Month: July 2011

Gilgit-Baltistan: Apricot- An all in one Miracle Fruit

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These days apricots are in season and add to the variety of fruit available in the market — the two varieties — a soft golden yellow or pink and cream coloured, both making a tasty tit-bit for a quick snack. According to information on their properties, apricots are low fat, saturated fat free, cholesterol free, sodium free, excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin C, and a good source of potassium and fibre.

Apricots contain photochemical called carotenoids, compounds that give red, orange and yellow colours to fruits and vegetables. The powerful antioxidant Lycopene is one of the carotenoids found in apricots. Relatives to peaches, apricots are small fruits, with velvety skin and flesh, not too juicy, but definitely smooth and sweet, tasting like somewhere between a peach and a plum. Apricots are versatile and can be eaten raw; cooked to make jam or tarts; added to salads or any other innovative way you would like to utilise them. Apricots can also be dried to be used later and they are one of the main sources of income in Pakistan’s northern areas where they grow in abundance. Much of the crop used to be wasted because of improper drying methods, but there are some NGO’s which are working to solve the problem, among them Mountain Fruits (PVT) limited, initiated by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in 2000 as a fruit drying training programme for communities to improve traditional, unhygienic fruit drying system in the northern areas of Pakistan so that the disadvantaged, small farmers could organise themselves and produce a product of international quality to be able to sell it under the ‘Fairtrade’ mark to generate more income.

Apricot kernels can be used as a substitute for almonds, used in desserts or eaten as a snack. Apricot oil extracted from the kernel, is one of the by products of the fruit and is known for its healing properties. It is rich in natural vitamins (especially Vitamins A and E essential for our skin), linoleic, oelic and other essential fatty acids, minerals and other nutrients. This oil is good for two reasons: first of all, it gets absorbed by skin and leaves no traces or an oily feel and it does not cause allergic reactions even on the most sensitive skin. Other benefits include soothing, moisturising and nourishing the skin, as well as anti-inflammatory, cooling and other properties.

Unlike many other essential oils, this fine textured oil does not have any specific aroma and the best way to enjoy its benefits for the skin is using it for massage therapy. It can be recommended to those who have dry, sensitive or prematurely aged skin. Regular massages or face masks with apricot kernel oil can assist in revitalizing, refreshing and moisturizing skin, making it firmer, clearer and more elastic, prevent irritations and stimulate blood flow. This essential oil can be used not only for the skin of your face but for moisturizing and revitalizing your hands and neck. Apricot Oil Model Enterprise (AOE) is a subsidiary unit of Baltistan Enterprise Development and Arts Revival (BEDAR) a development cooperation between the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Aga Khan Cultural Service, Pakistan (AKCSP) and Baltistan Culture Foundation (BCF). It is producing pure apricot oil from organically grown apricot kernels through scientific processing and refining in a hygienic environment to sell under the brand name ‘Mountain Gold.’ Hunza Gallery is an organisation working for the sustainable development of Hunza, Chitral and Gilgit Baltistan. The main aim of Hunza Gallery is to market the organic and handmade products from the mountain regions of Pakistan to the rest of the world to generate employment for women of the mountain areas.

Courtesy: The News

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Gilgit-Baltistan:KPK, Sindh, and GB to determine the need of solar products

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ISLAMABAD: The National Energy Conservation Centre (ENERCON) has initiated a process to conduct a study on micro-financing of solar household products that would help meet the dreams of power conservation.

The main purpose of this study is to save energy through promoting such products as households in the country consume 21.3 percent of the total energy production, a senior official at the Centre said here on Tuesday.

Talking to APP, the official said to overcome the current energy shortfall, use of renewable energy like solar is one of the most viable technology that should be adopted and promoted and added proposals have also been sought from concerned experts and organizations so as to make a comprehensive policy in this regard.

He said the potential exists for Micro-Finance Institutions (MFIs) to offer profitable loans to promote solar products.

If implemented properly the Micro-finance Providers may be able to play a pivotal role in the promotion of energy efficient household appliances like Solar lights, Solar Cookers, Solar Lanterns and Solar Geysers and many more.

The official said such loans through micro-finance institutions could help to offset high upfront cost associated with solar power technology and related products.

