Protecting Nature in Karakorum: Cleanup Activities in Khunjerab Pass

This April, our snow leopard tour in Pakistan was excellent with great sightings! However, I was really saddened to see some marmots carrying garbage into their burrows at the Khunjurab Pass. On May 4, with the support of our tour participants, Abul Khan and the village of Moorkhun’s Boy Scout group, we cleaned up the trash around the Khunjurab Pass. Even if you ask the government to do something about the trash, we cannot expect a prompt response. It will still take some time to shift the culture and awareness about properly disposing of waste for the domestic Pakistani tourists. This season, we are planning to do two more cleaning activities again.

 

<<Video>> Marmot with Garbage, at Khunjerab top area

It was heartbreaking to see the hungry marmots, since they just work from their hibernation, eating the trash left behind by people.

Mr. Abul at the community hall in Moorkhun village, giving an orientation about the cleanup activities.

The most trash that is left behind is in the area near the border with China, which is the final destination for many of the tourists. Working at altitudes above 4,600 m, this work requires the cooperation of locals.

Cleaning along the ditch next to the Karakorum Highway. Snack wrappers, PET drink bottles, diapers, masks, etc. were all strewn about. How can people be so careless to just throw garbage out of their vehicle window?

A child that participated in the cleanup efforts.

This year we would like to conduct two more clean ups, one before and after the season. We still have a chance to regain the beautiful nature as it once was. In order to protect nature and amazing wildlife environment of the Karakorum Mountains, also called the “ridge of the world,” and the Pamir Plateau, I would like to do my best to protect it.

 

Image & text : Mariko SAWADA

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Morkhun > ◇ Conservation of Wildlife, Nature > - Khunjerab National Park
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Nanga Parbat (8,126m) As Seen From the Snowy Deosai Plateau

From the Deosai Plateau, there are several points where you can see the world’s 9th highest peak, Nanga Parbat (8,126m/26660 ft), but the best spot, is to descend from Sheosar Lake to the Astore valley, in my personal opinion.

It was quite a difficult undertaking, actually, but I aimed for a chance to get photos of Nanga Parbat from the snowy Lake Sheosar. First, we have to avoid travel the day after it snows on the Deosai Plateau because the road is impassable. Second, even if you make it to the Lake Sheosar, it must be a sunny clear day to see Nanga Parbat, so there really are not many days when you can have these perfect conditions.

Lake Sheosar surrounded by snow. This trip happened to be a day trip from Skardu, but it was quite difficult to travel on the snow-covered roads. Still, the scenery was rewarding when we reached it, and there was no one else there at that time.

When I looked to the west, Nanga Parbat appeared over the lake. Too bad, that the clouds were covering it a little, but still, we could make out the mountain just enough.

Heading down to Astore valley, you can see the entire mountain of Nanga Parbat. It is amazing that we can see this scene and get there by car.

Amin, our guide took a commemorative photo with Nanga Parbat. Due to the road conditions, on the way back, we cannot linger for long here. After observing flock of the Caspian gull and common coot on the Lake, we quickly headed back to Skardu.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: Oct 2021, Shoesar Lake, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Deosai National Park > ◇ Mountain of Pakistan > - Nanga Parbat / Himalaya Range
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Eurasian eagle-owl at Morkhun village

I visited Mr. Hussain’s house in Morkhun Village. There, I could meet this Eagle Owl. This is where Mr. Hussain and Mr. Abul, who cherish nature and wildlife live. They rescue owls like this, that are injured or caught sometimes.

This large owl, called an Eagle owl, or Eurasian eagle-owl, is widely distributed in the Eurasian continent, resting in the forests and among the rocks during the day, and the nocturnal owls actively hunting at night.

Living in the highlands at nearly 3,000m (about 9840 ft) altitude, these owls are a subspecies of the Eurasian Eagle Owl, Bubo bubo hemachalanus which inhabit the Himalayas from Bhutan to northern India and northern Pakistan.

