Salt Range: Himalayan Rock Salt Mine’s Mountain Range

Most of the rock salt distributed in the world as “Himalayan Rock Salt” and “Pink Salt” is produced in the salt mines of Pakistan. Among them, the Khewra Salt Mine is famous, as it is also known as a tourist destination where people can see inside the mine and see the underground mosque that is carved into the pink rock salt.

For this visit, we did not go there to see the popular tourist destination, but instead, to have the opportunity for searching for the Punjab Urial, wildlife which lives in the “Salt Range” the mountainous range near the salt mines.

The Salt Range is the southern tip of the Himalayas in Pakistan’s Punjab area, between the Pothohar Plateau in the south, to the Jhelum River in the north.

Himalayan rock salt is produced from a thick evaporite layer, dating back from the Ediacaran period to the early Cambrian (600-540 million years ago) in the fold and thrust belt of the salt range. The layers of the Cambrian and Eocene sedimentary rocks that were pushed up onto the newer age sedimentary rocks and eroded away, revealing the salt range.

The fossils of the ancient seas were unearthed as a result of the collision between the Indian continent and Eurasian continent, showing us how magnificent and historically significant these area is.

This is one of the many rock salt mines found on the Pothohar Plateau.

There is a particular story about the salt range that captures the imagination. Legend has it that Alexander the Great’s army discovered this salt range. During his expedition in India, in 326 BC, it is said that Alexander the Great’s war horse was licking the ground and that was how they realized the salt was there. In fact, the Battle of Hydaspes, which was a battle between Alexander the Great’s army and the Indian King, is on the banks of the Jhelum River (the Ancient Greeks called it Hydespas) and they had to have passed this salt range.

The surface around the entrance to one of the salt mines is encrusted with salt crystals.

The truck enters the quarry. According to the truck driver, the mining site is more than 2 kilometers away, so it needs to be carried out by truck.

This is one of the trucks that came out, loaded with salt. It must be a considerable weight, so it needs to go slowly on these unpaved roads.

The history of the rock salt mines began around 1200 AD, and the rock salt trade was active during the Mughal Empire. In 1872, under the British colony, the main tunnel of the Khewra Rock Salt Mine was built and made into a full-scale operation.

We walked into just one of the many mines of the salt range.

This is Himalayan rock salt that has been crushed into small pieces and commercialized for rock salt mills. In the past, there were no fancy hand-held mills, so rock salt was commonly sold as a powder or rock blocks, but now it is commonly sold as a set with smaller crushed salt and a mill in a fashionable package. It is a popular souvenir for foreign tourists because it is cheap and used in their daily lives. However, be careful because it is heavy for traveling.

This is the traditional use of Himalayan rock salt in northern Hunza. The chai is served salted instead of sweetened with sugar, in the Hunza region. The block of rock salt is used to stir it into the cup of hot chai.

This piece of salt was carried all the way from the Punjab salt range, to the villages of the Karakoram mountains, and the rock salt is indispensable for daily use in their hot chai.

 

Image & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: Dec 2020, Potohar, Punjab

Category : ◆ Punjab > - Salt Range / Soon Valley
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Horned Lark (Deosai Plateau)

In July, when the Deosai Plateau is carpeted with wildflowers its known as the “Flower garden in the sky” and if the weather is nice, you can see the Himalayan Nanga Parbat from here.

This is my report about the Horned lark that I encountered on the Deosai Plateau.

 

The Horned lark is a wild bird that typically breeds in the northern part of Eurasia and North America in the summer and winters to the south. However in the northern part of Pakistan, it can be observed all year around. It can be seen in high-altitude open areas near Chitral, the Deosai Plateau and the Khunjerab Pass between 3,300 to 5,000 meters altitude.

 

The Deosai Plateau (Also known as Deosai National Park) is a high-altitude plateau with an average of 4,200 meters, near the boarder of India and the northwest of Pakistan. There are countless small streams that spread out across the plateau to form a wildflower haven sometimes called the “Flower garden in the sky.”

This open area is where the Horned larks breed in nests sheltered by the rocks and small indentations in the ground.

