(video) A Snow Leopard Observed from the Karakoram Highway

In late December, we headed to northernmost part of Pakistan in search of snow leopards. Making our way from the border town of Sost near China, and traveling the Karakoram Highway through Belly Checkpost, to Kooksil with the goal to observe the ibex, bearded vultures, and finally – the coveted appearance of a snow leopard!

 

Snow Leopard observed from the Karakoram Highway Pakistan

 

I would have never thought we could see a snow leopard from the Karakoram Highway! What a super lucky encounter with this one!

Video & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Wadkhun – Khunjerab National Park, Gilgit -Baltistan
Special Thanks: Tomo AKIYAMA, Hussain ALI and Abul KHAN

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Khunjerab National Park
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(video) Can you find the Snow Leopard? Sighted at Morkhun Village

This video shows when we had a sighting of a Snow Leopard in Morkhun Village. The locals were telling us “It’s right there!” but I had such a hard time spotting it for such a long time.

It had eaten an Ibex, and we watched the snow leopard with the local villagers, as it was sleeping on the other side of the river. So many people gathered to watch it, the snow leopard looked a little stressed.

Can you find it? Snow Leopard in Pakistan

In the morning, the snow leopard had killed and fed on the ibex and hid in the bush to rest in the rocks above. This video is of the snow leopard around 3pm, as it woke up. With villagers surrounding it by the time it realized, it looked a bit startled and did not know where to go to escape.

A Startled Snow Leopard in Morkhun Village Pakistan

 

Video & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Jan 2019, Morkhun Village, Gojar, Gilgit-Baltistan

Special Thanks to Mr.Sultan Gohar (Khunjerab National Park)

Category : - Snow Leopard > = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Morkhun > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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Petroglyphs of Shatial (Karakoram Highway)

Heading north on the Karakoram Highway as you enter Gilgit-Baltistan, the famous Buddhist archeological sites can be found between the Tangir and Darel Valleys. It is called the Shatial Rock Art Carving/Petroglyphs.

Since ancient times, this area was the point known as the “Old Silk Road” where the Indus River connects to the other valleys as a junction or crossroads.

Shatial has long been famous as a location for the “Ancient Buddhist Rock Carvings,” but even before these carvings were there, the tradition was for travelers, such as merchants and pilgrims, passing through Central Asia would carve their names and times into the rocks. These images of ancient characters (Sogdian or Bactrian) can be found near the bridges of Shatial.

 

People graze their goats along the banks of the Indus River. Rocks that were weathered down by water and time into sand. This is a place where people used to come to look for gold, but not so much anymore.

 

Taking the bridge that hangs over the Indus River in the Tangir Valley. Travelers from afar would cross this river during the winter months when the water was low, etching their footprints in the riverbanks. During the Buddhist era, monks and pilgrims would make their way to  “Gandhara.” They carved the Jataka tales and Stupas into the large rocks, creating an alter on the riverbanks.

 

The bridge of Shatial and Art Rock Carvings. Depicted is a stupa and the form of a Buddha carved into the stone.

 

Motifs of ibex are also engraved on the upper right. Ibex only live in elevations of 3,000m or higher so possibly the travelers saw them on the way along the Hunza River as they crossed the Hindu Kush – Karakoram Mountain range. There are no dates or names of the artists included with each carving, but these are precious relics that pay tribute to the history and people who have lived here since ancient times.

 

Sadly, the scenery along the Indus river is about to change.

There are two major projects to build dams between Besham and Chilas along the Karakoram Highway. There will be the Dasu Dam and Daimer Basha Dam Hydroelectric Power Plants installed along the river.
Although this plan has been in place for a long time, the construction is proceeding at a very fast pace as there is a shortage of power. This is following a decision to cancel the plans for a coal burning power plant.

Parts of the Karakoram Highway and some villages will be submerged, but along with that the historical features and the lifestyle of the people who live along the Indus river will also be forever altered. It is a great pity that such scenery along this great river will be lost.

Some of the main rock paintings will probably be relocated, but many of them will be submerged.

How much time does this scenery have left?

It was hard to get to and such a long-distance trip to get to see the Karakoram Highway and landscape. But it is in its final countdown.

Will this end up being only a precious memory?

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
Visit: Dec 2020, The Karakorum Highway, Shatial, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Rock carving
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Red-billed Chough ( Upper Hunza)

In the mountainous areas of northern Pakistan, there are “red billed crows” and “yellow billed crows.”

Strictly speaking, they are classified into the crow family Corvidae and the genus Pyrrhocorax, appropriately called red-billed chough and the yellow-billed chough (also known as Alpine Cough).

