English / Japanese

The Joshi Spring Festival: A Kalash Ritual

The Joshi Festival is held at the end of the long winter to celebrate the arrival of spring. Locals dress up in new clothes made during the winter and pray for the safety of livestock going out to pasture in the summer after the festival. The festival also serves as a place where young men and women can meet.

It has been a while since I last attended the Joshi festival. In the past few years, Pakistan’s frontier has been experiencing overtourism, with tourists from not only Europe and the United States but also Thailand, Malaysia, and other Southeast Asian countries now flocking to the area. In contrast, the Kalash Valley is dominated by Western tourists.

I was surprised to see the changes in the Chilam Joshi Festival via photos which recent Pakistani tourists upload on social media—for those who knew Kalash in the past, it may be an unfortunate sight to behold. I would like to share with you some of the rituals of the Joshi Festival that I experienced in the spring of 2024. The names, spellings, etc., were provided by the local people who guided me, and may differ from those found in official literature on the matter: I am merely presenting them as I saw and heard them in the field.

 To the Kalash Valley

Although the suspension bridge across the Kunar River has been replaced by a concrete bridge, the traditional Ayun “villagescape” remains. Continuing on the road, there is a place where you can see the highest peak of Hindu Kush, Tirich Mir (7,708m), and if you keep going, you will drive along the river off-road with some overhanging cliffs. Then, starting from a suspension bridge, the road leads to the Bumburet valley on the left and the Rumbur valley on the right.

The road to Kalash valley

The Joshi festival of Kalash includes several rituals.

Picking Bisha Flowers (Pushen Parik)

Children go into the mountains to pick bisha flowers for temple decorations and, in the case of the Bumburet valley, for the Chirik Pipi ceremony. The bisha is a member of the bean family Piptanthus Nepalensis, and blooms earlier than other flowers. For the Kalash people, it is considered the flower that heralds the arrival of spring.

Girl heading home after picking bisha flowers

Temple Decorations (Pushi Behak)

Decorating a house or temple with bisha flowers is called pushi behak. In the Rumbur Valley, people were gathering flowers until evening, and at around 8:00 p.m., children gathered together until the start of the decorating ceremony. Around 9:00 p.m., someone banged a drum and the children all began to dance. After about 30 minutes of dancing, the children moved to their sleeping places. Early in the morning around 3:00 a.m., children carrying bisha flowers amd walnut branches started walking to the Temple of Jestak Han. At the entrance of the temple, last year’s flowers were removed and everyone decorated the temple with new flowers and walnut branches. After the outside was finished, they went inside to the altars of the four clans of the village, situated in the corner of the temple. One child went up as a representative, took down the old flowers, and decorated the altars with new ones. Then they went out to the square and danced for about half an hour.

Children heading to the Temple with bisha flowers and walnut branches
Women adorn the outer walls of the Temple of Jestak Han. Jestak is the goddess of family life, family, and marriage; the residence in which this goddess lives is called Jestak Han.
Inside the Temple of Jestak Han. When last year’s flowers are taken down, the altars of the village’s four clans are revealed
Altars covered with new bisha flowers and walnut branches

Baby Purification Ceremony (Gul Parik) in the Rumbur Valley

Gul Parik in the Rumbur Valley is performed on babies born during the period between festivals. For the Gul Parik ceremony performed during the Joshi festival, this includes babies born between the Chaumos festival in December and the Joshi festival in May. The mother and baby are considered “impure” before this ceremony, and Gul Parik purifies them both, while also acting as a prayer for the health of the baby.

The man who performs the ceremony purifies himself and the place where he bakes the ceremonial bread. He makes the sacred walnut bread from special flour that has been purified and prepared for this ceremony, using similarly purified tools. At least five pieces of bread are baked for the men and five for the women (each with a different flour), and about twenty pieces are baked, including those to be served.

Purified flour, walnuts and rock salt prepared for baking sacred bread for women and men
Man crushing walnuts and rock salt
Sacred Walnut Bread

After the sacred walnut bread is baked, the mother and baby appear in the temple and the ceremony begins.

Gul Parik, Baby Purification Ceremony

It was an amazing experience to be in such a divine space and to witness the unique “world” of Kalash prayer.