He said the ENERCON realizes that greater energy efficiency is a key or economic development and that is why it has decided to conduct this particular research through its National Energy Conservation Fund (ECF) to promote use of solar appliances, adding that the micro-financing service delivery model has been successfully implemented in some developing countries and it should be introduced in Pakistan.

Replying to a question, the official enumerated the key objectives of the study which include assessing the potential for provision of micro-financing services to provide solar household products, identifying appropriate number of institutions who are interested in pioneering micro-financing services and designingand outlining pilot projects for the purpose. A road map for promoting micro-financing would also be developed, he added.

The study, to be conducted both for rural and urban areas would determine identification of MFIs of the country willing to participate in the process, needs and market assessment of potential solar products and identify potential barriers to the provision of financing services and identify measures to address these barriers.

The study would also help prepare an outline for pilot projects, he said.

Giving further details, the official said surveys would be conducted in rural areas i.e. one each in Balochistan, Punjab, Khyber

Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, and Gilgit Baltistan to determine the need of solar products.

To another question, he said there is also a plan to organize a national workshop to discuss initial study results and gather feedback to improve study analysis and recommendations.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Mega Project providing clean water

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Astore—Provincial Minister for Baldiat, Engr Ismail Tuesday said that his government is going to start a Mega project of providing clean water for the residents of Gilgit Baltistan and an amount of 24 Crore has been allocated in this regard. He said while talking to APP that our priority is to provide basic facilities to the far flung areas of Gilgit Baltistan and our government is continuousoly working for the welfare of the people of the area. He said that we had also started to construct embankments in different streams and rivers in order to prevent the adjacent areas from floods. These bands will protect the population residing near different rivers and streams.—APP

Gilgit-Baltistan: Seven Day Trip through GB

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Wheezing and gasping, I stopped in my tracks, and sat down, scrambling for my bottle of water. I was attempting to make my way up the first ascent from Tarashing village towards the campsite at Herrligkoffer which would give our group a breathtaking view of the Southern Rupal face of the Nanga Parbat. Honestly, though, at that point, I would’ve been perfectly happy to unroll my sleeping bag right where I sat. Thankfully, our trek leaders had dealt with such pansy-like behaviour before and they got me moving again.

Signing up for a 7-day trip through Gilgit-Baltistan up to Astore and then on to the base of the 8,126 metre Nanga Parbat had been a brilliant idea. Putting zero effort into getting in shape for the trek had been considerably less brilliant.

Our group of 29 adventurous souls had set out from Lahore on the morning of May 20th. We were joined by other buses on different journeys up north. All together, the buses for all the trips made up a convoy eight coasters long. We made our way North on the GT Road, stopping only for food, diesel and bathroom breaks. Come nightfall, we were well into the lesser mountains of the Hindu Kush.

Music in many different languages blared from each bus as we got acquainted with the dramatic change in landscape. Around 4 am, we pulled into the PTDC motel in Besham and the human cargo of eight coasters spilled out and took over the motel. We made ourselves right at home: some of us, including me, lay down in the motel gardens overlooking the Indus River and de-stressed to the endless rushing of the great river, while others slept indoors. We awakened in a few hours by calls to an early breakfast so we could hit the road and make good time on our second day of travelling.

While the second day’s journey had much more exquisite scenery, it also had much poorer roads. We kept going up the KKH and marvelling at the ruggedness of Gilgit’s valleys and mountainsides. We were now truly in a land of giants, where towering peaks were visible to us in every direction, with vast expanses of land stretching out from the edges of the Indus to the mountains’ rocky feet.

We turned off the KKH and onto the Astore Valley Road and by 10 pm we arrived at Astore itself. Here we ate a much welcome dinner and bid farewell to our faithful coaster and its fearless driver as the road ahead to Tarashing was only accessible by jeep.

Two hours later we had arrived at our motel in Tarashing and we were greeted by one of the most beautiful and eerie sights I have ever seen. The massive Nanga Parbat looms over Tarashing and that night the ice on the mountain was reflecting the faint starlight and moonlight so that the whole mountain seemed aglow.

In the morning we were ready to start our first day of trekking towards the Killer Mountain. We loaded up our backpacks and set off out of the village and straight into our first ascent; the one that ground me unceremoniously to a halt. From that point on, we were on the move during most of the daylight hours over the next 3 days. The simple pleasure of walking in the mountains and feeling your muscles working while breathing in the cool, thin and fresh air cannot be overstated. At the end of our first day’s trek, after crossing small villages, harassing goats, being harassed by each other and generally feeling like excitable little kids, we arrived at our first campsite at Herrligkoffer.