 

Wildflowers are in full bloom in early July.

 

This is the male Horned lark. As the name indicates, there are two horn-like crests on the top of its head. In some areas, there are Horned larks that have a more yellow coloring on their face throat, but in Pakistan they are white to a creamy color.

 

The male seen from the front.

 

The male Horned lark from behind. The created feathers that form the horns are incredibly cute.

 

This is a juvenile Horned lark. It was about the same size as the adult birds.

 

The Horned lark pecking at the grass seeds.

 

Is this a little bread crumb left by some tourists? They are feeding them to their chicks. The area around the campsite is the easiest place to observe them because of the food leftovers, and the Pakistani tourists are also enjoying bird watching as well.

 

These chicks have to grow up quickly and prepare for the winter. In the coldest part of winter, they will come down to the foot of the Plateau’s fields and valleys.

The Deosai Plateau was described as a “Flower garden in the sky,” but unfortunately, that situation is changing. In the summer, a large number of tourists visit and without much thought will leave their garbage behind and will go off-road driving into the grasslands.

I wish more people would realize that there are wild animals and birds that rely on these important breeding grounds, during the short summers of the Deosai Plateau.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: July 2016, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > ◇ Birds of Pakistan > - Deosai National Park
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Citrine Wagtail (Deosai Plateau)

This is the Citrine wagtail observed in the summer of the Deosai Plateau. The breeding plumage of the male makes his bright yellow head, beautifully contrast with the black wings. Even amongst a carpet of blooming wildflowers, the birds stand out on the plateau.

 

Pakistan’s Citrine wagtail spends the summer breeding season along rivers and lakes in the northern highlands and overwinters in the open plains along the southern Indus River.

This photo was taken near the Barapani on the Deosai Plateau (elevation around 4,000 m). I was observing the Citrine wagtail that was in the riverbank near the campsite.

 

This wagtail appeared on the riverbank with its head all wet.

 

Breeding males have the bright yellow heads, while females have a light yellow-gray color.

 

This is young Citrine wagtail.

 

This one has caught a worm.

 

A Citrine wagtail on the flowering Deosai Plateau.

 

The Barapani campsite at night. Clear crisp air at an altitude of 4,000 m.

 

There was some frost in the morning. Even in July, we need to be prepared with sufficient protection against the cold.

 

Full moon in the morning.

 

From the clear skies over Deosai Plateau, appeared the 9th highest peak in the world, Nanga Parbat, at 8,125 m. The massive and dynamic Himalayan mountain range is so overwhelming to take in.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: July 2016, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > ◇ Birds of Pakistan > - Deosai National Park
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Long-Tailed Marmot in the Summer (Deosai National Park)

The Long-tailed Marmot observed on the Deosai National Plateau in the summertime. The Plateau, designated a National Park in 1993, has an average altitude of 4,100 m (about 14,450 ft high) near the boarder of India and northern Pakistan.

In the last few years, the number of Pakistani domestic tourists visiting the Park increased drastically, and despite being a National Park, the tourists having bad manners, became difficult to manage. There is a great concern about the impacts the tourism has on the natural environment.
At the campsite, there are parties and lots of tourists making noise, so for those who came to seek nature, its well known that the camping areas are a tough place to be. Besides that, there are the native wild animals who are trying to make the most of the short season of “Summer on the Deosai Plateau” as well.

 

When you camp at the Deosai Plateau, you will get to see this marmot around. These are the same marmots that can be found on the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia, called the Long-tailed Marmot or Golden Marmot.

The marmots often check for danger, as they stand up on their back legs near their burrows and carefully monitor the situation; when needed they sound an alarm call “Kii-Kii!” Of course, they will make calls for people who venture too close, but they are mainly on the lookout for the foxes and birds of prey above who often target the marmots.
Ranging from altitudes of 3,200m to up to 5,000m, the marmots live in very large colonies, digging burrows into the alpine plain grasses and among the rocks. Being monogamous, it is said that the marmots are highly social animals with a complex society.

 

They often stand next to the opening, always ready to duck into their protective cavity. This burrow is used for hibernation.

