One of the biggest provinces of the country in terms of area which also remains one of the least populated, Baluchistan has long been known to be the home of rare and precious minerals.
Few among us, however, would know that the region which is now predominantly comprises of barren and rugged territory was once a lush green rainforest much on the likes of The Amazon of Brazil.
And not just the amazing tropical heaven was a thick rain forest, it was also the home of one of the largest land mammals, The Baluchitherium or the “Beast of Baluchistan”.
Baluchitherium was first discovered by world- renowned English paleontologist Sir Clive Forster Cooper in 1910 and was the ever first discovery of such a big mammal after the extinction of Dinosaurs. Treading along the coastal paths of the Baluchistan, Cooper ventured deeper into the territory, and stumbled on the massive fossils of what appeared to him as a giant dinosaur. He named the fossil as Baluchitherium or the “Beast of Baluchistan”.
With the collapse of the British Empire in the subcontinent, Cooper was not able to continue his search for further remnants and the Baluchitherium went into oblivion for almost a century until the excavation was started afresh by French Paleontologist Jean-Loup Welcomme.
The massive creature stood at a height of 5 meters and weighed around 20 to 30 tons, easily the size of three big elephants. The Baluchitherium existed and roamed the Baluchistan region some 30 million years ago and it disappeared after 14.7 million years of existence. Its disappearance-like all heavy creatures of the past, is still a mystery.
The Geological change which occurred some 55 million years ago, when the free-floating Indian continent collided with the Asian continent, gave rise to the Great Himalayan range. This geological change created massive shift in the seasonal variations, turning Baluchistan and adjoining region into rainforests receiving heavy sub-tropical rains.
Welcomme, who decided to follow the footsteps of Cooper, quickly realized that the area in consideration is none other than Dera Bugti in Baluchistan and went over to ask permission from Nawab Akbar Bugti to search for the giant pachyderm. Bugti extended approval after some deliberation and conditions.
Welcomme soon stumbled over clues and the early excavation led to one of the richest Paleontological findings in the history.
The team discovered uncountable fossils in a mere 200 square meter area, which could be considered the best exposed bone-beds on Earth. They found many remains of male and female Baluchitherium simply lying on the ground, which was a quite rare event in paleontological findings. Perhaps the massive creatures were swept away by a river and had accumulated on the banks.
Scientists also found traces of crocodile’s teeth on bones which suggested that the Baluchitherium was also a common prey of crocodiles.
By the year 2003, the French team has gathered some of the rare findings of Baluchitherium and stored them in safe place in Nawab Bugti’s compound. This compound was raided and heavily bombed during Pakistan Military’s search operation for Bugti, the then absconder, withering the last traces of Baluchitherium that ever existed.
Islamabad since its inception in the early 60’s has long been known as the favourite hunting ground of the land mafia in the country. Some of the elite sectors of the capital city are comfortably some of the most expensive pieces if land in the country.
Given its proximity to the power echelons in the Secretariat and President House, Islamabad is also one of the most disciplined and organised city not only in the country but also in South Asia.
The rising population and the ever-increasing urbanization in the country has forced the Capital Development Authority to come up with new residential projects every once in a while, often causing the indigenous population of the area to forcibly relocate and abandon their century old abodes.
“Sadhu ka Bagh” an ancient Buddhist site located at the outskirts of the city, adjacent to the newly promulgated housing sector D-12, is now under increasing threat from land mafia and real estate encroachers.
The site is located in a 700 year old village Shah Allah Dita named after a Sufi saint from the times of Mughal Empire in subcontinent. The caves, encompassed by hundred-year-old Banyan trees and ancient wall murals in the caves depict them to be at least 2400 years old.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the caves and the platform-like formations surrounding the area were first used for meditation by Buddhist monks and later by Hindu sadhus before Muslim ascetics took over during the Mughal period.
Marked on the ground close to the caves the location where Alexander arrived and was received by Raja Ambi, King of Taxila. The road next to the caves that leads to the top of the mountain, Shah Allah Ditta road, is said to be built on the exact path followed by Mughal Emperor Sher Shah Suri during his visit.
