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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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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Plumbeous water redstart (Chitral)

We found a male Plumbeous water redstart on the banks of the river running through Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy near Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

 

Unfortunately, it was raining; it seemed like it would turn into snow soon enough. We came in search of markhor, as we were told they often come to the riverbanks in the afternoon. So, we waited. That was when we observed both the Plumbeous water redstart and the White-capped water redstart.

 

A male Plumbeous water redstart displaying, with its tail wings spread out.

These redstarts breed in South Asia, Southeast Asia and China at altitudes of 2,000 meters to 4,000 m and then in winter, they will descend to slightly lower altitudes to overwinter there. In Pakistan, they are found in the mountainous areas in the north where the altitude is not so high, and it seems to be common near Chitral and Murree.

 

As we looked up at the mountainous slopes above the river, we could see a herd of Kashmir Markhor coming down towards us. And among them was a big male with a pair of enviable horns!

 

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Tooshi-Shasha Conservancy, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Reference: Helm Field Guides “Birds of Pakistan”

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Chitral > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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(video) Red-billed Chough

“Red-billed Chough” in the mountains of northern Pakistan.

They can be seen gathering around the fruits of the Hippophae rhamnoides.

 

Red-billed Chough, Pakistan

 

Video & text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Dec 2020, Morkhun – Sost, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Gojar > - Morkhun > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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Lammergeir /Bearded Vulture (Chitral Gol National Park)

I remember the first time I saw this bird, I was in Ladakh, India and I was shocked exclaiming, “What in the heck is that!?!” And the answer was “Lammergeir”. Despite knowing how it is spelled, it was still a mystery as to how to pronounce it, but since everyone says ‘Lamagaye,’ I also pronounce it that way.

This name seems to be an old German name; it is more commonly known in English as the Bearded Vulture. But the bird looks so cool, that you’ll want to call it “Lammergeir” instead.

 

A bearded vulture flying against the backdrop of the Hindu Kush Mountain Range, observed at the Chitral Gol National Park.

Bearded vultures are birds found in the mountainous regions of central Eurasia, in East Africa and Southern Europe, and seen using steep drop off cliffs. It is a large bird with a total length of 115 cm, but the wingspan is closer to 3meters across. As the English name suggests, the bearded vulture, is a member of the vulture family, but their distinguishing feature is a feathered head & is completely different image as other vultures.

 

Bearded vultures feed on carrion, specializing on old meat and particularly bone marrow. It has been observed that they fly high holding the large bones, only to drop them to break them, on the rocks below to expose the bone marrow.

 

When I see a vulture is flying in the sky, I always think, “Where are the dead animals?” But it seems that this vulture will only visit once the other vultures (such as Himalayan & Black vultures) are done. They are the only vertebrate animal that gets the majority of its food from consuming bone marrow (70-90%!).

There are various cultural theories surrounding this bird, that it maybe appears in Arabian Nights called the “Roc, mythological bird in middle east,” as possibly the model for it or in the ancient Persian myths as “Homa, the mythological bird in Iran.” In ancient times, these vultures seem to have carried a special reverence in the imagination of the people.

 

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Chitral Gol National Park, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Special Thanks: KPK Wildlife Department, WWF Pakistan, Tomo AKIYAMA

Category : ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Chitral > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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