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By Rahat Jabeen (Najam)
Reaching Deosai Plains, one of the highest plateaus in the world, was a great experience. The low temperature was freezing and there were times when maintaining balance on the narrow turns became next to impossible. The team of conservationists from Pakistan and New Zealand had a scientific expedition from 1st to 16th September 1998 at Deosai plains near Skardu. The Adventure foundation with the collaboration of World Wide Fund For Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P) organised this expedition to explore the wetlands of Deosai Plains. The members of Kiwis teams were, Dr. Gerbeaux Phillipe (team leader), Suggate Richard, Alastair Suren, Alex Buchaman, Pip Buchaman, Cathy Jonnes, Joy Comrie, Jo Macpherson, Ayesha Blezard and Sharon Hunt. Three members from WWF-Pakistan, Mr. Ali Hasnain, Ms. Rahat Jabeen (WWF-P, Karachi) and Mr. Rehman Posh (WWF-P, Gilgit), and two members of AFP, Mr. Aftab Rana and Mr. Shahab Kakvi. Also two, ambitious students from Pakistan, Aman and Munaib. The Kiwis arrived in Lahore and were welcomed at WWF-Pakistan Head Office. They were briefed about the climatic conditions of northern areas. The purpose of the expedition was to assess the values of the wetlands and their biodiversity at Deosai. At Islamabad, President of WWF-P, Brig. Mukhtar Ahmed and President of AFP, Brig. Jan Nadir officially welcomed the expedition team. After the ceremony, we left for Abbotabad, and then Gilgit and Astore by road. We had overnight camping at Rama lake (Astore) for climatize. The temperature started to fall. Most of the team members were used to cold, being a Karachite, I had a tough time. Rama is a beautiful lake. Its about 9,000 feet above from the sea level. The next day, we left for Deosai. It was an exciting feeling for everyone. After 8 hours drive, we reached Chillam Chauki and were welcomed by the Pakistani Army. We reached the Deosai National Park in the noon. There were three check posts within the boundary of the National Park. One at Chillum Chauki, Chota Deosai (Murtaza) and
Satpara. There are more than 17 lakes in Deosai in which Sheosur lake is the biggest. When we entered the National Park, the administration authority distributed the site maps in which the base camp sites were indicated and beside these sites camping are not allowed. We camped at Sheosur lake. It was raining. The water is crystal clear and we found Golden brown marmot. I tried to have a picture but it was too sharp and fast for me. As the winter was beginning the birds are starting to come from the colder region to the warmer region. Many of the migratory birds used these lakes as their resting and staging grounds, we saw many Herring gulls, Black winged stilts, and also the ducks. Small birds like wagtail, larks are commonly found in the plateau. The stream team went for surveys, Dr. Phillipe had a complete round around the lake with his GPS (Global Positioning System equipment). Bird Watching team lead by Hasnain sahib and Botanist team had Cathy, Pip and Alex. Jo and Ayesha went to measure the depth of the lake with the rafting boat. We spent the whole day at the Sheosur. We left for Bara Pani that was our main base camp site. We travelled about 2 hrs to reach at Bara pani. It is the project base camp site for the Himalayan Brown Bear Project. At Bara Pani, a local hotel which had tea and all necessary items, especially fresh snow carp fish is run by local people. There are no local villages within the vicinity of the park except those who are settlers and come for their livestock’s fodder and water. It was a great feeling to reached at 14,000 feet above from the sea level. We had 6 days camps at Bara Pani. During our stay we had a good time with the project Manager Mr. Haleem Siddiqui of Himalayan Brown Bear project in Deosai. Mr. Haleem gave us the briefing about his project and facilitated us to watch the brown bears. After 5 hours of trekking in the mountains of Deosai we saw two Brown Bears. It was a great experience to saw the bears, Haleem told us that there are a lot of visitors who specially come for these bears but unfortunately never succeed. So we were few of the lucky ones. The next day, we divided once again in different teams and left early in the morning. The weather slowly changed as winter arrived. The night was actually freezing. The team collected different plants and other samples. During our stay, we met different people, Pakistani as well as foreigners; they were nature lovers and wanted to explore the highest mountain and the tough areas of beautiful Pakistan. After spending six days in the Bara Pani, we left for Satpara and it was four hours drive from Bara Pani. We stayed at Satpara lake. It is one of the most beautiful tourist spots. The team relaxed and enjoyed. The next day, we left for Skardu, and from Skardu we went to Gilgit and from there we travelled by road to Lahore. At Lahore the Kiwis spent day to see the Mughals architecture. The last day WWF- Director General said good-bye and hoped that the scientist would come again in Pakistan. Dr. Phillipe expressed his views and appreciated the efforts of WWF-Pakistan and AFP to organising such expedition. He also thanked on the behalf of the team and most of the Kiwis wanted to come again and join another expedition in future. The expedition ended but the memories are still fresh in my mind, which intensify all the more when I receive a card or an email message from anyone of my companions. We were all from different areas of the world, yet we had one thing in common, we all loved nature.
The writer is the Environment Specialist -Pakistan based in Karachi: you may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.