Milk Ceremony (Chirik Pipi)

The Chirik Pipi in the Bumburet valley in the morning,  girls gather with milk containers and bisha flowers collected the day before. When the ceremony begins, all the children and ladies go to the sacred livestock shed. According to the villagers, this is sacred goat’s milk that has been stored since May 1st. It is then given out to the women. Normally, the Chirik Pipi song (flower song) is sung here, but I did not get the chance to hear it. There are not one but several livestock sheds, and we visited two of them. Afterwards, we witnessed a beautiful scene of villagers dancing with the mountains in the background.

Kalash people gather to sing and dance before the ceremony
Children gathered with milk containers in hand
Distribution of milk from purified livestock. Chirik Pipi Ceremony
Women coming out of a livestock shed decorated with bisha flowers after receiving milk
Women dancing after the ceremony

Baby Purification Ceremony (Gul Parik) in Bumburet Valley

The Gul Parik in Bumburet is a different style of ceremony from that in Rumbur. All babies and mothers born since last year’s Joshi festival are purified, and prayers are made for the health of the babies. (There are actually several purification ceremonies—this is the final stage of the purification.)

A basket of walnuts and dried mulberries is delivered from the house where the baby is born to the village center. When signaled, the women of the village and the mothers and babies who are to undergo the ritual move to the area near the livestock shed. Then, a man from the village who has been assigned to perform the ritual throws milk at the gathered women and babies to purify them.

After the ceremony, the women gather again in the center of village, where baskets of walnuts and mulberries are distributed to everyone, including the tourists! Then, everyone returns to their homes to prepare for the “small Joshi (festival)” of Bumburet to be held on the same day.

Carry a basket of walnuts and dried mulberries. In some villages, it may be cheese
Mother and baby on their way to the purification ceremony
The man (chir histau) on the roof purifies the women and their babies with milk. This ritual is called Chirhistic
Walnuts and mulberries being distributed. The dog in the photo stayed with them throughout the ceremony. It seems that the people of Kalash and their dogs are very closely connected

 Joshi Festival in the Rumbur Valley

After a series of ceremonies, the small Joshi festival (Satak Joshi) and the big Joshi festival (Gonna Joshi) are held. The festival is held in a covered venue and attracts a large number of tourists.

The small Joshi consists of repeated drumming, singing, and dancing, including Cha (a fast tempo song), Dushak (a slow tempo song), and the more complex Dalaija-i-lak, while the big Joshi includes a ceremonial performance at the end.

Kalash songs consist of drumming and singing, with limited melodic repetition. The lyrics are said to vary from ritualistic, to those touching on the mythology and history of Kalash, to those about love, and so on. The basic purpose of this music is to pray for a good harvest of milk and for the Kalash people to reaffirm their common identity.

At the end of the Joshi Festival, the special songs “Gandori” and “Daginai” are performed.

”Gandori” Both women and men hold walnut branches in their hands and wait for the moment to throw them

Daginai is a song that concludes the Joshi. It is a tragic love song, sung in a Cha melody. During the song, people dance in a chain connected by a string or cloth (originally woven from willow branches). It is said that if this chain breaks, it will bring misfortune, so everyone desperately grips the string. At the end, the sound of the drums suddenly stops, and all throw this cloth at once, ending the Joshi.

”Daginai” a dance connected by strings

Lyrics of “Daginai.” (From article of “Kalash Symphony ‘Joshi’,” by Reiko Kojima, published by National Museum of Ethnology Japan in 1991)

 

Daginai, o’er the great valley
Some moons before the fest of Uchal, to the mountain pasture I took
O Daginai, O Daginai
With white-hilt blade, my bare stomach pierc’d
O Daginai

 

The background of this song is a tragic love story that is familiar to all Kalash people.

 

Once upon a time, a man fell in love with his wife’s sister.

Overwhelmed by jealousy, the wife killed her sister using snake poison, all while her husband was out on the pasture.

By the time he returned, the snake’s poison had already turned his lover yellow as a bisha flower; no life remained in her body.

In the throes of his sorrow, he sang the song “Daginai” and threw himself belly-first upon a blade, ending his life.