In the private house of the Wakhi family. You can see how close the child can get to the owl.

The owl was being fed chicken.

The Eagle-owl seemed to be very comfortable with his rescuer, Mr. Abul. But today it was scheduled to be released back into the wild.

He released the bird from his yard. It flew straight, and then landed in a bush nearby.

These colorful poplar trees line the slope of the Morkhun village, are the habitat of the Eagle owls.

The liberated Eagle Owl. I hope it can return to its original territory.

After that, we had lunch around the buhari (stove). We were there just in time for the potato harvest. A traditional Wakhi dish made from lots of dairy products, fried potatoes and chow men (fried noodles) and salad. I can’t stop myself from eating the fried potatoes made from fresh potatoes.

Then, following the meal, we have some chai, milk tea. In northern Pakistan, they add Himlayan rock salt, instead of sugar into their chai. The chunk of salt is stirred in the chai, and the salty milk tea “Namkeen chai” is enjoyed.

These rock salt are brought from the far reaches of the Punjab region to all over the world. They are sold in the market under the name “Pink salt” or “Himalayan rock salt.”

This wraps up my time in the Morkhun Village, were I could help send off an Eagle Owl back to the wild, and relaxed with Namkeen Chai.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Oct 2021, Morkhun Village, Gilgit-Baltistan
Special Thanks to Hussain ALI and Abul KHAN

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Morkhun > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Skardu’s superb landscapes; Walking the Sarfranga Cold Desert

This is a photo of the Sarfranga Cold Desert, taken from the drone we sent up from the entrance of the Shigar Valley on the outskirts of Skardu.

Located along the Indus River in Skardu, the Sarfranga Cold Desert is a dry desert system surrounded by alpine mountains at an altitude of 2,500m (8,202 ft). The strikingly beautiful sand dunes along the banks of the Indus river, form part of the desert,

Sarfranga Cold Desert (Skardu)

It was a particularly beautiful morning, visiting these rare wonders of the world “sand dunes surrounded by snowy alpine peaks.” Even for these well-traveled people, who had already seen various deserts around the world, this was a rare sight indeed.

Off in the distance we could see Hussain Abad Village.

Climbing the highest dune, we could enjoy a 360°view of the high alpine peaks all around us.

 

Image & Text : Mariko SAWADA

Visit : Oct 2021, Sarfraga Cold Desert, Shigar-Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Skardu Valley > - Shigar Valley
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Flight PK452、Flying from Skardu to Islamabad!

In a previous blog, we already posted the video of the flight of PK451, flying from Islamabad to Skardu, so now we are posting a video from the return flight PK452 from Skardu, on a relatively good weather day. The clouds were covering Nanga Parbat, as we passed the peak around noon that day.

PK452 Skardu to Islamabad

 

Image & text :Mariko SAWADA

Travel date : Oct 2021, taking flight PIA 452 from Skardu to Islamabad

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Skardu Valley > ◇ Museum of Pakistan > - Nanga Parbat / Himalaya Range
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Hunza Homestay! Enjoying the local cuisine at the local’s home

This is the introduction of the local food we enjoyed while I visited Hunza at a private homestay.

When you visit Hunza, one of the menu items you will definitely be served is a soup called ‘Dowdo.’ It contains thick handmade noodles, similar to udon, and is a little curry-like. It doesn’t have a strong flavor and is popular among foreigners. More recently, in the Nagar district, there is a meaty pie called ‘Chap Shoro’ which is becoming very popular with the domestic Pakistani tourists.

The food in the Hunza region is healthy; and it is not flavored too spicy so foreigners find it easy to eat.

Making Baruway Gilang (buckwheat Chapati)
Making Baruway Gilang (buckwheat Chapati)

Our homestay host in Hunza, was Amin Ghazi Karim, who prepared the local dishes at their house. They have a modern kitchen, but during the meal, the stove comes in handy while you eat. In the cold Hunza, it is pretty essential to have the stove close by.