The view from Herrligkoffer is of the South or Rupal face of the mountain and it is truly magnificent. We set up camp and I crawled into the tent I would be sharing with 5 other boys to change out of my sweat-infused trekking clothes. While I was struggling with my thermal underwear in the tent I heard a few gasps and exclamations. I was curious but I didn’t think much of it until 30 seconds later when a gigantic gush of freezing air whipped through our camp. There had been an avalanche up on the Killer and we had felt the deceptively gentle result. I believe that was the mountain’s way of saying hello. It was both welcoming and warning us, a warning that we would heed since we had no intention of coming close to climbing that monster.

At night we sat around a blazing campfire eating instant noodles and soup with the cold air nipping at our backs. Some sang while the rest joked and laughed at whoever presented the most favourable target. When it got too cold to sit outside, I found my tent and burrowed into my sleeping bag for the night.

The next morning brilliant golden sunshine was bouncing off the highest parts of Nanga Parbat and illuminating our camp. We washed up in the icy stream flowing by our campsite and set out for the day’s trek. We were excited because that day we were to cross a large glacier in order to get to our second campsite at Shaigiri. The glacier crossing was something special; there were pools of icy water in nooks and the going was quite slippery. The scale of the glacier was quite staggering and it took us well over an hour just to cross it although the locals could do it twice as fast as us.

The terrain after the glacier was varied; initially we were following paths along the green mountainside which brought us down to a meadow peppered with dense grassy mounds. Immediately after the meadow we began walking through a sparse wood. Most jarringly, after crossing the wood we came to a sort of semi-desert wasteland filled with sand, rocks and coarse shrubbery.

Our third day of trekking was the longest as we had to retrace the journey of the past two days; we had to trek from Shaigiri back to Herrligkoffer where we would stop for lunch and then back to Tarashing. We all felt eager and battle-hardened by our two days of trekking and that confidence showed as we walked on with minimal breaks, completing our trek within 10 hours and arriving back at Tarashing well before sundown.

The feeling of elation and the intense sense of accomplishment when I stepped back into the motel at Tarashing made everything seem worthwhile. I could tell from the huge grins on my fellow trekkers faces that they felt exactly the same way.

Courtesy: The Express Tribune

Gilgit-Baltistan: Infrastructure is a pre-requisite for Tourism

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Islamabad—Experts believe tourism in the country despite being marked with enchanting natural attractions would not be able to register growth until a viable infrastructure is put in place to facilitate tourists. They have underlined for good infrastructure for promoting tourism, and argued tourists were more concerned about comfort before kicking off journey to any destination.

Immaculate roads leading to tourists’ locations, which also feature quality hotels and other facilities as allure the travellers as the sites they visit. Good infrastructure could be the reason for any destination to witness high number of visitors, and bad infrastructure could discourage tourists’ flow to an enchanting site. “Infrastructure is a pre-requisite for tourism,” Najib Khan, Vice President of Pakistan Private Tour Operators Association said.

He said much of Pakistan’s highly sought after locations, especially in Gilgit Baltistan were hard to access due to either rugged terrain or dilapidated roads. He cited example of 4,114-metre-high (13,497 ft) Deosai National Park, second highest plateau in the world. The park protects an area of 3,000 square kilometres and is well known for its rich flora and fauna of the Karakoram-West Tibetan Plateau alpine steppe ecoregion.

In the Spring season it is covered by sweeps wildflowers and a wide variety of butterflies. Deosai Lake, or Sheosar Lake from the Shina language meaning “Blind lake” (Sheo – Blind, Sar – lake) is in the park. The lake is at an elevation of 4,142 metres (13,589 ft), is one of the highest lakes in the world. Located near the Chilim Valley on the Deosai Plains, the lake’s length is 2.3 kilometres (7,500 ft), width 1.8 kilometres (5,900 ft) and average depth 40 metres (130 ft). “Tourists from around the world had poured this region if it was easily accessible,” Najib said.—APP

Gilgit-Baltistan: Tourism Evolution-Ecotourism

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Flooded by travel brochures, each flashing pictures of exotic places, the one word which draws your attention today is “ecotourism.” Its definition has evolved over the years and I have travelled around the world to record its transformation.

