Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Kenneth Hewitt

Advisor Role

Thesis Committee Member

Second Advisor

C. Grant Head

Advisor Role

Thesis Committee Member

Third Advisor

Gordon J. Young

Advisor Role

Thesis Committee Member


The interaction of humans with their geophysical environment has been a popular theme in cultural geography. Mountain regions have been common sites for such studies. Pakistan’s Karakoram Ranges, however, have received relatively little attention. Those studies which have been undertaken in the Karakoram are too general to yield credible descriptions or explanations. In addition, many approach human/environment relationships from a superficial environmentalist perspective. Recent efforts by agricultural development agencies to improve conditions in Northern Pakistan have created a sudden interest in the way traditional high-mountain farming communities interact with their geophysical surroundings. Unfortunately, development agencies concentrate on direct causal relationships at the plant or crop biology level, often without considering the whole community as a closely knit system. The result may be harmful developmental initiatives. This paper examines one traditional agricultural settlement in the Central Karakoram—Hopar—and attempts to provide a thorough and credible description of its human/environmental interactions. Information is presented in terms of the salient characterizing feature of Hopar’s social and cultural environment—meltwater irrigation. The resulting description fills a gap in the cultural geographical literature of mountain areas, and offers specific information which may help development agencies to formulate more comprehensive recommendations. Approximately 4000 inhabitants occupy the five distinct villages which form the community of Hopar. These villages and their lands are scattered throughout a broad depression between the lateral moraines of the Bualtar Glacier and steep valley walls. Sedentary agriculture between 2500 and 3000 metres is complemented by pastoral herding upslope to form a fundamentally subsistence economy. Villagers have overcome the environmental challenges of rough and unstable terrain, low precipitation, short growing season, and relatively distant and low quality water supply. Much of this accomplishment is due to the painstaking development of an irrigation network of over 200 kilometres of channels which direct water from cirque shaped snow and ice catchments located in a moist environment above 3600 metres to the naturally arid, but warmer valley floor. This intricate meltwater irrigation system relates closely to many aspects of Hopar’s agricultural and social existence, including crop type and distribution, land tenure, inheritance, sociopolitical structure and affiliation, division of labour, distribution of wealth, and economic relations with the outside. Successful development must recognize the importance of the traditional irrigation system both to stable exploitation of the community’s geophysical habitat, and to its social identity and cohesion.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season


Included in

Agriculture Commons