Summer on the Deosai Plateau and Wildlife We Encountered While Camping

This is a summary of our visit of the Deosai Plateau during the summer; the wildlife and scenery we experienced while camping and exploring the area.

The summer of 2022 was unusually dry on the Plateau. The Deosai summer, which is normally full of water with the carpet of alpine flowers in full bloom, this time was super dry and the plants were all the like their autumn colors. There was a lack of snowfall in the winter, earlier in the year, so it caused the high plains to be dry early on. In another blog, I will write about the impact of this big change on the Himalayan Brown Bears.

Past articles about the Deosai

The Deosai Plateau on a sunny day is remarkable, with crystal clear rivers, wetlands and mountains inviting you to stay.

The Long-tailed Marmot(or Golden Marmot). These are the same species as the marmots we see near the Khunjerab Pass, but will have a more muted coloration. (The Khunjerab Pass marmots really live up to their names as the “Golden” marmot!)

A male Citrine Wagtail. So striking in the breeding season! Breeding in the thickets along the river, we saw them carrying beaks full of insects to their chicks in the mornings and evenings.

The male Horned Lark who was busy feeding their chicks as well. I was there in mid-July, which seemed to be the season for fledging. It was nerve-wracking to see the baby birds that could not fly so well, as they were so close to the roadway.

Robin Accentor

The Robin Accentor. I didn’t really see it near the campsite, but we saw it while observing the livestock grazing in the Shatung area. In Pakistan, this bird can only usually be seen in a limited area from the Deosai Plateau to the northern area.

We walked every day in search of the Himalayan Brown Bear. Due to the exceptionally dry weather this summer, the brown bears were not in the areas where they are usually seen. There were days when we couldn’t find them, even though we looked all day, into the evening.

After days of walking, there was a big bear cub. It may have had a mother bear nearby, or maybe it was recently independent.

There was another huge Himalayan Brown Bear engrossed in eating grass. Thanks to the wind direction, I was able to get even closer to observe it.

When I returned to the campsite, we had large trout waiting for us (note: it was caught by the staff with a proper permit from the national park). The Deosai Plateau contains both native and exotic trout released for fishing by the British during the colonial period. I don’t know which one this is, but it seems the native trout is a very rare species called an “Indus Snow Trout.”

Seeing trout makes me a little thirsty for Beer. We had a toast with Pakistani beer, Murree Beer (Caution: the altitude is 4,000m, so don’t try it). This can is the Murree Brewery’s Millennium Beer, which I personally think is the most delicious beer. It is the British Colonial legacy that I appreciate the most.

The starry sky of the Deosai Plateau. I really recommend taking photos of the dark skies of the Deosai Plateau.

Himalayan Brown Bear

A brown bear came to our campsite…it was attracted to the garbage, looking for food and is seems it comes often. It was clearly visible in the camera traps.Due to the abnormally dry weather this year, it was difficult to see the brown bears and so few flowers were blooming on the plateau. I just pray that the abnormal weather will not upset the ecology of this special place.

 

Images & text: Mariko SAWADA

Observation: JUL 2022, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Visit our web site “Wildlife of Pakistan

YouTube : Himalayan Brown Bear in Autumn

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Himalayan Brown Bear > - Deosai National Park > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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K2 & Baltoro Glacier Trekking 2022 (Part 3) Khoburtse to Urdukas

Today we only travel about 7 km, from Khoburtse (3,834m) to the campsite in Urdukas (4,061m), which makes it a short day for trekking. Along the way, we cross two glaciers from the Urdukas Peaks, and from tonight we will finally begin camping at over 4,000 m.

K2 & Baltoro Glacier Trekking 2022 (Part 1) Skardu to Paiju

K2 & Baltoro Glacier Trekking 2022 (Part 2) Paiju to Khoburtse

K2 & Baltoro Glacier Trekking 2022 (Part 3) Khoburtse to Urdukas

K2 & Baltoro Trekking 2022 (Part 4) Urdukas to GoreⅡ

K2 & Baltoro Trekking 2022 (Part 5) GoreⅡ to Concordia

Staying in Concordia, surrounded by the high Peaks of the Karakorum: K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum Mountain Range

Shortly after leaving Khoburtse, we crossed the glacier from the Urdukas Peaks. The big boulders and rocks are scattered around us everywhere.

The mules are loaded down with climbing equipment, as one party passes by us one after another. When I asked the porter what is going on, he said that there are two expedition groups heading for Urdukas from Paiju. It seems the campsite will be crowded tonight.

A Balti porter who is drinking the glacier water. Throughout the trip, you will be amazed at their strength.

As we near Urdukas, the there is more vegetation, and the alpine plants were in bloom. For the rest of the trip, the campsites will all be on the glacier, so this is the last chance for the pack animals to eat fresh grass.