For its close proximity to the newly developed and one of the mot expensive housing sectors D-12, Shah Allah Dita is now the hot cake of the Land mafia and the land which falls both in the jurisdiction of Margalla National Park and the Rural Islamabad is currently being sold in bulk.
A reasonably well poised piece of land in the area is worth 2.2 million a kanal at the moment, although the land some 10 years back was worth pennies.
Capital Development Authority announced in October 2010 that Sadhu ka Bagh will be preserved and restored as an ancient historic site and the project is reportedly funded by the Japanese Government. The project is still to see the light of the day after two years of the announcement.
Karakorums this year have turned out a little harsh on the climbers from all over the world and the heavy snowfall in the winters have denied success to several expeditions trying to summit the five 8000ers.
For the moment Nanga Parbat, on the southern side of the River Indus has been scaled successfully by English Rick and Sandy Allen. Cathy O’ Dowd, the first women to summit the Everest from both North and South, however failed to summit 8,125m Nanga Parbat, crossing over the Mazeno Ridge.
Meanwhile, Romanian stealth climber Zsolt Torok, who was hoping to bag the peak in a solo attempt from the Diamir Face, finally gave up following consecutive failed attempts and a bleak weather report ahead.
Canadian Loius Rosseau and his team of five sturdy climbers, all hoping to retrace the route followed by their long time compatriot and friend Gerfried Goschl and two other climbers who lost their lives in the winters expedition on Gasherbrum-1, have also abandoned the expedition citing heavy snowfall in winters.
They were swept away some 500m downstream by a sudden avalanche, fortunately however, no casualties were sustained.
Rosseau later said, “Too dangerous, too much snow this year. Never
seen so much snow! Too many hidden crevasses. We crossed many avalanche fields when going to camp 1. Last summer we could walk to camp 1 in less than 4 hours on an almost dry glacier. Now we have to wake up at 24h00 to start at 1h00 am only to get to camp 1”.
Rosseau was reportedly part of the winter expedition on G-1 alongside his friend Gerfried Goschl but had to skip the trip for some family problems.
He was also part of the successful G-2 Expedition last summer, again along with Goshcl and both have been planning a new route on G-1 for the first winter ascent.
Rosseau further added, “With the information I have until now here in BC, no team has managed to climb above camp 3 on Broad Peak, K2, G2 and G1. (Maybe one Sherpa on G2 from the Korean team, but I saw him with mask and O2 bottle in camp 1, poor guy, I think he had lungs problems after this push, I have no more details)”.
Lake Saif-ul-Malook, remains one of the widely visited tourist destinations in the country. Each year, thousands of tourists from across the breadth of the country climb up their way to witness this magical glacial lake in the Kaghan Valley.
Sitting at a height of approximately 10,580 Feet above sea level, Saif-ul-Malook is a close to the tourist resort of Naran in the Kaghan Valley and is located some eight kilometers from the hill station and can only be reached through a sturdy four-wheel-driven jeep or on foot.
The breathtaking view of the emerald green lake with snow clad peaks in the foreground, gives it the unique mystical appearance which has continued to mesmerize tens of thousands of people in the course of its existence.
Lake Saif-ul-Malook is a glacial lake formed by the movement of mammoth glaciers over the period of thousands of centuries. Kaghan Valley is known to have been a part of the greater Pleistocene Period better known as the Ice Age and dates back almost 300,000 years when much of the strata were covered with heavy sheets of ice.
Later, with the rising temperatures and receding glaciers, the large depression under the colossal weight of the glaciers, turned into a lake with substantial amount of fresh water from the melting glaciers. The lake boosts of rich eco diversity and holds large species of blue-green algae and is home of the famous Trout fish.
The Guardian rated Saif-ul-Malook as the top five Tourist destination in Pakistan. Valley’s highest peak, The Malika Parbat is located in the back drop of the lake-a mere few hundred yards and has a height of more than 17,000 feet approx. The Kaghan Valley is part of the western-most off-shoot of Himalayas which is the highest mountain range in the world.