The man and his love were placed in separate coffins to rest, but when the next morning came, they were found together, sleeping peacefully beside each other.

Stunned by this, the village people separated them, returning them to their proper places. The next day, however, the couple’s bodies were found reunited in the same coffin once again.

So strong was their love, that not even death could part them.

 

Young people in Kalash today

The Joshi Festival is also significant because it acts as a meeting place for men and women. Traditionally, after the Joshi Festival, people go to their summer pastures, meaning the Uchaw Festival in late August (which is held after they return) is where the romance really happens. During the Uchaw Festival, the same stage as the Joshi is used, but this time only young men and women dance at night—in the hopes of finding a partner.

”Gandori”

A gentleman who has been attending the Kalash Spring Festival for more than 25 years told me that although the Kalash costumes and the lifestyle of the young people have changed, the rituals are still the same as they were 25 years ago.

 

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA

Reference :”Kalash Symphony ‘Joshi’,” by Reiko Kojima, published by National Museum of Ethnology Japan in 1991)

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Hunza, “Shangri-la” surrounded by apricot blossoms

In late March, the Hunza Valley is blanketed in pale pink apricot blossoms. The fields are green with wheat sprouts. After the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, the Hunza was ruled by a dynasty until 1974. The valley is inhabited by the people of Brusho, who speak Brushaski.

Hunza is touted as the “Shangri-la” and is known as the “Village of Longevity.” This beauty and the life of this village supported by fruit trees, may be the “secret of longevity” that it is famous for.

Burushaski, the language spoken by the people of Brusho, is an “isolated language” that has not been found to be associated with any other language. It is said that they are the descendants of language groups that existed in this area before the arrival of the Indo-Aryan people. Burushashki-speakers also live in the Hunza Valley, the Nagar Valley across the Hunza River, the Yasin Valley leading to the Wakhan Corridor, and the Ishkoman Valley.

This is a view of the center of Baltit village. In the past, large buildings were limited to the surrounding of the Baltit Fort, which was the castle of the feudal lord, and the Darbar Hotel, but now large buildings (hotels) are becoming more prominent.

Rakaposhi peak (7,788m) seen from Baltit Village. It is in a mountain in the Nagar Valley on the opposite bank of the Hunza River and is a famous peak that can be viewed from everywhere in Hunza.

Also Diran Peak (7,266m) as seen from Baltit Village.

I walked between Altit Village and Duiker Hill, where the flowering apricots bloom.

The apricots in full bloom. You can see just how important the apricot trees are in the lives of the villagers, the fruit, its seeds and the oil taken from the seeds.

Altit Village was covered with many apricot trees. You can meet the beautiful villagers while walking around the village. The people of Hunza  are white in appearance and many of them have light hair.

I met such lovely children this day.

For lunch that day, we had local Hunza cuisine prepared at  Amin’s house in Baltit Village.

Photographer Toshiki Nakanishi had just come to Hunza for a phototour, where he was taking pictures of the local cuisine as it was being made.

Here they were preparing Dowdo soup, a dish representative of Hunza.

They made such a delicious cheese chapatti (called Burus Sapik in Burushaski). Hunza cheese, mint, tomato, green onion, onion and fruit oil wrapped in wheat chapatti. It is very healthy, and it is recommended for vegetarians who come to Pakistan and have trouble finding things to eat.

Today’s lunch. Local cuisine with plenty of fruit oil and Hunza’s local wine are so wonderful.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: March 2023, Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan

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Climbing Shatung Peak, a 5,000-meter summit on Deosai Plateau

We finally fulfilled our long-cherished dream to climb Shatung Peak in the Deosai Plateau. That became possible only inn summer 2023, while in summer 2020 the tour was cancelled due to Covid -19 pandemic, when international flights were put to a halt. Overcoming the aftermath of pandemic and a tough route, we were able to reach the summit. We are tremendously grateful to our climbing guides and porters from Satpara village for their gracious support.

360-degree panoramic view from the summit. Feel like a high altitude climber!

From Chilas, we drove up to the Deosai Plateau through the Astor Valley. On the way, we were astonished by the view of  Nanga Parbat (8,126m), the 9th highest peak on the planet. On the Deosai Plateau, we camped by the beautiful Sheosar Lake, from where this majestic peak was visible. The lake is a very beautiful peaceful place, but sadly many local tourists were enjoining loud music until late at night. The next morning we entered an area with no other visitors in sight and found the original Deosai Plateau.

