Appreciating the Remaining Rock Art & Lamenting Their Impending Loss (Part 4) Gonar Farm

The last of the rock art blogs, which I will introduce to you is on the banks of the Indus at Gonar Farm. From Chilas, drive east on the Karakorum Highway for about an hour, then we get off the car and walk for another 30 minutes. We arrived on the outskirts of the village, dotted with rock art. It is a rock art that everyone in the know is already aware of.

It’s a light climb up, and after walking through the fields of the village, you arrive at the location.

A lot of rock art remains on the big rock, on the outskirts of the village in an open area.

A steep mountain range makes the backdrop of the petroglyphs.

The strange thing about this location is that it is a little far from the Indus River. It is possible that the Indus River once flowed through here and has now changed its flow, or perhaps it was a place that people gathered away from the river. I will imagine many scenarios as I walk around here looking at the art left behind.

The rock art of Gonar Farm has been significantly well-preserved. Perhaps it is because there were fewer visitors, but all of the rock paintings were clear. This Buddha has a happy expression, with folded hands, and adorned in the preists’robes kesa.

Most of the petroglyphs are related to Buddhism, and many that remain are images of pagodas.

There are carvings that are right on the ground, but these pagodas and other engravings remain free of damage because there are fewer people who would trample on it.

Some of the non-Buddhist etchings, are like this image of a plant and a handprint.

Regrettably, the rock art which I have introduced so far, are all destined to be flooded, upon the construction of the dam scheduled by 2027. Some of these rocks will be relocated and preserved by the government, but most of the more than 50,000 images will be submerged. I hope that these stones, which are engraved with the activities, thoughts and beliefs of the various people who traveled on the Silk Road, will have a chance to be seen by as many people as possible before they disappear underwater forever.

 

Photo & text : Koji YAMADA

Visit  : Nov 2021, Gonar Farm, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Indus river bank > - Rock art / Petroglyph > ◇ Heritage of Pakistan
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Appreciating the Remaining Rock Art & Lamenting Their Impending Loss (Part 3) Shatial

This blog is about the rock art from Shatial. It is known as a “Buddhist site” because a huge pagoda petroglyph, which is included in many of the tours to visit the Hunza region. This time, I was able to take a leisurely tour to look around more, and I found that there are many other rare works than just the famous pagoda.

Rock engraving of the pagoda, buddha image

Since Shatial is such a well-used transit point to cross the Indus River, since ancient times, many merchants, pilgrims, travelers, as well as Buddhists, have passed through. Many distinct designs and images were carved by the travelers. I will introduce a number of these rarer rock engraving.

A person who is raising their right hand

At first glance, it may seem that this person raising their right arm up, may be angry or upset, but the round halo behind his head indicates that this person was an Enlightened Buddha.

A Swastika symbol

This 卍represents a swastika, which is a symbol of Buddhism along with the Dharmachakra wheel.

PitchforkThis is a three-pronged pitchfork. You can try to imagine whether it was used as a weapon, a religious symbol or for agriculture, but either way, it has been in use since ancient times.

Ancient characters engraved on the rock

There are not only pictures but also various writing engraved on the stones. It is believed to be languages like Karosti, Sogdian, Aramaic, and more which have been found here.

The center image to me, looked like three fingers with nails, but it may actually be depicting a plant.

This looks like a Buddha statue with Naga in the background, but it also looks like a flame, so there is a theory that it is a fire worship platform.

A person wearing a mask

This is a person wearing a round mask with horns. The person is also wearing a skirt-like outfit which was very interesting.

Many animals were also depicted as well.

The face of a camel

The camels were an essential animal for the travelers in their journey along the Silk Road.

An elephant

Did the Indian elephants come this far up?

It was a small image, but animals like antelope were also engraved.

In Shatiar, various things were engraved in rock paintings; things used by ancient people of that time, the things they saw, and objects they worshiped. Just looking at this timeless rock art made me feel like I travelled back in time and experienced part of the hustle and bustle of daily life on the Silk Road.

