Visiting the Rambur Valley Home of the Kalash

Visiting the Rambur Valley, where the Kalash live. It has been a long time since my last visit. I was thrilled to meet these beautiful young ladies.

The village scene at dusk. The valley’s steep slopes are used as a base for these lively dwellings.

Here is a Pashtun street merchant who was selling plates on the corner. The young lady is negotiating with the man, but instead of money, she placed some walnuts in the bowl she wanted to buy and handed it to him. They are bartering! The white bag behind him, to the left of the photo, is full of walnuts.

Going further into the village. The ditch full of trash caught my attention.

This lady was sewing on the terrace. She was using a sewing machine powered by her foot pedal. This is one of the beautiful sights of the Kalash Valley.

These young girls were playing a rock-kicking game. It is like an old Japanese children’s game! It really surprised me how similar it is.

The girls didn’t mind at all when the camera was pointed at them, and just continue to play their game. Some of the youngsters said proudly, “Foreigners take photos of us and publish them in books.” I really enjoyed spending time with these fairy-like girls, but the time came, and I needed to leave the valley.

This is the view of Tirich Mir (7,708m/25,288 feet), the highest peak in the Hindu Kush region. The view on the way through Ayun and Kalash Valleys, of this high peak, is one of the bonus scenes of this trip.

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

Visit : Nov 2021, Rambur, Kalash Valley, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Kalash Valley
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Kalash Valley: November in the Bumburet Village

In early November, I visited the Bumburet Valley. If I had a chance to go a little earlier, I could have seen the Corn Harvest season, but instead I was there during the time of everyone preparing for the coming of winter.
In this time of the year, there are very few tourists and the village is pretty quiet.

We traveled through the town of Ayun to get to the Kalash Valley. This is the amazing view along the way. The towering Tirich Mir (7,708m/25,288 feet), the highest peak in the Hindu Kush, appears over the hills of Ayun. The massive form shines in the morning sunlight.

After crossing this suspension bridge, we come to the junction of the Bumburet and Rambur Valleys. We head west here and continue on to Bumburet.

The Kalash homes started to come into view. The wooden houses are built into the slopes, making efficient use of the terrace and roofs.

These young girls who were playing with a baby goat caught my attention. She has such a charming, fairy-like beauty.

I went up these stairs, made from a hollowed-out tree, to the shaman lady’s house.

This is the terrace of the shaman’s house. According to her, she has the power to foresee the future and find things people had lost, so the people asked her to become a shaman.

Inside the shaman’s house. With the light only coming in from the doorway, the traditional lifestyle of the Kalash people is simple.

These wooden statues stood in the village funeral parlour.

The handmade wine made by the Kalash people, I found it so good.

This woman is threshing crops on her roof. This is a scene that is unique to the harvest season.

It filled me with so much happiness to revisit a school teacher home in Anish village, I found daughter has now become a mother! I used to visit them often, so this is the best memory.

The last time I could visit Bumburet Village was 2 years ago. The Muslim population is increasing and the number of Kalash girls wearing hijabs was higher than before. The color of the handmade embroidery on the traditional folk clothing was quite popular and flashy.

Over the past 30 years, as a tour guide for Saiyu Travel, I have seen the decline of the traditional ethnic lifestyles and clothing in various parts of the world. For the people, the more things become more modernized, their life also becomes easier, so it means these traditional ways are lost voluntarily. But still, it makes me sad to see the sudden shift away from ancient traditions and beliefs. I send strong prayers that these precious ethnic minorities like the Kalash can hold on their culture and rich traditions as part of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

 

Photos & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: Nov 2021, Bumburet, Kalash Valley, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Kalash Valley
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Kalash Valley’s Bumburet and Rambur

This is a video that highlights the scenery of the Kalash Valley when we visited in October. In the past when we visited Bumburet village, it was during the tourist season and quite crowded with domestic tourists.

However, by the middle of October, there were very few visitors at this time of year and the village was quiet.