The first part of the climb was a relatively easy route, with patches of buttercups and primroses. Little did we know that a difficult scree slope was awaiting.

The mountain en route is dotted with lakes in a very beautiful valley. The snowy mountain in front is Shatung Peak, and we are aiming exactly there!

We walked through a patch of primrose to the camp. It was easy up to this point.

We arrived at Camp 1 on the scree slope. Now where shall we pitch our tents?

Sleeping on the snow is generally much more comfortable than sleeping on scree. Finally, we will challenge the summit early tomorrow morning!

The route from Camp 1 to the summit is this slope, covered with a mass of smaller loose stones. The climb is steep and strenuous.

The view is spectacular when you stop and look back.

Beyond the mountains is Kashmir on the Indian side. Srinagar is also very close. The famous peaks of the Indian Himalaya, Nun peak and Kun Peak were also visible.

The world’s 9th highest peak, Nanga Parbat 8,126m, is on the left.

The steep climb up the scree slope is almost over. The ridge is getting closer.

Once on the ridge, all that remained was to climb up the snowy ridge. The sun was getting high in the sky.

We successfully climbed Shatung Peak (5,260m) with 5 core team members, guides, and porters! Nanga Parbat is in the background!

From the summit, we could see K2 and the Baltoro Mountains. From summit we could see all five of the 8,000 peaks in Pakistan: Nanga Parbat (8,126m), K2 (8,611m), Broad Peak (8,051m), Gasherbrum I (8,068m), and Gasherbrum II (8,034m). The weather was fine, with no wind. Forgetting about the steep scree slope that awaited us, we stayed at the summit for about an hour and enjoyed this blissful moment.

 

Image & text : Tomoaki TSUTSUMI

Tour conducted in July 2023, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

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Souvenir from Hunza

Surrounded by the 7,000m-class high peaks of Karakorum, this Hunza village is famous for the amazing pink apricot flowers that bloom all over the valley.

The main street of Karimabad, the center of Hunza, which is lined with stalls selling local products. It’s not very big, but it’s a place where you can go casually and enjoy a stroll while sightseeing.

Bazaar at Karimabad

First of all, I will introduce dried fruits and nuts, which are the specialties of Hunza.

In Hunza, where apricots and other fruits thrive, the seeds are removed immediately after they are harvested. The fruits are then preserved by being dried in the sun, then sold in the market. The dried apricots are browner in color and have a firmer texture than common ones you might see in other places, but this is just proof that there are no additives in them. The more you chew the dried fruit, the more the gorgeous apricot flavor fills your mouth, and the taste becomes addictive.

The fresh nuts that are the most famous are walnuts, almonds, and apricot seeds. Apricot seeds look a lot like almonds at first glance. But you can enjoy that unique scent of the apricot that is familiar with almond tofu (the name is also confusing but it is because the two nuts are so similar). Although it has a slightly bitter taste, it is said to have the effect of boosting the immune system.

In addition, I also recommend you try the cherries, mulberries, and dried pears, as they are hard to find anywhere else.

Dried fruits sold at a souvenir shop

At the bazaar, souvenirs of wooden products are also conspicuous. Apricot trees and walnut trees are also suitable for woodwork, so there are ornaments, accessory cases, and tableware made from these woods.

A spoon made of apricot and walnut wood. Each piece is handmade by an artist every day.

Intricately carved tissue box

Handicrafts with traditional Hunza embroidery are also popular souvenirs. Bright embroidery is applied to wool bags, slippers and hats.

Pouches
Slipper

In addition, northern Pakistan around Hunza is the origin of many natural gemstones. Specialty stores sell colorful natural stones such as crystal, aquamarine, topaz, garnet and black tourmaline; and small rough stones can be obtained at relatively low prices.

Searching for your favorite stone or a birthstone will also make a special souvenir.

Aquamarine stone

When you are wanting to take a quick break while exploring the bazaar, I recommend stopping by Cafe De Hunza.