Photo & text : Koji YAMADA

Visit : Nov 2021, Shatial, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Category : - the Karakoram Highway > ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa > - Indus river bank > - Rock art / Petroglyph > ◇ Heritage of Pakistan
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Appreciating the Remaining Rock Art & Lamenting Their Impending Loss (Part 2)

In this installment, the rock art introduced here along the Indus River near Tharpan. From Chilas, driving east on the Karakorum Highway, cross the bridge across the Indus River, and then follow the road called Tharpan Road, is where these rocks are located. Since this area of the river is very wide, the rock paintings remain over such a large area, and the rocks there are huge, so there are various rock paintings that have remained here.

Rock art depicting a pagoda

It only speculation, but it is thought that this was a large gathering place for people to cross the Indus River because the riverbank is so wide. It seems that many kinds of people of different backgrounds, may have gathered here. Since many were Buddhists, there are many rock paintings related to Buddhism, and there are still many large and magnificent pagoda carved with sharp, straight lines which remain.

Tibetan pagodas depicted with flags at the top

Many of the depictions of Buddha were drawn only using lines, and delicate decorations were rarely seen.

A statue holding the beads in his left hand

The rock paintings other than those related to Buddhism were all spectacular and very interesting as well.

A person with something like a balance

This is a person who has something like a balance next to a pagoda. I wonder, is it depicting the laborer who built the pagoda?

Ibex and circles

This painting depicts an ibex and a sun-like circle. According to the archaeologist’s guide, this circle depicts a “circular trap” used for hunting. Perhaps because it was a large gathering area for various ethnic groups, there are still some outstanding statues left in the area.

In the photo below, there is a person wearing a Persian costume.

A person wearing a Persian costume

There were also rock paintings of animals drawn in the Persian style.

Animals drawn in the Persian style

In the designs of Persepolis, it is comment that the eyes of the animals are drawn with large circles.

The Apadana, lion and bull in relief, Persepolis

And below, the art that caught my interest in Tarpan was the image of a person who might be a Parthian.

A person who seems to be a Parthian

The Parthian Empire, which originated since the 3rd century BC, in what is now Turkmenistan and dominated West Asia, was split around 20 AD at the end of its reign. It was split into the Indo-Parthian by King Gondophares. This Indo-Parthian, which was once the capital of Taxila, was also active in the Indus River. Below is a statue of the Parthians in the Tehran Archaeological Museum. The appearance of the person wearing something like a helmet with a brim is common to see in the rock carvings.

A Parthian statue at the Archaeological Museum in Tehran

Once again in this figure, the person holds the hunted animal in the right hand and a sword in the left hand. It is a typical kind of design that was commonly seen for long time in West Asia.

Bronze plate from the Tehran archeological museum

In this photo, a copper plate from the period 1000 BC, was excavated in the Azerbaijan region of the Tehran Archaeological Museum. A person stands in the center, holding up their hunted prey in both hands. It is also the prototype of the work “Renjumon” in which 20 small circles surround a large circle design.

Artifacts from Jiroft in the collection of the Tehran Archaeological Museum

This photo is of an item that is also from the Bronze Age, the Jiroft culture, as seen in the Tehran Archaeological Museum. It is a soapstone vessel. The figure holds up huge scorpions, similarly, in both hands. I was very surprised that such designs and from different era designs are reflected in so many similar ways on the carvings in the rocks, along the Indus River.

The following picture is of the Parthian-carved rock, taken at a distance.

Rock with various carvings, masterpiece of Tharpan

In the lower center area of the photo, depicts the Parthians and the Persian style of drawing the animals are on the left, while the Buddha and four servants are carved to the right of the Parthians.

The Buddha and his four followers

Buddhism was also practiced in Parthian India, which is roughly the same period when these rock paintings were made. The fact that such various ethnic groups, religious icons, and animals all drawn in various styles, on the same rocks, tells us that this Tarpan was a great gathering place for the diverse people passing through. This is proof which embodies the significance of the Silk Road. I just can’t help but be overwhelmed with sorrow, to think that this place will sink to the bottom of the lake once the dam is completed.

 

Photo & text : Koji YAMADA

Visit : Nov 2021, Tharpan, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Indus river bank > - Rock art / Petroglyph > ◇ Heritage of Pakistan
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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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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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