Even so, the flowers were in bloom near the campsite and those tough little mules were grazing on them. The mules kept arriving in droves, to eat the flowers and grass. The number of mules that arrived on this one day exceeded 200 head.

These flowers can typically be seen until early July. Not only flowers, but here, wild birds can also be seen as well. I will introduce just a few of the shots I got.

A Yellow-billed chough, Pyrrhocorax graculus. They are waiting patiently for the humans to leave the campsite with leftovers.

This is the Red-billed chough, Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax. They forage for nuts and insects, but here they were aiming for leftover food with the Yellow-billed choughs. Living in this harsh environment, anything we leave behind is such a treat! During the Baltoro Glacier trek, we tend to see more Yellow-billed choughs than the red-billed choughs.

In addition to the two wild crow family, which I just introduced, there is also the raven. This area’s ravens is a subspecies Corvus corax tibetanus (also Tibetan raven), which are the largest and most gorgeous raven species. From this campsite all the way to Concordia, you’ll see these three crows at every campsite along the way.

When I got this shot of the Red-fronted Rose finch, Carpodacus puniceus I was so excited. According to the distribution maps, it is a bird that lives in the high mountains around the Tibetan Plateau.

When we arrived at the campsite, we had it all to ourselves, but then soon after that, two other groups arrived one after another.

By the evening the campsite was bustling. One problem with the Urdukas campsite is that the permanent toilets are very far away. We only stayed for one night, but for groups that come from Paiju to Urdukas in one day, they tend to stay for two nights and take a full day of rest before continuing.

Today, the goat we had brought up with us was butchered, we were offered a fresh “charcoal-grilled liver” and the staff enjoyed a stewed dish of the organs. This goat meat was our source of food until the final day of our trek. By the way, the other group of climbers had brought yaks and dzo (or zho, which are yak-cow hybrids).

The view from the campsite in the evening. Baltoro Glacier with the Trango Castle and beyond that, Uri Biaho.

The west side of the Urdukas campsite just as the sun was setting. A part of the Urdukas Peaks appeared in the background, and moments later, the moon rose from here.

Photos & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Trek date: Early June 2022

*The altitudes and distances traveled from site to site that are listed, are based on our own measurements and GPS equipment. Please note that these may differ from other reference materials.

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for your Baltoro Glacier trek!

Category : - Baltoro Glacier & Concordia > - Baltoro Glacier & Concordia > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > ◇ Mountain of Pakistan > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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K2 & Baltoro Glacier Trekking 2022 (Part 1) From Skardu to Paiju

This is a record of the June 2022 Trekking, where we could lead our first Baltoro Glacier Trek for Saiyu Travel Japan since the start of the worldwide pandemic. The Jeep Road has changed a lot since the last 2019 tour. It used to stop at Askole, but now it has been extended between Jhola and Skam Tsok, with construction still being carried out here and there. Larger groups use the Jhola campsite, while smaller groups can also camp on the banks of the Braldu river along the way. (Note: The “Jeep Road” in Pakistan is a pretty rough road that can be traversed by the car models called Toyota Jeep, locally.)

K2 & Baltoro Glacier Trekking 2022 (Part 1) Skardu to Paiju

K2 & Baltoro Glacier Trekking 2022 (Part 2) Paiju to Khoburtse

K2 & Baltoro Glacier Trekking 2022 (Part 3) Khoburtse to Urdukas

K2 & Baltoro Trekking 2022 (Part 4) Urdukas to GoreⅡ

K2 & Baltoro Trekking 2022 (Part 5) GoreⅡ to Concordia

Staying in Concordia, surrounded by the high Peaks of the Karakorum: K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum Mountain Range

The big feature of this year’s Baltoro Trek is that many “climbing teams” who have been waiting for these past three years come to climb one after the other. Since the Baltoro area is so close to the Indian border, the security is tight and in addition to the visa required to enter Pakistan, people must also at the same time, obtain a “trekking” or “mountain climbing” visa. The group’s permissions are linked to this visa. We were required to submit an application and can only depart after the group’s approval. At the beginning of this season, the number of applications for this “trekking” and “mountain climbing” visa has increased sharply, so it took a considerable amount of time to obtain it. If you are planning trekking in the Baltoro area, be prepared to apply 45 days in advance.

K2 & Baltoro Glacier Trekking 2022

A car carrying our porters, who are heading to the first campsite. In June, the workload of the summit corps is quite heavy, so the porters, mules, and horses/donkeys are also quite busy.

While driving through the Shigar Valley, we passed through Hyderabad, the village where the driver lives. The driver’s wife brought us freshly harvested mulberries.

They were unbelievably sweet.

This is a photo taken near the village of Askole. Askole is also crowded with porters/unloaders for Baltoro Glacier trekking and is also famous for gem mining. The rock cave in this photo is the opening of the gem mining pit, which was also working at full swing.