Here, you can enjoy the famous walnut cake made with plenty of locally produced walnuts.

The cake goes very well with coffee. You can also take the cake home.

A famous cake filled to the max with caramel-wrapped walnuts

Cafe De Hunza also sold apricot oil for souvenirs.

It has a nourishing effect for sore throat, and it is a versatile oil that can also be used for skin care, as it has a very smooth application.

Apricot seed oil

Dried fruits, woodwork, nuts, oil and apricots are used in everything by the locals. For the people of Hunza, apricots are essential and a very important part of their lives.

There are many things that I haven’t introduced yet, but when you visit Hunza, why don’t you take a walk around the bazaar and look for the Apricot Blossom Spring Valley souvenirs that are unique to this beautiful place?

 

Photo &Text : Madoka Nishioka

Visit : March 2023, Karimabad, Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan

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Rock Carvings of Shatial, – Silk Road heritage – soon to be submerged in the Indus river dam

This blog is documenting the precious Silk Road heritage site, the ‘Indus rock carvings’, which will be lost forever in a few years when two dams on the Indus River are completed.

 

Stunning stupa depictions and inscriptions, “rock carvings of Shatial”

Shatial Rock Carvings, on a slope slightly off the Karakoram Highway down to the Indus River, located on the south bank of the Indus, between the Darel Valley to the east and the Tangir Valley to the west, were very important site for travelers, trade caravans and pilgrims on the Silk Road.

The rock carving ranges from those considered pre-Buddhist to those from the Gandhara heyday and post-Gandhara eras.

Firstly, the picture below shows the most famous rock carving in Shatial site. This rock art is impactful enough to elicit “wow!” response even from an ordinary tourist.

In the center of the rock is a large, delicately depicted stupa with many bells. On the left is a depiction of the “Sibi Jataka” and on the right is a votive stupa.

On the left side of the rock, the name of the stupa’s builder is inscribed in Kharoshthi script (or Gāndhārī, ancient Indo-Iranian script), which dates back to the 5th century.
Between the stupa and the votive stupa the names of people who lived back then (perhaps, some dignitaries) are inscribed in Brahmi and Sogdian script.

Two devotees dressed in Central Asian-style costumes approach the main stupa from three stepping stones. This staircase leads to a plinth decorated with a ‘four-stepped design’. Two pillars support the beam and the domed stupa. Bells are also attached to the beam, stupa and niche.
The stupa is topped by a series of umbrellas, from the top most of which hang down banners on either side like an arch. Small bells are also attached to the umbrellas, making this rock engraving different and novel from the other stupas.

The votive stupa to the right of the main stupa has four steps leading up to a high base, depicting a triangular stupa with a series of umbrellas above it and flags billowing and fluttering. It is a different style of depiction from the main stupa.

This figure on the left shows the ‘Sibi Jataka’.

 

About Sibi Jataka

(The Jataka is the stories of former lives of the Buddha )

There was a kind-hearted king named King Sibi.
A dove chased by a falcon flew to King Sibi and asked for help.

The falcon came to King Sibi and said, “I have not eaten for many days and if I do not eat the dove, I will die from starvation. Whose life do you consider more important, the dove’s or mine?”

So King Sibi thought that the falcon’s life is also important, so he cut off a piece of meat from his own leg, weighing the same as the dove, and placed it on the balance. But the dove was heavier, so he cut off the flesh again and placed it on the balance, but the weights were not equal.

King Sibi thought deeply and put his own body on the balance, and it balanced. The king said to the hawk, “Please eat me and get well”.
King Sibi tried to save the dove’s life by giving his own life to the falcon.

The falcon, knowing King Sibi’s heart, appeared to him in the form of Indra God and he saluted King Sibi’s action by saying, “You will become a Buddha in the future”.

 

In this rock carving, the Buddha sits in a cave, holding a ‘dove’ in his hand. The person depicted on the right holds a balance. The object on the balance is the flesh of King Sibi, which was cut off to save the dove’s life.
Below the Buddha holding the dove, devotees are depicted on both sides.

The above description is just one of many stories behind carvings in the main stupa. Shatial site has many other unique, valuable iconographies.

This is the carving on the rock opposite the main stupa, “Yantra”, a holy set of symbols at the center to the right, and “Labyrinth” on the bottom left.