Rakaposhi (7,788m/ 25,551ft) can be seen from Amin’s kitchen window.

They made us a Butter Chapati (in the local Burushaki language called ‘Martasxe tse Giyaling.’) The flour chapati is topped with butter. Walnut oil and apricot oils are also used, instead of butter.

The ‘Martasxe tse Giyaling’ is ready. It has a light flavor but is heavy in the stomach.

This is the Cheese Chapati (in Burushaki language called ‘Burus Sapik.’ It is my favorite, locally produced cheese, mint, tomatoes, leeks, onions, and fruit oil wrapped in a wheat chapati. This is really healthy, and recommended for the vegetarians who come to Pakistan and have a hard time with the food.

After the meal, we finish dinner with freshly harvested Hunza apples and tea.

 

Photos & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: Oct 2021, Baltit, Karimabad, Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan
Special Thanks to all host family members of Amin Ghazi Karim

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Hunza Valley
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Autumn in the Upper Hunza, a typical evening in the Morkhon and Ghalapan Villages

After a long days of summer spent grazing, in mid-October, the cattle are returned to the village. After that, one a daily schedule the goats and sheep from the village are gathered to go to the pastures for grazing. We arrived in the Upper Hunza’s Ghalapan Village to await the arrival of the goats and sheep in the evening.

 

The Upper Hunza during this season is the most beautiful season, with the poplar trees changing colors. The time to catch their bright yellow leaves in the sunlight is limited because the poplar trees grow in the valleys, surrounded by high peaks all around them.

 

After grazing on the mountain slopes, the goats and sheep have started their decent to the village. Here they come!

 

↓↓ This is a video of the livestock heading back to the villages of Mokrhon and Ghalapan, after a day of grazing. The poplar trees were amazing as well, so that drone footage is included as well!

 

Morkhon & Ghalapan in Autumn|秋の上部フンザの村にて

 

The villagers were waiting for the goats and sheep to come back to the village.

 

They quickly separate out their own livestock from the group. Some of the villagers carry dried apricots as a treat to get the sheep to follow them back to their homes.

 

They have to know which one is their own livestock!

 

This sheep wandered off from the heard and had to be carried back.

 

Each owner brings back their own livestock to their respective shed for the evening. It all happened within a 15 minute window. But this little moment is just the daily life part of a wonderful village life in northern Pakistan.

 

Image : Mariko SAWADA

Visit : Oct 2021, Ghalapan village, Upper Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Morkhun > ◇Domestic animal of Pakistan
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View of Nanga Parbat from Flight PK451!

The Pakistan Airlines flight from Islamabad to Skardu on good weather days are renowned for their great views of the world’s 9th highest peak, Nanga Parbat which stands at 8,126 m (26,660 ft).

This video was taken on a sunny day in October during our visit as we flew on flight PK451. I took the video with my iPhone. I have been on this flight a number of times before, but on this day in particular, Nanga Parbat felt closer than ever before!

 

Nanga Parbat from PK451 (Aerial View)

The video linked below was taken with a Go Pro 10 by Amin Gazi Karim of the Indus Caravan who was on the same flight with us. His short reel highlights moments from the entire flight from flying towards Nanga Parbat to our landing in Skardu.

Skardu is now a popular destination among domestic Pakistani tourists, with flights from Karachi and Lahore during the summer season, with three arrivals a day on the weekends. Compared to in the past, there have been improvements on the flight operation rates.

The peak of Nanga Parbat taken from the airplane. There are often clouds on the peak, so we were lucky to have a really clear view.

As we approach Skardu, the snow-capped mountains and valleys begin to appear.

The flow of the Indus River has carved out the Skardu valley. Skardu Airport is right along the riverbank.

Landed at Skardu Airport. With the aim of it becoming an International Airport, there are various projects ongoing to expand it and maintenance is underway. In fact, it is located right on the boarder with India, and the military also uses the airport regularly, so there are plans for a new runway.

On November 30, 2021  Pakistan Airlines closed their branch in Japan. This airline that has connected Tokyo to Islamabad for nearly 30 years, will be gone and makes me so sad.