 

KALASH VALLEY Bumburet & Rambur|カラーシャの谷(ボンボレット&ランブール)

 

Image : Mariko SAWADA

Visit : Oct 2021, Bomboret & Rambur, Kalash valley, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Category : ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > = Video Clip KPK > ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Kalash Valley
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Himalayan griffon vulture (Chitral Gol National Park))

Himalayan vulture in Chitral Gol National Park, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northern Pakistan.

The Chitral Gol National Park has three deep valleys spanning 7,750 hectares and is an ideal place to observe these vultures. Our main goal here was to observe the Markhor, but a ranger asked us “There are some vultures gathering because a Markhor fell off a cliff and died. Let’s go see.” So we walked down the steep slope of the mountain, where there was no path, as we looked out over the valley.
I couldn’t see the dead Markhor below, but I could see Himalayan vultures, Cinereous vultures, Bearded vultures and Golden eagles flying by us, just at eye level. It was an amazing sight.

 

The Himalayan griffon vulture (Himalayan vulture) inhabits the Tibetan Plateau, adjacent to the Great Himalayas and the Pamir Mountains and can be found in the northern mountainous regions of Pakistan.

It is a large vulture, with a wingspan of 3 meters and it is said that it was once widely seen in northern Pakistan. However, like the White-rumped vulture that lives in central and southern Pakistan, the number decreased due to eating livestock carcasses contaminated with the veterinary drug Diclofenac. (*Diclofenac was banned throughout South Asian countries in 2006, and it is expected that the population will recover.)

 

This is an adult Himalayan vulture. The young birds have a dark brown body, including around their necks.

 

Cinereous Vulture flying and a  Himalayan vulture on the cliffs.

 

On this day, at least four Himalayan vultures, one Cinereous Vulture, and multiple crows (probably ravens) were attracted by the dead Markhor. According to the national park ranger, the Markhor was not attacked by snow leopards or wolves but was surrounded by a pack of wild dogs and fell off the cliff.
As if on cue, on the other side of the valley there was a herd of Markhor that were running away from a stray dog. If only it were a snow leopard, it would have been like a dream to see such a sight!

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Chitral Gol National Park, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Chitral Gol National Park > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Cinereous Vulture (Chitral Gol National Park)

The Cinereous Vulture, a black vulture observed in Chitral Gol National Park in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Cinereous means “gray” in Latin but it is also known as the Eurasian Black Vulture.

 

Cinereous Vulture is a large vulture that lives in the mountainous areas of Central Eurasia. On the Eurasian continent, it is a large vulture just like the Himalayan Griffon Vulture, with an open wingspan of nearly 2.5 to 3 meters wide and is quite a heavy vulture.

 

From a distance, the Cinereous Vulture looks black except for small portions of the head and beak. The mature birds have a bit of light brown on parts of the head and the neck feathers. The younger birds are an overall darker color. So it looks like the bird in this photo is still a young bird.

In general, Cinereous Vulture use the plains and deserts during the winter and spend their time roosting on cliffs. But I wonder if it is because it’s a young bird that this guy is in the mountainous areas above 3,000 meters during the winter time?

 

It might be confused because it was mixed in with the Himalayan vultures? Anyway, look like it has found some food as the Cinereous Vulture has their landing gear down!

 

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Chitral Gol National Park, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Chitral Gol National Park > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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(Video) Markhor In Love, Chitral Gol National Park

During the breeding season, male Markhor, who usually are spending their time in the highlands, will come down from the mountains in search of females in heat.

Typically, we would see the males chasing the females, but I found a couple of cases where the females attacked the males. And then…another male would come over and…

We could watch the fascinating encounter of “Markhor in Love” with the staff.

恋するマーコール Markhor in love, Chitral Gol National Park|西遊旅行

 

Video & text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Dec 2020, Chitral Gol National Park, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Special Thanks : Wildlife Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, WWF Pakistan, Tomo AKIYAMA

Category : ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > = Video Clip KPK > ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Markhor > - Chitral Gol National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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Golden Eagles of Chitral Gol National Park

We saw a golden eagle flying against the backdrop of the Hindu Kush mountain range from the Chitral Gol National Park in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

We visited the national park for the goal to see the Markhor, but the ranger walked down the slope of a mountain, where there was no path, when he invited “There are some vultures gathering because a Markhor fell off a cliff and died. Let’s go see.”