 

Above and below are Sogdian tamga, emblems used by ancient Eurasian sedentary and nomadic tribes and their influenced cultures, represented in rock carving.

Sogdian Tamga

It’s difficult to see, but can you see the person holding what looks like a cup?

This is a rock carving of Sogdian performing a ritual in front of an altar, most probably. Probably a fire worship ritual?

 

 

 

 

 

Other animal rock carvings are depicted by people who walked the Silk Road. The rock carvings in the upper Indus, Gilgit and Hunza river basins are mainly ibex wild goat, with snow leopards and markhors goats, but here we see camels and elephants depicted.

The elephant figures remind us of the proximity to India. Apart from the picture below, there were several rock carvings that appeared to be camels and elephants, but only those that more or less certain are shown here.

Petroglyph of Bactrian Camel
Petroglyph of Goose
Petroglyph of Bactrian Camel

There is always something new to discover at the Shatial site.

By the way, the village seen from the rock carving site is full of dwellings that have been built at a rapid pace to get compensation for the submerged dwellings caused by the dam. The environment around the ancient rock carving has changed considerably.

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

*About the article: the article is based on an old book. I wonder if other views and explanations exist. I would be very happy if you could let me know so that I can study it.

Reference :”Huma records on Karakoeum Highway”, ” The Indus, cradle and crossroad of civilizations”

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Skardu – Indus Valley in Spring

You will be amazed by the scenery as you arrive in Skardu on a domestic flight; almost all tourists take photos as soon as they arrive. The airport is on a desert plain, surrounded by snow-capped peaks, on the banks of the Indus River.

Skardu’s airport is on an high-altitude desert of 2,230m. Last year, it was promoted to “International Airport.” Recently, the operation rate of the Skardu route has improved, and it is now flying not only from Islamabad, but also from Karachi and Lahore in summer. However, in case of flight cancellation, there is no land route from Karachi. It is still safer for foreign tourists to choose flights from Islamabad instead.

Video of Islamabad – Skardu flight with the Nanga Parbat right at the front!

It takes about 20 minutes from the airport to the town of Skardu. Inhabited by the Balti people, Skardu means ‘land between two high places’ in the Balti language. It was once part of Tibet and was also a trading center to Kashmir. It later became Islamized, and after the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, it went through three wars and in the end, it belonged to Pakistan.

March 23rd, when I arrived, was Pakistan Day. On March 22, 1940, Muhammad Ali Jinnah proposed the founding of Pakistan at a meeting of the All-India Muslim League, and on the following day, on the 23rd, the founding of the country was unanimously resolved. It is an important Pakistani Memorial Day, just like Independence Day.
There must have been an event at school, as there were children walking down the street with national flags in their hands.

Skardu’s Bazaar, a store that sells beans and grains.

A villager who came to buy goods from Kowardo village in the suburbs of Skardu. Their face is a bit Tibetan, unlike the Hunza and Punjab regions.
Balti men are known to be strong and are active in the K2 base camp trek and climbing in the summer.

A shop in the bazaar also had pink rock salt that was mined in the “Salt Range” from the Punjab region. There are various uses for it like salt licks for livestock, and smaller blocks are used when drinking “namkheen chai” (salty chai).
About Himalayan Salt: The Salt Range

At the Skardu vegetable market, a shipment of vegetables and fruits from the Punjab region arrived.

On this day, the apricots of Skardu were almost in full bloom

The Indus River seen from Hussain Abad Village in Skardu Valley. At this time of year, the Indus River is not mixed with melted glacier water and has a beautiful blue color.
The Indus River flows from Ladakh, India. 93% of the 3,180km (1,976 miles) long Indus River flows through Pakistan. After leaving the northern mountainous region, it flows across Pakistan into the Arabian Sea.

Skardu Valley looking back from the road from Skardu to Gilgit. This large canyon, 10 km wide and 40 km long (6.2 mi wide x 24.9 mi long), is said to have been formed by the glaciers of the Indus and Shigar Rivers between 3.2 million years ago and the Holocene period.

I took one last look before entering “Skardu Road,” which connects Karakorum Highway and Skardu.