Saif-ul-Malook, due to its breathtaking and mystical appearance, has been a source of numerous fairy tales in the course of time. The lake is known to have been first discovered by a Persian prince Saif-ul-Malook who stumbled on the eye-popping beauty while on his way to adjacent Kashmir.
He immediately fell in love with the place and the lake also derived its name after the prince. Punjab’s famous Sufi Poet and writer, Sufi Muhammad Bakhsh also wrote an account of Prince’s travel to the region and a mythical story of fairies that come down at the lake during full moon.
He also wrote about an incident where the prince actually fell in love with one of the fairies. Sufi’s narration has added the indispensable and unique fantastical atmosphere to the lake thus making it one of the most frequently visited tourist resorts in the country.
The lake can be visited from start of June all through the mid-way September. It takes eight hours to reach Naran from Islamabad on the Mansehra-Balakot and Kaghan road and a further 45 minutes to the reach the lake via four-wheel driven jeeps. For those who would be willing to accept the challenge of trekking all the way to the lake will have to be prepared for a steep hike of at least four hours and can be approached through several shortcuts visible alongside the road.
The lake freezes in winters and gradually starts melting on the onset of spring not later than the start of May. There are several treks beyond the lake which takes one to several other scenic destinations of the valley including Ansoo Lake and Lalazar.
The 3rd century artifacts rescued by the Karachi police a fortnight ago, have now been reported to be broken and shredded from edges after the merciless manhandling of the ignorant police force.
The raid which was conducted on Thursday night and early Friday morning in the Korangi Industrial Area, yielded 10 idols, a number small statues and various utensils, hidden underneath cleaning items, bales of straw and other miscellaneous items such as furniture, slippers and water coolers.
According to the agencies, the shipment was under their surveillance radar for some 20 days and they reportedly have lost track of the container. The flatbed truck was bound to Sialkot from where the artifacts were destined to be transported to wealthy clients of Europe and America.
“We got a tipoff from the intelligence agencies and seized the truck,” beamed SHO Javed Brohi. The artifacts, sculptures, tablets, and figures were destined for Sialkot. The driver, Zafar Ali, was arrested but all he could tell the police was that the vehicle was loaded from his employer Asif Butt’s warehouse in Ibrahim Haidery.
The next day, the police force decided to make an indentation of the seized items and the Awami Colony police station turned into a warehouse of 3rd century Buddhist relics. But soon it was evident that the boxes were not handled with care and the pieces came out severely damaged.
"We’ll open a museum right here,” joked one of the police officers. “Here, you want to take one home?” Their value in Japan, according to one estimate, could be more than $10 million.
The figures were wrapped in colorful foam and placed in wooden boxes. But as the police and laborers had no idea of the value of the artifacts they were dumped in the courtyard of the police station. Many were simply smashed, some ended up headless and others lost their hands and feet.
According to Qasim Ali Qasim, the director of the Archaeology and Museums Department, the Buddhist sculptures were known as Gandhara art and were found in Taxila, Peshawar and Swat in Pakistan and even parts of Afghanistan.
He estimated that they date to the third century and are mostly of mediating goddesses and gods. One of the heaviest ones was a 1,000 kg Bodhisattva, a mustached sculpture, adorned with a crown and ornaments. In Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is an enlightened and wise being who invites others towards Buddhism.
Pointing to a tablet with dancing goddesses engraved on it, Qasim explained that it was an important artifact known as Jataka. “This piece tells the story of Gautama Buddha’s birth,” he said. “Though images, it shows how Queen Maya gave birth to him and shows others dancing and pouring water in joy.”
Another prominent sculpture was Hariti, a mother goddess with one child in her arms and the other standing next to her. “This goddess was a demon and used to eat children, but after meeting Buddha, she became a mother goddess.”
Qasim doubted that the artifacts were stolen from a museum or their reserves, and said they were most likely illegally dug up from Swat during the presence of the Taliban in the valley. This would have been a violation of the Antiquities Act of 1975, he added, saying that you needed a license to be in possession of such items.