During the 1980s, when on survival training in the wildernesses of Pakistan, Nepal and Kenya, conducted by the Adventure Foundation of Pakistan, I defined it as: “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing behind but footprints.”

In the mid-nineties, due to an upsurge in the awareness of the negative effects of mass tourism on previously sheltered local communities, I added to the definition: “… and ‘adding’ value to the locals as compensation for breaching their privacy and  stealing a look into their cultures and lifestyle.”

Now it has been redefined as “visiting natural areas with the objectives of learning, studying or participating in activities that do not negatively affect the environment; whilst protecting and empowering the local community socially and economically.”

Holding true to my current definition, I embarked on my recent journey to the east coast of Thailand, a place thriving on ecotourism. My destination was the Faasai Eco Resort — which would be the base of my eco travels in the serene location of Kung Wiman Peninsula.

Welcoming me upon my arrival was the owner of the resort, who volunteered to take me on a tour of the resort. We walked through a veritable jungle, the backyard of the resort; a result of the owner’s careful planning.

The place appealed to me so much that after a quick nap I was back in the forest exploring the abundant variety of fruit trees and its spice garden, and I also managed to stumble upon a mineral water lagoon. Surrounded by the wilderness I could hear the gushing stream which flows with plenty of fish; a fact that also makes it a haven for a large variety of birds. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of peace — I felt at one with Mother Nature, as clichéd as that may sound.

While surveying the area we also visited a neighbouring orchard, where trees were laden with longan (dragon eye fruit), jack fruit, pineapple and durian. Chanthburi is the renowned capital of durian, the king of fruits in South East Asia which is also well known for its foul smell, quite like that of gym socks after you have sweated it out, unfortunately.

The resort was filled with eco-friendly surprises on the inside, too. Instead of taking a dip in a regular chlorinated pool, you shall find yourself wading in a mineral-rich pool of water fed by an underground spring.

The resort also boasts of a leisure forest trail which takes you over a hill to a secluded beach. On the sublime beach with a rocky shoreline, away from the hustle and bustle I had left far behind, I felt truly blessed.

Overcome by a feeling of fulfillment, a thought crossed my mind: “Would this place ever be the same if more and more people started visiting it and interfering with its unspoiled beauty?”

Awakening me the next morning was the sound of nature — the chirping of birds and the pitter-patter of a drizzle. I hit the road once again sustained by a wholesome meal of cereal and coconut juice. We drove a few kilometres from the Resort to Hua Laem Fishing Village, located at the foothills of the Cardamom Mountains, to observe the local fishing community. This was an opportunity to experience a simple lifestyle where people sustain themselves from the natural offerings of the sea.

Confirming my worst fears, I was informed that owing to the increasing number of visitors the fishermen had started supplementing their insufficient income by offering tourists accommodation at their homes. Some of the locals had also attempted to improve their sanitary facilities to cater to the tourists — a deathblow to the rural lifestyle. Disturbed by this trend that altered the natural order of things, I turned and distracted myself with the beautiful view of the nearby White Water Lake.

For my third and final day at the resort, on a quest to extract the ultimate from my eco-travel experience, I travelled deeper into the forest. I start my expedition by driving for an hour and a half to the Khao Chamao National Park. The museum at the entrance has an interesting display of forest ecology and wildlife within the park area — a great way of getting acquainted with the wildlife within the park.

The Park is divided by its two primary features; the main topography which includes the Khao Chamao forests and the Yad Khao Pan Tee, standing at a daunting height of 1024 metres. The fertile, moist, evergreen forest features many natural attractions; a large variety of trees, natives of the area, waterfalls and caves. The area along the Prasae River is a sanctuary for wildlife, home to all sorts of mammals, amphibians and reptiles. If you’re lucky, you can catch glimpses of elephants, crown gibbons, sea cows, barking deer and a wide variety of bird species.

This is the true feel of eco-tourism, the passion for which brought me to this place. It is an opportunity to be in sync with nature; to admire its beauty without tainting it; to appreciate its offerings without spoiling it and to cater to the survival of its inhabitants without contaminating it.