 

The birds of prey dance in the air! And not only the vultures, but the golden eagles are already there. A crow can be seen bombing the golden eagle.

 

The Golden Eagle is a bird of prey that is widely distributed in the northern hemisphere. Although classified into several subspecies, the golden eagle found in Pakistan is the Aquila chrysaetos daphanea, called the Asian or Himalayan Golden Eagle, or in Central Asia and Russia it is called the Berkut (Беркут). The body of the golden eagle is large, and the body feathers are dark colored.

 

The golden eagle wouldn’t get too close to us, so it was difficult get a good photo, but seeing it through the binoculars, it is quite a beautiful bird. The golden feathers on the back of the head, which is where it got its name, were shining in the light.

 

As we were being fascinated by the Golden Eagle show, then a male Markhor just appeared among the rocks, in a wonderful position! This was the Chitral Gol National Park, a place busy with wildlife encounters.

 

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Chitral Gol National Park, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Chitral Gol National Park > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Lowari Pass: A Trip Down Memory Lane in Wintery Lowari Tunnel

Lowari Pass is a trail that connects Peshawar / Dir and Chitral. Locate in the  Hindu Raj, a tributary coming from the Hindukush Mountain ranges is at an altitude of about 3100 meters. As far as passes go, it is not that high, but this is the lowest and easiest route to pass the mountainous areas.

The Pass is closed to vehicle traffic from November to May due to the snowfall, so people have no choice but to walk it in the snow. It is said that countless people have lost their lives along the way in avalanches.

 

The truck that makes its way down the Lowari Pass. The road is muddy with snowmelt and rocks were constantly falling from above.

 

On the Chitral side of the Pass, it’s hairpin turn one after another.

 

A truck at one of the rest stops at Chaikhana, which lies at the foot of the Lowari Pass. This small valley surrounded by coniferous trees, was a popular place to take a break after crossing the dangerous pass.

But this scene is now a thing of the past. The Lowari Tunnel opened in 2017, and from 2018 it was open to general traffic so vehicles can pass easier.

 

Building the tunnel on the Lowari Pass began with planning in 2005, and a Korean company was involved in the construction, but it was interrupted halfway in 2009. Construction then resumed in 2013 and it was finally opened in July 2017.

 

There are two tunnels a longer 8.5 km tunnel and a 1.9 km tunnel, totaling 10.4 km, making it the longest tunnel in Pakistan.
For safety reasons, the passage of vehicles from both directions is controlled and you may have to wait in a long line. But compared to the past, when it was a feeling of endless time and effort used to climb and descend the Lowari Pass; or instances where a truck would be stuck on the way and unable to move or go around it, is no longer as big a problem. The anxiety caused by not knowing when, if ever, you would get out of the pass was eliminated by the tunnel.

However, it is still Pakistan. There are still cases where locals walked dangerously through the tunnel with their livestock, and when once you get out of the tunnel, the road is too muddy and the truck might get stuck again.

 

The snowy landscape of the village at the foot of Lowari Pass.
The only way to reach Chitral by land was from Gilgit-Baltistan, over the Shandul Pass, or from Peshawar, over the Lowari Pass. And all these passes were closed during the winter, due to the heavy snow.
The creation of the Lowari Tunnel will revolutionize the village of Chitral, which was once an “island of land” during the winter season.

 

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Visited Lowari Tunnel in December 2020, but the photos of Lowari Pass are from a previous visit before 2014.

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Chitral
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The Markhor of the Gahirat (Gehret) Goleen Conservancy

We visited the Gahirat (Gehret) Goleen Conservancy, just southeast of Chitral, to observe some Markhor.
Compared to the protected areas of national park where you can observe Markhor near Chitral, the valley here is narrower and the steep, rocky mountains are very impressive, making it a beautifully scenic valley. Like the Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy, it is under the control of the community of surrounding villages and only one Markhor per year can be taken for trophy hunting.

 

Moving away from the main road along the Chitral River and entering the conservancy, the condition of the road is horrible. Along the way, we passed through mountain of marbled rocks and crossed a small stream.