From Askole, and beyond, this is the first jeep road to pass. Proceed along Braldu River which starts from the Baltoro Glacier. Along the way, there are so many steep ups and downs.

They have built a new bridge in Jhola, and after crossing it, a while later we saw the point where the construction of the road was still underway. Tonight’s campsite is on the riverbank, just a short walk from here.

The next day, we walked along the Braldu River. We will pass through the Skam Tsok campsite.

In front of us, stands the Baltoro Glacier, and on the sides partly covered by clouds the Trango Towers, the Baltoro Cathedral, and the Paiju campsite.

Paiju is a campsite abundant with water and greenery. The season had just begun, so the accommodation was fully reserved by our group.

While at the campsite, the porters were making Balti bread. This will be used as the food for the trekking on the glacier the next day.

Freshly baked bread.

This mule is in the middle of his meal. In the past, it was rare to see livestock being used in the trekking, but now it has become more mainstream to see them and horses and donkeys as well.

From tomorrow, they will get new horseshoes for the Glacier trek. It really feels like a new season has begun.

From the Paiju campsite, the mountains along the Baltoro Glacier, part of the Trango Towers on the left and in the middle, the Baltoro Cathedral. On the right are the Lobsang Spire.

Being the only ones staying overnight at the Paiju, it was a very quiet night.

 

Text & photo : Mariko SAWADA

Trek Date : Early JUN 2022

PS: In early July, the bridge 4 km from Askole was washed away by flood, so the trek has since been from Askole.

*Contact Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for your Baltoro Glacier trek!

Category : - Baltoro Glacier & Concordia > - Baltoro Glacier & Concordia > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > ◇ Mountain of Pakistan
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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

* Contact Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for your trip to Skardu !

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.

To the video of PK451

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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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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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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Crossing the Shandur Pass in the Autumn

In late October, Northern Pakistan’s poplar trees turn a golden hue, making it the most beautiful season of the year. Travel from Gilgit to Shandur Pass through the Ghizer District is spectacular. With less traffic in the valley, the view along the road is one of the best.

On this day, we left Gupis to travel towards Chitral. There were rows of golden poplar trees reflecting the sun against the clear autumn sky. However, as we kept stopping to get photos of the dynamic landscape, our progress getting to Chitral was quite slow.

As we made our way uphill to Phandar, we found a herd of yaks that were being gathered together. Due to snow in the higher elevations, they were being brought down and were being herded together to be taken to their pasture lands.

A view of the bridge near Phandar. In the past, many of the suspension bridges like this were made of stone, wood and wire. But they are steadily being replaced by concrete bridges made by China. As a photographer, it is sad to see these kinds of bridges getting phased out.

Eventually, we started up the Shandur Pass. We saw a donkey caravan passing us as they were heading down, loaded with fuel for their fires during the cold winter. Their heavy load was packed with materials for firewood, including dried cow and yak droppings

Shandur Pass at the altitude of 3,700m (12,140 ft). The Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa boarder is here. At the check post, all the foreigners will be asked to confirm their documents here.

When mentioning Shandur Pass, it is worth noting that it is famous for the “World’s highest altitude Polo Competition” the Shandur Polo Festival, which takes place in the summertime. The stadium was also covered by the snow.

This is a lake covered in ice on the Shandur Pass. This part of the road is extremely difficult to pass where the melting snow and sand mixes together into a muddy mess, causing a chaotic scene. 。

The steady, dependable vehicle of choice on these rough back country roads, is what is locally called the “Toyota Jeep.” These Toyota Land Cruisers from the 1970’s and 80’s are the go-to vehicle and have been retrofitted with the “Northern Pakistan Kit” both inside and out, which is designed to take a beating, but to get you to your destination.

These older jeep-type cars have been declining recently as newer land cruiser models become more popular, which is coming from Afghanistan into Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Non Custom Paid Cars).

Even so, when it comes to driving in the snow, these rugged cars have a track record for being the most dependable. I’m so glad to know that even now, such an old Japanese car is still so heavily relied upon in the mountains of Pakistan. It is playing a vital role of connecting a remote village and delivering the supplies they need.

As we made our way down from the Shandur Pass, at the foot of the mountains, we stopped for a late lunch in the village of Laspur. We had lentils, curry made of freshly harvested potatoes, chicken curry, rice pilaf and naan.

In Laspur, this father and his daughter were running the wonderful “chaihana”. I was enchanted by the smile of this young lady.

We continued on our journey, taking the rough road to Mastuj, and then on to Chitral. By the time we arrived in Chitral, it was already dark.

 

Image & text : Mariko SAWADA

Visit  :Oct 2021, Gupis, Phandar, Shandur Pass – Gilgit-Baltistan & Khyber pakhtunkhwa

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Shandur Pass > - Ghizer / Shandur Pass
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