 

I stood watching the colony near the road for a very long time. Eventually, the marmot families relaxed a little and the babies began to come out.

 

A mother and her pup came out of the burrow. The pups will spend the first 6 weeks of their life in the burrow and then start to venture out.

 

They are so, so cute.

 

The pup plays with the momma.

 

One more pup came out. Long-tailed Marmots will give birth to about 4 pups at a time, but only about half of them can survive the first summer, and many are lost during the first hibernation. While observing them, I could see the little heads of many pups in this colony.

 

The snows begin in October on the Deosai Plateau. In previous visits to Deosai, I saw the marmots were still active in the first week of October. They will probably enter hibernation around November, and I hope these little guys make it through the winter!

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Jul 2017, Deosai National Park, Gilgit -Baltistan

Special Thanks  : The late Mr.Zahoor Salmi,  Deosai National Park

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Marmot > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Deosai National Park
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Pheasant-Tailed Jacana on a Lotus Pond

I had an invitation to visit where I could see “A Pheasant-tailed Jacana building a nest on the a lotus pond.”

We went to Head Baloki, a village located along the Navi River, 75 km southwest of Lahore. This village had waterways and ponds drawn from the river, where the water birds had gathered.

The Punjab region has five rivers, and the Ravi is one of them. The word Punjab originates from Persian, “Panj -ab” meaning “Five rivers,” and it is a rich land where the Indus River and its four tributaries emanate from. However, since the split between of India and Pakistan in 1947, the rivers have long been a source of conflict over water rights. This Ravi river as well, which originates in Himachal Pradesh, is no exception.

 

This is the striking Pheasant-tailed Jacana. The tail feathers are very long, with the head, throat and wings a white color but the body is a contrasting dark brown. The back of the neck is gold with black along the edge.

 

The long toes and claws on its feet allow it to walk on the lotus leaves, as they distribute the weight of the bird over a large area.

 

This is a Jacana with its chicks. The friend who invited me here, had told me the Jacana was still only nest-building, but it seems the eggs had already hatched. The chick looked so stable already. Pheasant-tailed Jacana chicks must grow up in a harsh watery environment, so they are able to be on the move as soon as they hatch.

 

Jacanas are a “paternal bird” where the fathers raise the chicks, so this is the father.

 

To protect the chicks, the brave father screeches loudly and drives away an approaching Indian pond heron.

 

This is a pair of Jacana spreading their wings out in a display…but I wonder what they are trying to communicate?

 

An early morning scene on a lotus pond in Punjab, with a beautiful Pheasant-tailed Jacana.

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Aug 2017, Head Baloki, Punjab, Pakistan

Special Thanks : The late Mr. Zahoor Salmi(Photographer)

Category : ◆ Punjab > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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(Video)The Wazir Khan Mosque

One of the 17th Century Mughal Heritage Sites in Lahore’s Old Town is the Wazir Khan Mosque.

Built during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan, the intricate faience tile decoration of the courtyard façade, called “Kashi-Kari,” incorporates the Persian architecture of the time. Frescoes fill the interior of the mosque’s main prayer hall.

Since 2009, this mosque has been one of the tourist highlights of Lahore, due to extensive restoration work done funded by the Punjab Government and the Aga Khan Cultural Fund.

 

Wazir Khan Mosque LAHORE

 

Videograhy : Mariko SAWADA

Visit : Feb 2020 , Lahore, Punjab

Category : = Video Clip Punjab > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > - Monument / Heritage of Punjab > ◆ Punjab > - Lahore
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SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION VOL.04 (Khunjerab National Park)

This is a continuation of our morning sighting of the snow leopard mother and cubs, as we followed them for the day.

When we first saw the leopard family, they had been feeding on the ibex that the mom probably killed for breakfast until we disturbed them. Then we could find them again on the nearby mountain slope, not far from their prey. At first, they were laying on the slope, but then as the day got hotter, they moved around into different spots of grass and then, into the shade of the rocks. They did not spend the entire day sleeping, but instead I could sense that they were struggling to find a cool spot to rest.

The video below, of the leopards below was taken during the day, very far away from them.