 

Last night’s snow remains on the rock surface.

 

The Gehret Goleen Conservancy is a 95,000-hectare community reserve founded in 1998. Surrounded by steep, rocky mountains the sparse vegetation on the slopes include the holly oak (Quercus ilex), the Himalayan  cedar (Cidrus deodara), and the Chilgoza pine (Pinus gerardiana).

 

A female Markhor appeared against the backdrop of the rocky mountain. I caught myself thinking “Oh, if only this could be a male with big horns, that would have been nice!” … it is such a picturesque landscape.

 

A male then appeared in search of females. Markhor males seen during this season continue to search for females in estrous.
The size of the Markhor herd in the Conservancy was as small as 10-21 head, compared to 25-57 individuals in the Tooshi Shasha Conservancy, which may be a sign of just how tough the rugged environment is here.

 

The young males also practice battling with their horns. This is an interesting season to see the sight of males chasing herds of females in heat.

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Gahirat (Gehrait) Goleen Conservancy, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Special Thanks: KPK Wildlife department, WWF Pakistan, Tomo AKIYAMA

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Markhor > - Chitral > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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Kashmir Markhor (Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy)

The Markhor belongs to the genus Capra, (pronounced mārkhor) and is the world’s tallest goat family in the genus.
The male markhor is known as the “King of the Horned Animals” as well as “King of Goats” which seems to be an irresistible draw to the niche of ‘Fans of Horned Animals.’

Inhabiting western India and central Asia, most markhor are found in the core zone of the mountainous region of Pakistan. At one point, poaching greatly reduced the population, but as of 2020, the population seems to be making a recovery thanks to efforts to control trophy hunting and reduce illegal hunting.

 

Visiting the Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy, we were lucky to get a good view of markhor just on the other side of the river.
The Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy, established in 1979 with 1,045 hectares, was expanded in 1998 to 20,000 hectares, as a community-managed reserve by the surrounding 7 villages. Unlike national parks where hunting is prohibited, it is a managed area where limited hunting is permitted.
In Pakistan, normally wild animals will flee at the sight of humans, due to having been hunted, but it was possible to view them quite closely in the Conservancy.

 

This is a male markhor. The ones seen in this area are a subspecies called “Kashmir Markhor.” In the northern part of Pakistan, there is another subspecies called the “Astor Markhor.”
The male here has a nice set of horns. In this season, they will come to lower elevations in search of mating opportunities with females.

 

A herd of Kashmir markhor. Normally herds only have females and juvenile males but during this season, adult males can be seen with them.

 

Coming down the mountain.

 

He was getting very close. The male’s horns can reach up to 160 cm (63 inches). Females can also have horns, but they only grow to 25 cm (10 inches) in length. The females are also remarkably smaller in body size as well.

 

The male will raise his upper lip, sticking out his tongue…It seems this flehmen response is a reaction to the females in estrus.

The markhor’s breeding season is also sadly the same as hunting season for the rich trophy hunters. The hunting permits are auctioned to the highest bidders to wealthy hunters who aim to get these big-horned trophies for their collections.

In 2020, the year of an unprecedented pandemic, we had heard that the auctions went ahead and permits were already sold. But there was a big question if the hunters would show up or not! The day after we left, we heard that they did arrive from overseas to claim their permits. In the 20,000 hectare Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy there are an estimated 1,400 markhors (2015 population survey data) so every year 2 are allowed to be taken by the trophy hunters.

The Kashmir markhor are auctioned starting from 9,000 to 10,000 US$ and from there the permit is awarded to the highest bidder. Most of these proceeds (about 80%) are returned to the community, such as for schools and health care for the villagers. .

These 2 hunted markhor are therefore quite important sources of income for the locals and directly connects back to the conservation and management of these endangered wildlife. This is a model that modern Pakistan has which promotes the “Coexistence of Humans and Wildlife.”

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA
Observation : Dec 2020, Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy, Chitral, Khyber Paktunkhwa
Special Thanks : KPK Wildlife Department, WWF Pakistan, Tomo AKIYAMA

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Markhor > - Chitral > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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