The valley of Skardu is a very beautiful place with apricot blossoms in the spring, greenery in the summer and golden poplars in autumn.

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

Visit : March 2023, Skardu, Gilgiti-Baltistan

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Shigar Valley in the Early Spring

Just after Nowruz (March 21), I visited the Shigar Valley. Nowruz is the Iranian New Year, but it is also celebrated in northern Pakistan. In Persian, “Now” means “new”, “Ruz” means “day”, and it falls on the vernal equinox. On this day, they start working in the fields and start new things.

On the domestic flight from Islamabad to Skardu, there were many elderly people heading to Skardu. They usually will spend the harsh winter in Islamabad and Karachi, where their sons and grandchildren live, and later return to their villages around Nowruz. The flight was full of villagers.

Shigar Village seen from the entrance of the valleyThe Shigar Valley is called the gateway to ‘Karakoram,’ and this ‘Shigar Road’ continues to the end of the motorway, Askole. Trekking and mountaineering start from Askole, walking on the Baltoro Glacier to K2, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum base camp. This is the path most people who aim for K2 take. The Shigar River is fed by the Braldu River, which flows from the Baltoro and Biafo Glaciers.

Apricot blossoms

The time I visited was when the apricot flowers were in full bloom. It can only be in “full bloom” for 1-2 days. Even so, there are differences in how the apricot blossoms bloom depending on the altitude, the amount of sunlight, and the amount of water, so I was able to see many stages of the apricot blossoms.

Shigar Village is the largest village in Shigar valley. Shigar Fort, managed by the Serena Hotel chain, is a lovely hotel that has been renovated from an old feudal lord’s castle. I walked around the hotel, and they are the village’s children.

Shigar Village
Shigar village

Compared to the past, Shigar Village has developed more than the image of the rustic village, and in the center, there are more cars now. But just taking a stroll around the village, you can enjoy the scenery and have some memorable encounters with the villagers.

Recently, more and more people are going to the Hashupi Fruit Garden, which is located further inside Shigar Village. The views of the valley and villages from Shigar Village to Hashupi Village are very beautiful. The scenery of the village also continues to be rustic.

Time spent with the children of the village
Photoshoot of the apricot blossoms

In the early morning, head to the Sarfranga cold dessert.

The Sarfranga Cold Desert lies on the bank of the Indus River, at the entrance to the Shigar Valley. It is a superb view point where you can see the sand dunes with the snowy mountains in the background.

Hussainbad Village seen from the Sarfranga sand dunes
The snowy mountains of Karakorum seen from the sand dunes

And after the morning shoot, I had a picnic breakfast, and the chai was the best!

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

Visit : March 2023, Shigar Valley, Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan

Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Skardu Valley > - Shigar Valley
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Lolly, the Snow Leopard 2023

I visited “Lolly, the Snow Leopard” for the first time in a long time. The first time I saw her was in 2015, at the KVO check post in the border town of Sost, and at that time, she was 3 years old, being raised by people. Afterwards, Lolly was moved to Naltar Valley, where the Pakistan Army facilities are located.

So it must be that she is over 10 years old now?

Seeing Lolly through the bushes. She is so beautiful. But, she seems to be “a bit chubbier” than a wild snow leopard.

I waited for her to move away from the fence and go to a place where I could get some nature in the background of the photo. Here, Lolly was sitting in her favorite spot. On the day I visited, there was only one other local photographer there.

One of Lolly’s favorite sitting spots.

Oh, maybe she’s gonna make a move?

You can hear the rapid fire of camera shutters clicking in the moment she makes a move.

The thick tail of a snow leopard. This tail helps them balance when hunting on steep slopes and cliffs.

The bottom of her foot, covered with fur to protect it from the cold, and with a large ground surface area, making it easier to walk on snowy surfaces.
Pads on her feet…for the people who love them, we just can’t get enough of these ‘toe beans’!

The back is also nice to see, her ears, the nape of the neck…If you are watching a wild snow leopard, you can hardly get a view of them from this angle. Lolly was very cooperative this day, and during our stay of about 2.5 hrs, we could see her move to her ‘favorite spots’ and finally settle down right beside me.