‘Chough’ is pronounced “chuf /tʃʌf ” and they breed in the highlands above 5,000m during the summer season. In the winter, they form large flocks and decend down into the valley.

Distributed through the Eurasian and African continents, the genus is divided into eight subspecies. The one found in northern Pakistan is Pyrrhocprax pyrrhocorax himalayanus, which also inhabits the Himalayan mountain region to western China. A prominent feature are the large, bluish-purple glossy wings. In Europe and in Africa, Choughs can be observed at an altitude of 2,000 to 3,000 m, but in the Himalayan Karakorum, there is only a chance to see them at higher elevations of 3,000m to 5,000m.

 

I could see red-billed choughs along the riverbanks near Morkhun village. In the winter, the upper Hunza is strikingly beautiful, as a vast landscape of jagged rocks etched by time are layered with snow like a masterful piece of art.

 

While I was watching these red-billed choughs, a herd of goats and sheep passed through to go to their grazing pastures. In the Upper Hunza there are 7 villages that during the summer will keep the yaks, sheep and goats in the Khunjerab national park area. But in the tough winter, only the adult yaks are left in the highlands, while the yearling yaks born in the summer, goats and sheep are brought down to the villages at around 3,000m. Then everyday these herds are taken to the pastures to graze.

 

The paths that the villagers use to move the herds are lined with red & yellow billed chough. Generally since the red-billed will form large flocks, there are usually a smaller number of yellow-billed chough in the groups.

 

These are flocks of red-billed chough that are gathering seeds or fruit from the trees along the side of the Karakoram Highway.

Hippophae rhamnoides are a deciduous shrub found widely in Eurasia. In north Pakistan, it is a very important tree for wild birds, whose fruits are eaten during this harsh winter.

 

The long, curved, red colored beaks. But that isn’t the only thing that red! Their legs are also a red color!

Keep a watchful eye out when you are in the Upper Hunza and Skardu areas in the winter months. At first you may think you are seeing crows…but actually you might be lucky to see black birds adorned with red and yellow beaks! It is no ordinary crow!

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation : Dec 2020, On the KKH ( Morkhun – Sost),  Gilgit-Baltistan
Special Thanks : TOMO Akiyama

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Morkhun > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Pakistan International Airlines, take off from Skardu! The full picture of Nanga Parbat!

This is a description of my flight from Skardu to Islamabad using Pakistan International Airlines.

The Gilgit flight is usually very early in the morning, and due to the sunrise from behind the Nanga Parbat, everything looks white. However, the Skardu flight takes off a little later, when the sun is higher up in the sky. So it means the mountains are beautifully illuminated, although it may be a little cloudier when compared to the early morning hours.

 

When you take off from the Skardu Airport, you will see the outlying villages on the edges the city, poplar-lined streets, the Indus River, and boundary of the Katpana Desert.

 

The Skardu Fort, also known as Kharpocho, was built on a cliff along the Indus River in the 16th century.

 

Sand dunes in the Cold Desert can be seen stretching from the Skardu Valley to the Shigar Valley. It is a rare desert at a high altitude of about 2,500 m, which is quite unique in the world. The sand dunes are small and scattered from Ladakh, India’s Nubra Valley to Skardu but the dunes get bigger and more beautiful in the area from Skardu to Shigar.

 

This is Nanga Parbat, the 9th highest peak in the world. When I left Skardu, I thought it would be too cloudy and we wouldn’t be able to see it, but the southwestern side was clear.

 

The summit looked to be very windy, blowing the snow off the peak.

 

The main peak of Nanga Parbat is at an elevation of 8,126m, and the banks of the Indus River are at about 1,100m. So from the window of the plane, you can see the topography with a height difference of 7,000 m! It’s a really rare opportunity to be able to see 23 kilometers straight down and be able to compare the height of the mountains.

 

And this is the whole picture of the Nanga Parbat massif. The north side Chongra Peak, Raikot Peak, and the Main Peaks.

 

This is deep in the Naran Valley, Saiful Maluk Lake. It used to be such a pristine place, but regrettably, it has become a sad example of a tourist destination that has become full of garbage, due to the increase in visitors in recent years.

Well, we are coming back to reality now, and soon we’ll enter the Punjab Plain and touchdown at Islamabad.

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA
※These photos were taken on a September flight from Skardu to Islamabad on Pakistan International Airlines.