Today, however, this new buzzword has attracted many people; some wanting to contribute to ‘green’ travel and some wanting to make a quick buck off it. To ensure that you are in for a good eco-travel experience always be sure to distinguish ‘green’ tourist traps from the genuinely eco-friendly ones. Thankfully, there are still some people out there who are genuinely concerned for the future of healthy tourism, tourism that depends on sustainability and preservation.

By: Saifuddin Ismailji

Gilgit-Baltistan: Deosai anything but Plain

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The wide expanse of Deosai — only interrupted by occasional flower-beds and lakes — plays tricks on the eye of the traveler. As I approached the second highest plateau on Earth the clouds above appeared to be toucing the highlands and the hills seemed to be caving in on the plateau. Though as I stood in the midst of the Deosai plains, the sky above seemed higher than ever before and the mountain peaks studded the furthest possible  horizon.

The famous occultist and mountaineer Aleister Crowley said, “It (Deosai) has a devilish reputation for inhospitality” and indeed, these high plains remain covered in beds of snow for most of the year save a few months of summer. Though summer nights too see layers of frost every now and then around the lakes. Shunned by civilization, the sole human presence in the plains consists of travelers on foot crossing from Skardu to Astore during the short summer or occasional jeep-driven tourists. As snow begins to melt, few Gujar herders use this path to cross regions with their sheep, goats and cattle. There are hardly any permanent settlements in the area, though the air of desolation that surrounds this immense landscape gives it an aura of mystique if nothing else.

The Deosai Plains can be visited most reliably between early to mid July and late September. It is also noted for sporadic windstorms that are certain to test the sturdiness of your tent. Nowhere lower than 13,000 feet in altitude, the rolling grasslands support no trees or shrubbery and the Deosai’s ruling denizens are scattered colonies of large marmots. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas, these plains give a unique combination of absolutely leveled ground and steepest of hills.  It is not simply a plateau offering a scenic view of the mountains; it is an immense stretch of land that has to be witnessed to be believed.

We started our expedition to the plains from Skardu in our rugged jeep, along the road that lead up to Satpara lake through Satpara nala, Burji lake and the exquisite Seosar lake. This was a five to six days long trek which gave us an excellent panorama of the central Karakoram range (including K2) and let us walk along the Deosai Plains. The route followed a valley just west of Satpara, crossed the 15,700 feet Burji lake, debouched onto the plains and circled back, following the seldom used road connecting Skardu and Astore. You could walk this route instead but be sure to do so only after you have trekked a few kilometers in the region and know how to plant your feet on steep terrains.

The view from here is once that has enthralled visitors for centuries. In 1912 the English physician and hiker Ernest Neve when writing about the Burji Lake said: “The view from here looking northward is one of the most magnificent in the whole of the Himalayas.” The same is true today.

This track eventually joined the rarely travelled road near a rock cairn. We then followed the road across the 14,000 feet Chachor Pass, where a wide lake sparkled just before the high saddle that comprised the pass. Here we bid farewell to the compelling Deosai and entered the Das Khirim Gah – a clear stream that drains into the Astor River. In the distance we could see forests of mixed pine and a valley seeping into the first village, with its small rectangular houses made of stones and logs. Continuing down the valley, we entered a realm of tall, scattered pines and finally had our first view of the majestic Nanga Parbat towering over the ridge to our left. We could not stand here for long though as we were still searching for the ideal spot for viewing the mountains.

We continued down the road to the mouth of Das Khirim Gah, where it joined the main Astor River at the western base of Nanga Parbat. The 26,660 feet mountain was spread out before us just a few miles to the west. At this ridge we could see the infamous Rupal valley at the southern base of the mountain. We scrambled down the hill in search of water and a flat piece of land to pitch our tents. And then came the sight that made our entire trip worthwhile … the spellbinding sunrise on the Nanga Parbat seen from this steep, deserted hill. We sat there for a while, simply staring at this miracle of nature.

We then continued down the small trail on the hill to the famous Rupal Valley which eventually leads to the village of Rampur – the hub of trade and culture during the 20th Century which connected India to Central Asia and Tibet. The Rupal Valley did not disappoint my imagination. Surrounded by some of the world’s highest mountain faces, the valley is nothing short of a traveler’s dream … but that is a story for another day!

By: Karim Shah Nizari