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, PK451  Islamabad – Skardu flight, Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan

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
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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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(Tour Vlog) Snow Leopard Spring Expedition 2021

This is the Vlog for the Snow Leopard Spring Expedition, April, when we had a great sighting of a snow leopard. We were on the recently melted snowy slopes near the Khunjerab Pass there the animals waking up from their long hibernation appeared. There were long-tailed marmots, along with predators like red foxes and the birds of prey from above, as well as herds of yak moving north, making their way to the highlands…and of course, the snow leopards. It is such an irresistible season for wildlife lovers.

 

Tour Vlog SNOW LEOPARD EXPEDITION SPRING2021

 

Considering all the hardships we have faced so far, I was filled with gratitude for this tour.

 

Videography: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: April 2021, Khunjerab National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

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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Punjab Urial (Salt Range)

This is a report of Punjab Urial, which lives in the hills of the Salt Range, Punjab.

The Urial is a mammal of the genus Ovis of the order Artiodactyla. This is a wild sheep species where the male’s horns are thick and curve back in large arcs over their head, and a long tuft of hair under the neck. In South to Central Asia, they inhabit mountainous areas. In the past, they were considered the same species as the Ladakh Urial, but in the 2016 issue of “Bovids of the World,” the Punjab Urial of Pakistan became an independent species.

This is an endemic species to Pakistan and inhabits only the Salt Range and Kala Chitta Range, between the Jhelum and Indus Rivers in Punjab.

The Punjab Urial habitat includes gentle rocky slopes and thick with shrubs.

This was our visit to the Potohar Community Reserve. Currently, Punjab state has 5 CBO (Community Based Organizations), and this was the smallest one. Established in 2017, the hunting of Urial was banned on the Reserve so since then, the small population has been steadily increased.

CBO’s are private Reserves which offer an auction (mainly focused on foreign hunters), to allow hunting rights to the older male Urial with large horns. The proceeds are said to be divided in the community and used for conservation management. The so-called “Trophy Size” Urial are males that have horns between 28 – 31 inches (71-79 cm). According to the ranger who was with our group, this system has helped improve the situation over all for Urial. These older males are 12 to 13 years old and will die at around 14, even if they are left alone, so the hunting auction is helpful to the community and will support the conservation of the other Urials.

As a side note, in 2020, 3 hunter permits where assigned to each CBO, with a total of 15 annual hunting permits issued throughout Punjab. The price at the auction goes up to $15,000 to $16,000 USD per head. Certainly, this income for the community is a significant amount. At Pothar CBO, 16 rangers were working to crack down on the poaching activities and the Urial are being protected.

A heard of Punjab Urial. It was not that large of a group, it seems only 6-8 Urial are usually in each heard.

These are the female Urial. Their horns are small and straight.

This is a young male Punjab Urial.

This male watching us from behind the shrubs is a “trophy size” male. Unlike the females and young males, these large-horned males are much more fearful of people. Like they know that they are sought after.

For a brief moment, the “trophy sized” horned male allowed us to see him.

He was such a magnificent example of the Punjab Urial, with the large, curved horns and long tufts of hair on his neck.

And in no time, it was gone. This encounter helped us realize the effects of high hunting pressure that had been taking place as a result of the poaching that was taking place until very recently. Things might change, as we have seen with the Markhor and the Ibex in these northern mountainous regions of Pakistan, as the Urial populations grow and the limited, controlled hunting takes place.

The Punjab Urial populations were reduced by livestock that were overgrazing the habitat and by the highway dividing up the wild Urial herds. But now that the auction system was introduced, the protection has improved for the Urial.

The ranger who was with us, told me that I was the first foreigner who was not a hunter, to come to this Reserve.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Dec 2020, Potohar CBO, Punjab
Reference: Bovids of the World (Princeton Field Guides)

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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 > - Deosai National Park > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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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 > - Deosai National Park > ◇ Birds of Pakistan
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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 > - Deosai National Park > - Marmot > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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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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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

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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