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Skardu > - Nanga Parbat / Himalaya Range
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Best Views of Nanga Parbat! PIA Pakistan International Airlines ★ Skardu Flight

A panoramic view of the Nanga Parbat massif from a flight from Islamabad to Skardu

These mountain flights in northern Pakistan are often canceled. The reason is, of course, the quickly changing weather in the mountains. Considering that, in the last few years, the flight rate has improved considerably. In particular, if you were to try to move by car the distance of the Skardu flight, it would take two full days by land. But taking this “picturesque flight” it only takes one hour to travel the same distance.

You should really see this scenery from the Skardu flight! For the Skardu line, if taking the regular route (depending on the weather), you will see Nanga Parbat on the right and K2 on the left (if you are lucky!) just before arriving in Skardu. K2 is often hidden by the clouds and is only visible a little at the very end of the flight. So sitting on the Nanga Parbat side will give you more time to enjoy the mountainous view.

When you take off from Islamabad, you will increase altitude while slowly circling up in the Punjab Plain. Soon, you start to see the mountainous view at the western end of the Himalayas. If you look closely below, you can also see the Indus River and the Karakoram Highway running alongside it.

 

Nanga Parbat is seen as a gigantic mass of mountain. It is 8,126m, the 9th highest peak in the world.

 

My personal favorite is to see both the Indus River and Nanga Parbat. It’s hard to see in the photo, but below you can see the Indus River and the Karakoram Highway. The Indus River is a large river that crosses the border from Ladakh, India, and enters Pakistan passing through Skardu, and flows beyond that into the Arabian Sea.

This great mountainous region of Pakistan borders the Indus River. The Himalayas to the south of the great river and the Karakorum Mountains to the north of it. This is where the ancient Indian Plate and the Eurasian Plate collided to form these vast mountain ranges.

 

And in this photo, at the bottom, the altitude of the riverbank of the Indus River is 1,100-1,200m, while at the top, the summit of Nanga Parbat is 8,126m. If you draw a straight line, there is a height difference of 7,000m in a distance of about 23km!

 

Shortly after the view of Nanga Parbat disappears, you enter the Skardu Valley. Surrounded by the mountains of Karakorum, the open valley of Skardu contrasts so much. It is a magnificent view shaped by the Indus River.

 

Pakistan International Airlines circles around the town of Skardu, which is like an oasis lined with poplar trees. You will see Satpara Lake and finally land at the airport in Skardu.

 

Arrived safely in Skardu.

Can you see the mountains if you can’t get the window side? ···Nope!  There is no choice but to take turns looking out the small airplane windows. And…should your flight be cancelled, you have to stay flexible and just be content to enjoy the views of the Karakoram Highway and the mighty Indus River from the car!

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA

*The photo is taken from the right seat of the actual Pakistan Airlines Skardu flight.

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Skardu > ◇ Mountain of Pakistan > - Nanga Parbat / Himalaya Range
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Crossing the Gondogolo La Pass from the Baltoro Glacier

The quiet peak of Karakorum before dawn seen from Gondogolo La (pass). From the left, K2, Broad Peak, G4, G3, G2, G1.

 

The route over Gondogoro La (at 5,680m), considered to be the ultimate trekking route to see K2, the second highest mountain in the world. As it requires snow wall climbing gear, make sure to check the rope work skill  thoroughly.

 

Taking glimpses behind us at K2 and Broad Peak, every now and then, we head toward  our base camp, Ali Camp (5,010m), to get over Gondogoro La. Checking in with the Islamabad office by satellite phone, we get the weather report. Fortunately, it will be clear tonight, so without hesitation, we decide to make our climb before dawn.

 

Our porters always carry the heavy equipment that we all use. This elderly man passed us quickly as we all crossed the Gondogoro La Pass, without much difficulty and waited for our mountain descent back at the camp. The local staff are always amazing through it all. Hats off to them for sure.

 

1am: Head out from base camp. Climbing up a snow wall using jumar, with an average slope of 50 degrees.

 

At last, 5:20 on July 6, 2012, we arrived at top of Gondogoro La!
A photo of my youthful self and the ridgeline behind me are K2 and Broad Peak.

 

As the sun rises, the down slope becomes a little loose and the risk of avalanche and rockfall increases. We rushed to get down the mountain.

 

A long, steep descent is more difficult than the climb up.

 

We arrived in a totally different world from the snow and ice world we just left high above. Camping in Khuspang, a lush campsite where so many alpine plants bloom.

I could finally let go of all the tension I was storing until now, and I slept like a log.

