Balkasar Bear Sanctuary, Protect Bears in Pakistan!

This is the story of Balkasar Bear Sanctuary.
An acquaintance working in the hunting tourism sector invited me to visit the Balkasar Bear Sanctuary. At first, I didn’t know the main idea behind this place until I went there and saw the reality.

 

The bears were safeguarded and brought here from the entertainment show businesses like, “Bear Fighting” and “Dancing Bear”.

Most of the bears were owned by landlords in the southern part of Pakistan (South Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan), and their teeth and claws were taken out and sold.

Some individuals even had no limbs. They were cut out by their avaricious owners as a punishment for not obeying.
Seeing a bear with no limbs in front of me, I could not believe how cruel humans are.

 

Himalayan black bear under the training.

An acquaintance brought me here, who is a hunting tour operator involved in the bear conservation project and is responsible for the operations of returning to the wild. For him, knowing real wild animals, abuse of wild bear was not acceptable.

As I mentioned in the previous blog, Pakistan’s hunting situation is somehow contributing to the conservation of wild animals. The officials decide every year quota for each animal and returning profits to the local area. In this way, illegal hunting has halted and simultaneously protecting wild animals. Though it works only for animals which are labeled as “Trophy Hunting” animals, not for all the animals.

 

Time for the evening meal.

Balkasar Bear Sanctuary has 54 bears. The vast majority of them are black bears.

According to the experts, the current population of wild bears in Pakistan is assessed to be between 600 and 650 Himalayan black bears, 200 to 250 Himalayan brown bears. Though there is no official survey.
This means that approximately 6-7% of Pakistani bears are saved and protected in Balkasar Bear Sanctuary.

 

As my curiosity escalated, I asked how these bears are sold in the city.

In many cases, shepherd and locals search for hibernating mother bear and cub, killing the mother bear and bringing cub for sale.

I could not believe all these stories but it is a hard reality.

These bears were dealt badly in show business. When they were rescued and brought to the sanctuary their condition was utterly horrendous. Even the staff had difficulty confronting the truth of what befell these bears.
Pakistani and foreign veterinarians who cooperate with this Bear Sanctuary have helped save many bear’s life.

Unfortunately, these bears can’t go back to the wild anymore. The teeth and claws were taken out by some remorseless and selfish humans.

The purpose of this facility is to provide these bears to spend their remaining lives in a natural condition with other bears.

 

Moreover, this facility is working hard daily to return the bears to the wild who  are able to survive in the wild.
In the early summer 2016, they released three Himalayan black bears, and that success encouraged them to adopt this practice regular.
In the early summer of 2017, they released two Himalayan brown bears (2 and a half years old) who were trained to return to the wild.

As of October 2019, when we visited this sanctuary, two of them have survived in the wild. A microchip was embedded and its movement was monitored.

Some Himalayan black bear cubs are expected to return to the wild in 2020. The cubs will be trained regarding how to catch a fish at the facility in Nathia Gali.
Lobbying to the government has also been made at the same time.

 

It is also surprising that Balkasar Bear Sanctuary is not operating with aid funds such as the government’s or donations, but is working with income from their vegetable garden.

Negotiating with owners of bears such as powerful landlords, saving the bear from them, and returning the cubs to the wild is not an easy task by any means.

Wild animals such as Ibex and other goats’ families are protected under the trophy hunting resume and no doubt the number is increased, but bears are not protected at all and are in danger condition.

I would like to express my sincere respect and gratitude to the people of Balkasar Bear Sanctuary who fight against the cruel humans for the sake of wildlife, bears of Pakistan.

 

Photo : Mariko SAWADA   Text : Mariko SAWADA & Sarosh HADI
Visit : Oct 2019, Balkasar, Punjab, Pakistan

Category : # Punjab > ** Save Nature & Wildlife
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Black-winged Stilt – Soon Valley

A Black-winged Stilt observed at Uchhali lake in the Soon Valley. It was feeding on the underwater invertebrates in the shallow water.
Black-winged Stilt is a widely spread water bird; mainly found in Europe, Africa, and South Asia, and is characterized by its long red foot.
When it flies, its feet resemble the tail feathers.
In Pakistan, it travels as a summer bird in northern Punjab. Moreover, it is observed all year round in the waters of southern Punjab, Sindh and on the coast of Balochistan.

 

Uchhali Lake with black saltwater reflecting the exquisite scenery around the lake.

 

The lake is surrounded by lush green mountains and tranquil villages.

 

If there is no wind, the lake surface reflects the view as a clear mirror.

 

A beautiful and crystal-clear sight of Black-winged Stilt reflected on the surface of the lake, just like a mirror.

