-Environmental Research): 31-51.


  • Repeat photography of Shagrom (upper image K. Haserodt 1966, lower image M. Nüsser 1997). Click to enlarge.



    Town Area and Bazaar Sections of Chitral (Dittmann & Nüsser 2002). Click to enlarge.