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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Riding the Minecart Train Through the Khewra Salt Mine

The Khewra Salt Mine is the world’s second largest rock salt mine, where it is commonly sold as “pink salt” or “Himalayan rock salt.”

This rock salt mine on the Potohar Plateau in the Salt Range of the Punjab Region, which was discovered back in the time of King Alexander the Great. The salt was said to be discovered in 326 BC when the horse of Alexander the Great was licking the ground, during his expedition to India. The commercial mining began during the Mughal Empire, and the main tunnel was excavated in 1872, during the British Indian Empire, when the large-scale mining began.

Articles about pink salt and Himalayan rock salt:Salt Range- The salt range that produces the Himalayan rock salt

Visitors can see the operations inside the Khewra Rock Salt Mines. In 1930, the British Indian Empire started a 600mm minecart train for tourists to be able to go inside the mines.

We entered the mine using this minecart train. The Salt mine has a section for tourists, and a section that is still actively being mined.

Once your train reaches Chandni Chowk, you will get off the train and start walking into the mine with a guide. The passengers of the minecart train are divided into groups, with tour guides who speak Urdu for the Pakistani tourists and English, for the foreigners.

On both sides of the passage, there are traces of mining dating back to the Mughal era.

There are pools where the rainwater collects in the old quarry, and this saturated saline solution is connected by a hose and sent to the factory outside to be sold.

As you walk down the tunnel, there will appear a mosque made of the colorful salt blocks. The red colored blocks are high in iron, and the pink colored salt is high in magnesium.

This “Rock Salt Mosque” is based on the motif of Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, and according to the guide it was built more than 50 years ago.

Then, we reached a space that was like a large hall. There were salt icicles and stalactite formations. The cannons that were used in old mining operations were also on display. And in the back, there was a famous monument, called the “Minar-e-Pakistan”。

These two monuments, the Minar-e-Pakistan and the Badshahi Mosque are often mentioned in the advertisements for the Salt Mine. They were probably built around the same time.

The original Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore was built in 1940, where the All-Indian Muslim Alliance passed the Lahore Resolution (later called the Pakistani Resolution). It was the first official statement calling for the independence of a Muslim homeland in British India and is a symbol of the birth of Pakistan.

Then just a short distance down the main path, is the Crystal Palace.

There is a light that shines on the tunnel walls that changes from Green, to red, then blue; so it was too bad that we couldn’t see the original color of the walls. But the surface of the walls were shining with salt crystals; which had various shapes like small dice, and columns.

This area called Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors), with the transparent wall of shiny pink salt.

Towards the back of Sheesh Mahal, the surface of the salty water reflected the crystal-encrusted walls like a mirror.

With this, we made the round-trip back to the minecart train and came out the same way we went in.

The Khewra Salt Mine is an easy day trip from Islamabad and Lahore. Not only is this the magnificent place where the continents of India and Eurasia collided, it is also where Alexander the Great’s war horse discovered the rock salt, and where you can experience the mines as they were opened in the Mughal era…the visit is an adventurous and historic trip back in time.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: Jan 2022, Khewra Salt Mine, Punjab

Category : ◆ Punjab > - Salt Range / Soon Valley
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Katas Raj Temple, the Hindu Temple of Pakistan

Surprisingly, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, there are still some Hindu pilgrimage sites. Nani Mandir of Balochistan and the Chandragup Mud Volcano, which I have introduced in earlier blogs, are examples of these remaining pilgrimage sites. Until 1947, when India and Pakistan separated and became independent (from the British Indian Empire), many Hindus lived in Pakistan at the time.

The Katas Raj Temple is a Hindu temple complex located on the Potohar Plateau in the Salt Range of the Punjab Province. Several temples are surround a sacred pond called Amrit Kund. The beautiful waters of Amrit Kund are found in the stories of Indian mythology. The story goes that the lake was made from the tears shed from the Lord Shiva after his first wife, Sati, died and he was inconsolable.

In 2005, the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani visited the Temple, and noting the decaying appearance of it at that time, the Pakistani Government started cleaning up the holy pond and repairing the buildings in 2006. However, even though the lake had been cleaned up by 2012, the water levels suddenly dropped. There was a big lawsuit against a nearby cement company which was found to be the cause in the drop in water levels. Although water levels have recovered a little, it has not returned to its original state since.

The ceiling of the Baradari (Pavillion) near Amrit Kund was in the process of being restored. The pattens of plants have been redrawn, with a notable influence of Islamic design.

Near the holy pond, a special Shiva Temple enshrines the Lord Shiva. The priest told us, “Although the COVID-19 Pandemic has decreased the number of pilgrims, we expect more people from Pakistan to come during the next Maha Shivaratri Festival.”

This is inside one of the rooms of the Hanuman Temple, part of the complex. Some of the old murals remain intact.

From one of the Hindu mythological stories, taken from “Ramayana” seems to be represented in this mural. It looks like an army of monkeys was engraved here. It seems that the faces have been scraped off.

The image of Ganesha is painted on a wall of the Hanuman Temple.

The Shree Rama Chandra Temple was restored on the outside. However, the interior was still in need of restoration.

This is one of the mural paintings on the second floor of the Shree Rama Chandra Temple. It has a very typical Indian look.

The Hindu Temple Complex was also the home (haveli) of Hari Singh. He was the last monarch of the Princely State of Kashmir and Jammu, who decided to assign Jammu and Kashmir to India on October 26, 1947, with the separation of India and Pakistan. At that time, the ruling class in Jammu and Kashmir was Hindu, but most of the residents were Muslims, so it was a very difficult decision to make for Hari Singh. However, there was an invasion of Pakistani troops for which he needed the support to fight them, so he decided to ally with India.

The courtyard and outside of the building are fairly simple, and were in the process of being restored.

At the top of the Complex hill is the Sat Ghara Temple. It is a thick stone building.

Just downhill from the Sat Ghara Temple, are the remains of a stupa. It was hard for me to believe it when I heard it, but an investigation was conducted by the British archeologist Alexander Cunningham, which concluded that the pagoda was made during the time of King Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. Once the Gandhara culture declined, the Hindu Temples of Katas Raj were build during the prosperous Hindu culture in between the years of 7th – 10th centuries.

You can stroll around the temples yourself, but if you request a guide at the entrance, you can also see inside the temples that are normally locked, so I recommend you take the tour with the guide!

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: Jan 2022, Chakwal, Punjab

Category : - Monument / Heritage of Punjab > ◆ Punjab > - Salt Range / Soon Valley > ◇ Heritage 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

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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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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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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