 

Photo: MARIKO  Text: MARIKO & SAROSH
Observation: end of March 2019, Uchhali Lake, Soon Valley, Punjab
Reference: Birds of Pakistan, Birds of the Indian Subcontinents (Helm Field Guides)

Category : # Punjab > ** Birds of Pakistan > - Soon Valley
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Pied Avocet –Soon Valley

A flock of Pied Avocets observed in Uchhali Lake, Soon Valley.
Pied Avocet breeds in Europe and Central Asia and travels to Africa and South Asia in the winter season.
In Pakistan, Pied Avocet’s wintering starts on the Indus river basin, lakes, wetlands, and the Arabian Sea coast. Breeding has also been observed in the lagoons of Balochistan coast.

We could not observe it nearby, but its characteristic feathers; black and white wing and the long beak that had warped, and the gray leg, it was undoubtedly a Pied Avocet.

A person in the background herding camels and Pied Avocet in the foreground… It was a very unique and gorgeous view of nature and people together.

Photo: MARIKO  Text: MARIKO & SAROSH
Observation: end of March 2019, Uchhali Lake, Soon Valley, Punjab
Reference: Birds of Pakistan, Birds of the Indian Subcontinents (Helm Field Guides)

Category : # Punjab > ** Birds of Pakistan > - Soon Valley > - Soon Valley
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Greater Flamingo in sunset – Soon Valley

We visited Uchhali Lake located in Soon Valley, from Islamabad. The trip’s duration was 1 night and 2 days.
Blessed with the weather, we were able to observe the Greater Flamingos in the gorgeous evening golden light.

Northern Shoveler and Greater Flamingo.

Greater Flamingos flying on a sparkling golden lake’s surface.

Greater Flamingos on the lake’s shore.

Greater Flamingos taking off.

A flock of Greater flamingos flying above Uchhali Lake.

As soon as the sunset, the flamingos became a silhouette. We were so excited to photograph these birds until the dark. If you really want to capture the true beauty of flamingos, then the golden hour is the best time.
No doubt, it was a very lovely day at Uchhali Lake.

Photo: MARIKO  Text: MARIKO & SAROSH
Observation: end of March 2019, Uchhali Lake, Soon Valley, Punjab
Reference: Birds of Pakistan, Birds of the Indian Subcontinents (Helm Field Guides)

Category : # Punjab > ** Birds of Pakistan > - Soon Valley > - Soon Valley
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Pakistan & India Border Flag Ceremony 

Pakistan & India Border Flag Ceremony

On 16th March 2019, Saturday … when tensions between Indian & Pakistan escalated, luckily I had the chance to attend the Wagha flag ceremony.
I’ve been witnessing this ceremony several times, though this one was the best ceremony in my lifetime.

Videography : Mariko Sawada,  Yousaf Akhtar

Visit of Wagha : March 2019 with Saiyah team

Category : # Punjab > ** Video clip of Punjab > - Wagha border
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Enthusiastic Pakistanis at Wagha Border

Enthusiastic Pakistanis at Wagha Border

Enjoying flag ceremony is not only the ceremony itself but the “Pre-ceremony” period.
To witness the Pakistani people who love their country, this is the best place and it is fun too!
Let’s say aloud everyone, (Long-live) Jeevay Jeevay Pakistan!

Videography : Mariko Sawada, Yousaf Akhtar

Visit of wagha : March 2019 with Saiyah team

Category : # Punjab > ** Video clip of Punjab > - Wagha border
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Heritage of LAHORE 

Heritage of LAHORE

On 19th Feb 2019, SUPER MOON DAY … I was in Lahore and was expecting to observe the super moon, but unluckily it was cloudy.
On the other hand, I successfully got permission to fly a drone over the heritage area.

Videography : Mariko SAWADA

Visit of Lahore : Feb 2019 with Saiyah team

Thanks to Ms. Aisha Khan, Deputy Director of Culture Walled City, Lahore

Category : # Punjab > ** Video clip of Punjab > - Lahore
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Greater Flamingo – Soon valley

There are several lakes in Soon Valley located 150 km southeast of Islamabad, some of the famous lakes in this region serving as a habitat for birds are Kallar Kahar Lake, Khabeki Lake, and Uchhali Lake. Comparatively, Uchhali Lake is the best spot for migratory birds to spend winter season. It attracts migratory flamingos due to its salty blackish shallow water.

There were almost no ducks in late March when I visited, but there were more than 200 flamingos.
According to the locals, 20 to 40 birds have been observed so far, but such a large flock is the first time.
In 2016 no flamingos came to this lake, but since mid of 2018, more than 200 birds came and were still in Uchhali Lake.