Snow leopards during the daytime

Then, finally, came the long-awaited for sunset. At first, the family of three were staying in the same place, but by the time evening fell, they went their separate ways. The mother snow leopard began walking towards the leftover ibex that was killed that morning!

Snow leopard at dusk

It looked like the mother snow leopard was telling us “Hurry up and go!” as she was just out of reach from her precious kill. The cubs looked on at the scene, from the rocks above. As darkness fell, their time begins again.

It was an amazing opportunity to be able to spend the whole day watching snow leopards.

 

Videography & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunejrab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Special Thanks : Hussain Ali Khan & Abul Khan, Khunjerab National Park

 

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Snow Leopard > - Khunjerab National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION VOL.03 (Khunjerab National Park)

This is a report from the Spring Snow Leopard Expedition. The event happened when we only had two more days left in the trip. While driving through Khunjerab National Park, we saw snow leopards at a very close proximity. It was a mother with 2 cubs as they were feeding on an ibex carcass.

Of course, the snow leopard mother and cubs were surprised by our appearance, and scampered to the edges of the cliff. The encounter lasted for about 3 minutes, and we were all silent, with just the sounds of the clicks of our cameras making noise.

 

Snow leopards sighted from the Karakoram highway

After they disappeared over the ridge, we decided to continue to look for them for the rest of the day, adjusting our location to see if we could see them from a different angle.

 

Videography & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunejrab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Special Thanks : Hussain Ali Khan & Abul Khan, Khunjerab National Park

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Snow Leopard > - Khunjerab National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION VOL.02 (Khunjerab National Park)

We had an encounter with a sweet pair of snow leopards at an altitude of 4,500m near the Kunjerab Pass. I am certain for this time of year, it probably isn’t a mating pair but maybe a a two-year old child and its mother.

We were observing and shooting photos from a distance of about 1 km away, so thanks to the long-distance sighting, we were able to see them in their full natural behavior.

 

Snow leopards Khunjerab national park top area 1

 

Snow leopards Khunjerab national park top area 2

 

Photo & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunejrab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Special Thanks : Hussain Ali Khan & Abul Khan, Khunjerab National Park

Category : = Video Clip Gilgit-Baltistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Snow Leopard > - Khunjerab National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION VOL.01 (Khunjerab National Park)

Snow Leopard at Khunjerab National Park at 4,300 meters above sea level.

The Karakoram Highway, which runs through Khunjerab National Park, exceeds 4,000 meters from Koksar and then makes a steep rise to about 4,700m around the Khunerab Pass. Just as we were climbing the extreme slope, we encountered this snow leopard as we turned the curve.

 

While we were driving, Mr. Hussain, who was looking for wildlife from the window suddenly directed the driver to “Back up a little” and he said “There is a snow leopard, very-very close, perhaps hunting its prey.” I couldn’t find it right away at all. Even though he said “Its close. Its right there” but to me I have no idea “how close” he was referring it might be…I was really resenting my bad eyesight.

 

Finally, I could see it, the snow leopard! It was maybe 50m or more…? It was facing away from us, so it was well camouflaged. As I learned later, there was an injured yak below this rocky outlook, and it was investigating the yak. This was the first photo, before it even noticed us.

 

Noticing our vehicle, Mr. Hussain suggested quickly “It will be gone soon. Better get your photos now.” It was such a fortunate encounter for us to see this rare snow leopard!

 

…and in less than 10 seconds, it disappeared from sight.

 

These prey animals of the snow leopards are so sensitive and alert. As soon as the snow leopard moved, the yaks, all at once, gazed in that direction.

 

The ibex had already sensed the presence of the snow leopard and looking in that direction where it had moved to. The herd were all gathered together and already on high alert.

 

This herd of ibex were looking towards the snow leopard for a while, but eventually moved closer to our position and sat down, facing us. It felt as if they were asking “Please, if something happens, help us out?”.

 

Photo & text :Mariko SAWADA

Observation : April 2021, Khunejrab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

Special Thanks : Hussain Ali Khan & Abul Khan, Khunjerab National Park

Category : - the Karakoram Highway > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Snow Leopard > - Khunjerab National Park > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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