 

Photo & text :  Tomoaki  TSUTSUMI  from the expedition in Jun-July 2012

 

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > ◇ Mountain of Pakistan > - Karakorum Range
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”Kuch”, a summer in Shimshal Pamir

In northern Pakistan, near the border with China, we spent time with the women of Shimshal village as they take their livestock to the ‘Pamir’ in a migration called “Kuch”. This is about our Kuch experience, which took place in June 20, 2011.

In 2010, due to the traffic restrictions around Attabad Lake on the Karakoram Highway, I was unable to participate in the Kuch. In 2011, our   “Shimshal Pamir” tour became a kind of event with participants who wait for a year. For the Shimshal Village, it ended up being the biggest ever ‘Yak Safari’ group since they started tours to the most difficult Shopodin Pass at 5,346m. It was made up of 52 yaks and 61 people, making it the “Big Kuch” including our group.
These photos show the state of Kuch in 2011. The number of women joining Kuch has drastically reduced in 2018 and 2019, making this tradition a thing of the past, unfortunately.

 

On the morning of Kuch, we left the camp where shimshal’s women  had been staying at from May 20 to June 20. As we shut the door behind us, we said goodbye to our life in the summer village of Shuizherav (or Shuizerav). The elderly women, give us all a traditional send-off, with their cupped hands turned up, as a sign of respect.

 

The corral of the sheep and goats was opened, and the large group climbed up to the first pass. The local woman, walks while holding the fragile things like a lantern and even a newborn goat that is still unable to walk.

 

They made time for us to take a commemorative photo together just up the Shuizherav Hill. The Kuch tradition can only be carried out with the close cooperation of the whole family and good friends of their fellow villagers.

 

Shimshal women carrying children and goat kids in their arms. The goats and sheep walk slower, so the women take care of them as a separate group.

 

Our group was riding along on the yak, together with the female yaks and the group of calves. During the Kuch, the Yaks are being pushed along from behind, so they tend to walk a little faster paced then normal. I was simply blown away by the powerful women of Shimshal, as they power walked at such high elevations of around 4,500m.

 

As I looked behind me, the herd was coming up from behind us. From the Shimshal Pass (4,735m) with female yaks and calves group along with the villagers, we aim toward our destination of Shuwerth. I was so overcome by excitement, that I forgot about the high altitude.

 

The Shuwerth summer village (4,670m) is where the women will live from June 20 for three months. Called the ‘Pamir’ by the Shimshal villagers, it is a rich field where humans and livestock live close together. I was invited to take part in the ceremony to give thanks to their God for our safe arrival in the ‘Pamir’, and then ate some Shimshal cheese together with the everyone.
So many goats, sheep and yaks…too many for me to count. In the midst of the baa-baas (crying sounds of the goats and sheep) and the moo-moos (crying sounds of the yak calves), there is a shared sense of presence as we are making our way together towards ‘Pamir’. It will be my treasured memory forever.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: Jun 2011, Shimshal Pamir, Shimshal, Gilgit-Baltistan

※This article is updated and based on the blog “Salaam Pakistan” which was first uploaded in July 2011. The Shimshal kuch tradition is rapidly waning. I have heard that you can no longer see many women from the villages in 2018 & 2019.

 

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Shimshal
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Shimshal Pamir : Getting Over the Shopodin Pass(5,346m)with 52 Yaks and 61 People

This entry is about the the Shimshal Pamir journey in June 2011. In this trip, I was focused on the ‘yak route’. In 1993, the ‘Tang route’ was created because the Yaks could not pass there.  This ‘yak route’ allowed the Shimshal people to connect to the meadows, passes and villages together during their seasonal passage. One of the most daunting, as well as a highlight of the route, is going over the Shopodin Pass (5346m/ 17,540ft).

This time, as a record in the history of Shimshal, 52 yaks, and 61 people (11 Japanese, 3 Saiyu Travel staff of Pakistan [Pakistanis] and 47 Shimshal villagers) challenged the pass.

 

Climbing the Shopodin Pass. At the end of June, after over 5,000m elevation, there were pockets of remaining snow, and the melting snow water created muddy waterfalls. I climbed over a 150m of rocky terrain and from there on, rode on a yak directly to the top of the pass.

 

Nearing the top of the pass soon. This is Mr. Qazi, who is known as the Shimshal village ‘Yak Master’. In his youth, he had climbed high peak in the past, but today, he rode his own yak over the pass.

 

Just before reaching the top of pass, we offered our prayers of gratitude.