Thanks to Pakistan International Airlines and everyone who supported flight to Tokyo.

 

Image & text : Mariko SAWADA

Visit :Oct 2021, taking flight PIA 451 from Islamabad to Skardu

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Skardu Valley > ◇ Mountain of Pakistan > - Nanga Parbat / Himalaya Range
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The Himalayan Brown Bear Before Hibernating: The Deosai Plateau in October

I photographed this Himalayan brown bear in mid-October on the Deosai Plateau. Once October rolls around, the snowy season comes to the grasslands. With the first snowfall, the wild animals are signaled that winter has arrived and their preparations hasten. For example, the long-tailed marmots will surprisingly, all start hibernating at the same time! Just until yesterday, they were out, basking in the sun, but I didn’t see any of them today at all!

This is the wintery scene of the Deosai, near the Barapani camp. According to the National Park staff, the Himalayan brown bears will prey on the long-tailed marmots especially in month of September because they are plump with their winter fat by this time. All the animals are preparing for the long hibernation. Once the marmots stop emerging and enter their hibernation period, the bears will also move from the highlands of about 4,200m (about 13,780ft) to a slightly lower altitude valleys for their own hibernation.

We could see the Himalayan brown bears near the road around Barapani camp!

↓↓↓ A video of the Himalayan brown bears!

Himalayan Brown Bear in Autumn|デオサイ高原のヒマラヤヒグマ

The bears get so large and plump just before hibernating. Just looking at them, fills me with happiness.

This bear has found a comfy spot to sit in the grassland.

The surrounding mountains are already covered in snow. According to our Park staff, it will probably be the last time we will see the brown bears on the Plateau, until next summer.

After the second snow, the Park staff also packed up their base camps and headed back to Skardu. The sheep and goat herders have already descended into the Valley, and winter on the Deosai plateau is setting in.

The long-tailed marmots will hibernate, but the red fox stays active in order to survive the long winter. Even long after the people have gone, I have still seen foxes along the road during our visits.

The number of domestic Pakistani tourists that come to Deosai National Park is increasing and the management of garbage disposal at the campsites is becoming problematic. In 2018 there was a very shocking report that 80% of the content in the bear droppings was plastic. After that, it was reported that the staff of the Park started to make efforts to do cleanups once a week. In addition, it is common to see brown bears in the campsite’s trash areas, so taking more proactive countermeasures is needed.

This awareness sign about the problem has a photo of the bear taken in the summer time. Even in the summer, it is looking so fluffy!

 

Image  & Text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Oct 2021, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Himalayan Brown Bear > - Deosai National Park
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Sarfranga cold desert, emerging from the sea of clouds: Skardu

The morning after it rained and snowed in Skardu. The valley all along the Indus River was bathed in fog.

Located on the banks of the Indus River in Skardu, is the Sarfranga Cold Desert. The name is based on it being at 2,500m (8,200 ft), as a high-altitude desert surrounded by high mountains. The sand along the river, forms beautiful dunes.

The sand dunes remind me of the scenery of the Sahara Desert or the Namib Desert, with the periphery of the sand dunes surrounded by peaks higher than 5,000m above sea level. Making it feel so mysterious.

Sarfranga cold desert emerging from the sea of clouds Skardu|スカルドゥ サルフランガ寒冷砂漠

This drone video was taken in the cold desert, while I was standing in the fog, operating the drone. Once the drone rose above the fog, you could see the landscape open up beautifully.

This is the scene of the fog settled over the Sarfranga dunes, as seen from the road to the Shigar Valley. The large Pakistani flag was drawn on the side of the rocky mountain.

The valley of the Indus River which flows from the Indian boarder was covered in fog.

The tips of the dunes emerging from the fog was strikingly beautiful.

 

Image & text : Mariko SAWADA

Visit : Oct 2021, Sarfranga Desert, Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Skardu Valley > - Shigar Valley
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