Lolly was a very close distance (I could have reached out and felt her fluffy fur). I could hear her making growling noises.
Even though she is raised in captivity, for people who love snow leopards, to be able to be at this proximity with one, this is an interesting place where you can observe her to your heart’s content.

 

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA
Observation: Jan 2023, Naltar Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for observing wildlife of Pakistan.

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Category : - Snow Leopard (captivity) > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan > - Naltar Valley
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In Serch of Punjab Urial – Kalabagh Private Game Reserve

In January, we went on a search of the Punjab Urial, an endemic species of Pakistan, at the Kalabagh Private Game Reserve in the Java Mountains of the Punjab Plain.

The Kalabagh Private Game Reserve is a wildlife sanctuary for hunting, but in order to increase the number of animals for trophy hunting quota, the population needs to be allowed to grow. The rangers patrol with guns around the area to stop poachers, so the sanctuary is brimming with wild animals.

The Urial is an artiodactyl mammal of the family Bovidae. It is wild species of sheep, so they have large, arching horns and long beards on their necks. They live in the mountainous areas from South Asia to Central Asia. The Urial inhabiting the Punjab region of Pakistan were given the same protections as the Ladakh Urial in India, but in a 2016 publication in “Bovids of the World,” they listed it as the Punjab Urial, making it a separate species of Urial.

We got down from the vehicle, and slowly approached the Urial on foot to get closer. We paid close attention to the wind direction as we approached.

When we got too close to them, they quickly put some distance between you and themselves. We were able to see more than 30 of them, including some males with large horns, while we were watching them for about 2 hours.

And…the long awaited lunch time. At the Hunting Lodge, the setting and the service was very pleasant.

They served loads of locally produced ingredients for lunch. And it was orange season!!!

The interior of the Hunting Lodge. It was heavily decorated with many “Trophies” everywhere. The price at the Punjab Urial hunting auction is expensive at US$15,000 to US$16,000 per animal. About 15 are hunted from the Punjab plains each year.

Around the lodge, there were some young Urial kids that had lost their fear of people. They kept their distance from us visitors, but they could go up close to the people who worked at the lodge.

Our guide Abul with a Punjab Urial kid.

I will introduce to you the the wildlife of the Kalabagh Private Game Reserve.

This is the Salt Range Chinkara. It used to be a subspecies of the India Chinkara, but it became independent as a species according to the picture book published in 2016. It is distributed from the salt mountains of Pakistan to near Delhi, the capital of India.

An Indian Hare

The Greater Coucal, found in the plains and rural areas of India and Pakistan.

A young Eurasian Griffon. The wings will turn white once they mature.

A Grey Francolin, found in the plains of India and Pakistan.

They are very cute birds, that are skittish and run away quickly into the bushes to hide.

Wild Boar

This is a beautiful male Black Francolin.

After 2 hours of wildlife watching in the morning, taking a break for lunch, and then making 2 more hours of observations, we headed back to Islamabad. Probably, we would have seen even more, had we been there in the morning and dusk hours.

Finally, the majestic figure of the Game Reserve Ranger who guided our group. I was surprised at first to learn that they are protecting these wildlife so they can be hunted, but by all means, please protect them properly!

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA

Observation : Jan 2023, Kalabagh Private Game Reserve, Punjab

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for observing wildlife of Pakistan.

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Category : ◆ Punjab > - Urial > ◇ Birds of Pakistan > ◇ Wildlife of Pakistan
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So Picturesque! Tour of Balochistan Vlog

In the winter of 2022-23, we were able to guide more people on tours to Balochistan, than ever before! Since 2018, the region has been facing many challenges while developing its tourism areas. The places where foreigners can enter are limited, but the moment you turn off of the main road, you will see an amazingly spectacular view.

This Vlog tour summarizes the drone footage from Kamitani Teppei, the tour leader of a tour in Jan 2023. It truly captures the amazing scenery of Pakistan.

 

Videography by Teppei Kamitani

Visit :Jan 2023, Makran Coast, Balochistan

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for visiting Balochistan.

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Category : = Video clip Balochistan > ◆ Video Breathtaking Views of Pakistan > - Mud Volcano > - Hingol National Park > - Kund Malir > ◆ Balochistan > - Makran Coast
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