 

At the top of Shopodin Pass. Blessed with good weather, the view of the pass where we reached with the yak and the villagers was utterly breathtaking. From the cliff edge of Shopodin Pass at 5,346m, the even taller ranges of the Upper Hunza Passu’s Sispare and beyond to the Hisper Mustagh mountain range’s Distaghil Sar, Adver Sar, etc. a panorama of 7,000m peaks, an amazing landscape spreads out before us.

Later, there was a celebratory dance on the top of Shopodin Pass. When you are happy, you dance…that is the culture of the Pakistanis in the city as also, for the Pakistanis in the mountains. In this Shimshal mountain trip, I heard many times, the songs by the elders, ‘Pamir means a rich pasture where humans and livestock living together’. I was deeply touched by this song which celebrates living with nature and giving thanks to the beauty of it.

 

So the difficult thing about the Shopodin Pass, is not uphill but the downhill climb. The dry 35-degree inclination downwards opposite the snow slope is the hardest section of the pass. Some paths are muddy with the snow water, and some are slippery rocky ledges.

 

It took about 2 intense hours of downhill paths, until we could reach the destination of the Zargarben – Shopodin camp site. Of course, the yaks could make their way down quickly and were already there eating grass when we arrived.

 

The next day, we arrived at Shimshal village. It would be the last day where I would walk together with the yaks and villagers. There was only a few more hours to be together with the team, that had challenged the journey for the last 12 days.

I offer my deep gratitude to the Shimshal villagers, the yaks and their handlers, the mountain guides, porters and everyone who participated in this tour.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: Jun 2011, Shopodin Pass, Shimshal, Gilgit-Baltistan

※This article is an updated version of the blog posted in ‘Salam Pakistan’ in July 2011.

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Shimshal > ◇ Mountain of Pakistan
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Shimshal Pamir: Will you try the Kuch? I did!

Shimshal Pamir’s summer KUCH, a Summer migration
If you know anything about summer in Shimshal, then you know there is a big part of life the “Pamir.” This is the tradition of  KUCH, where the villagers move their livestock from Shimshal Village at the end of May. They first go to the summer village of Shuizherav and then at the end of June, make their way to the second summer village of Shuwerth.

 

Will you try the kuch? I will kuch!
It happened one day in June 2009. I walked along the Yak road to Shuizherav. My slow pace meant that I was overtaken by the Shimshal villagers. Everyone who passed uttered “Kuch” again and again. In order to help out with this great migration, everyone from men to the youth return from the city and gathered in the Shuizherav village. The exhausted goats and sheep had already started to gather in large numbers by the time we reached Shuizherav. As we all waited for the day of kuch, amongest the flocks of sheep and goats all surrounding my tent, day and night, I could participate in milking the sheep and goats. This was an amazing chance to experience summertime in the Shimshal life.

 

Heading towards the Pamir
It was decided last night, as I was told “Tomorrow is the kuch.”

Securing the household goods to the male yak, the house was cleaned up, and by 9 am the first group of yaks depart. Then the yak’s enclosure was opened and everyone started heading towards Pamir. The sheep and goats walk a little slower and arrive a little later. On the plateau, at the foot of Minglik Sar, you will pass the beautiful lake Lup Zoi, then eventually you will cross Shimshal Pass.

 

The yaks carry the load of household goods and pass in front of the 6,000m (19,685 ft) peak of Minglik Sar, in Shimshal. The yak carries a stove that has inside a baby goat that cannot walk.

 

Looking back from here, there is a panoramic scene of the yaks moving in. Forgetting that we are at an altitude of 4,900m (16,076ft), we are happily walking with the yaks to the summer village of Shuwerth in Pamir.

 

The herd of female yaks and the children as they cross Shimshal Pass.

 

The special ceremony to celebrate the kuch and summer life.

Start of the Summer for Shuwerth
The villager women of Shimshal live in Shuwerth for three months, grazing the animals and making dairy products. As soon as the kuch is over, a ceremony is held to pray for the safety of the villagers and a good harvest for the summer. People prepare their homes and take care of the livestock. In the evening, the usual practice of milking the animals takes place.

 

The paddock of Shuwerth. The scene of milking the animals every morning and evening.

I was so sad to say goodbye to the people who took care of me while I was there in Shuwerth, and as I left, I kept looking back at the view many times, as not to forget.

 

Photos & Text: Mairko SAWADA

Visit: June 2009, Shimshal Pamir, Shimshal, Gilgit-Baltistan

※This article is updated and based on the blog “Salaam Pakistan” first uploaded in March 2011. The Shimshal Kuch tradition is rapidly waning. I have heard that since my visit, you can no longer see the women from the villages in 2018 & 2019.

 

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Shimshal
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