Greater flamingos flying over the village.
It is said that a Greater Flamingo has an irregular migratory pattern and the local people were also wondering that it has been staying at Uchhali Lake for about 11 months already.

I’m worried that if their habitat is lost due development, there might be nowhere for these flamingos to go…

Greater flamingos are the largest flamingos in the flamingo family at 120cm to 140 cm.
“The largest flamingo” colors Pakistan’s sky. It was an unexpected scene!

Photo: MARIKO  Text: MARIKO & SAROSH
Observation: end of March 2019, Uchhali Lake, Soon Valley, Punjab
Reference: Birds of Pakistan, Birds of the Indian Subcontinents (Helm Field Guides)

Category : # Punjab > ** Birds of Pakistan > - Soon Valley > - Soon Valley
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Kartarpur – Sikh’s Holy Land, Guru Nanak Mausoleum

Did you know? In Pakistan, there is a mausoleum of Guru Nanak, who was the first Guru and the founder of Sikhism.
Obviously, in Guru-Nanak’s time, there was no such a border and the individuals lived unified.
Following 20 years of traveling around the world, Guru Nanak created the first Sikh community in the current Kartarpur region, where people irrespective of their religion or race, lived together. Guru Nanak lived here in harmony with his family and passed away on September 22, 1539.

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, the tomb of Guru Nanak stands where he passed away.

The present building was built in 1925, and since 1947 when India and Pakistan separated, Pakistan’s government has been taking care of it.

The holy place where the divine scriptures of Sikhism are stored.

A Pakistani chef serving a meal at Gurdwara Kartarpura Sahib. By the way, there is only a single Sikh family living in Kartarpur territory.

Lamentably, due to the Radcliffe line drawn by the British during the partition of India in 1947, this Sikh holy place became part of Pakistan territory, which turned a headache for the Sikhs living in India.
It is 4 km from the Indian border across the Ravi river.
They could only worship mausoleum with binoculars from Dera Baba Nanak on the Indian side.

Since 1999, there has been a proposition to make a “Pilgrimage route without visa” for Sikhs, so in November 2018, progress has been made by the talks between Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and an Indian high official, and both the nations are pushing towards acknowledgment.
The coming November 2019 is the 550th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak. Before that, it was decided to build the Kartarpur pilgrimage corridor, where Sikhs who were living in India can pilgrimage without a visa.

I visited this place in the middle of March 2019, when the diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan were at the pinnacle.
The project seems to be steadily advancing forward. Regardless of such political circumstances, the territory around the Guru Nanak Mausoleum has been transformed into a vast construction site for the completion of the “Pilgrimage Corridor”.

The realization of the “pilgrimage corridor” will be what numerous people pray for.

Photo: MARIKO   Text: MARIKO & SAROSH

Visit: March 2019, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, Kartarpur, Punjab, Pakistan

 

Category : # Punjab > - Kartarpur
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At last! Arrived at the Wagha, crossing the India-Pakistan border

Finally, I arrived at the Wagha. When I passed through the border gate, I saw the stadium of the flag ceremony, with a picturesque portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah – founding father of Pakistan.
The time difference between India and Pakistan is 30 minutes.
Therefore, I set the clock accordingly at the border and strolled forward with my suitcase.

Presently, glancing back at the Indian side from Pakistan.
People are crossing the border one after another. It was the time when the relationship between India and Pakistan was deteriorating. Nevertheless, I saw about 50 people intersecting the border in a very short time span.

A portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founding father of Pakistan. Beneath it in Urdu, “Bab-e-Azadi”, is written which literally means, “The door to Independence”.

By the way, this border is usually walked over, but “India-Pakistan friendship bus”, at that time was running between Delhi and Lahore, which crosses the border without changing the vehicle.
I often get queries regarding the opening time of the border in the evening. Recently, it looks like it is open in the evening, except for the flag ceremony time. Still, it is wise to finish the border crossing by 3 o’clock in winter and 4 o’clock amid summer time.

Go straight out from the stadium of Flag Ceremony and direct towards the immigration office on your right side.
There are also people who own up “money exchange” in this area.
At the immigration office, I had to fill in an A4 sized entry card with a lot of spaces to be filled, unlike the airport’s entry card (As of March 2019).
Pass the luggage through the X-ray machine and exit out of the customs. When I walked towards the Lahore side, I met the staff of SAIYAH who were there to receive me.
Now only an hour drive from here to Lahore, which is famous for its unique heritage and beguiling Mughal architecture.

Photo: MARIKO  Text: MARIKO & SAROSH
Visit: Mar 2019, Wagha Border, Punjab, Pakistan

Category : # Punjab > - Wagha border
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