Published in The News, Sunday , April 27, 2014

The screening of ‘Deosai – the Last Sanctuary,’ a documentary film on the Himalayan Brown Bear and to cover the launching ceremony of ‘The Give Back Project,’ jointly organised by the US Embassy in Islamabad and Walkabout Films was held at National Art Gallery on Friday.

US Ambassador Richard Olson inaugurated the ceremony along with Pakistani natural history filmmaker Nisar Malik. In celebration of Earth Day 2014, Walkabout Films’ documentary, ‘Deosai – The Last Sanctuary’ about endangered Himalayan brown bears living on the Deosai plateau.

The US Embassy’s Ambassador’s Fund provided support for this project. The ‘Give Back Project’ works to improve the impact of nature and wildlife conservation initiatives by engaging with and educating local communities, as well as the wider public, through films focused on these issues. The audience included many high dignitaries from USAID, other international development partners, donors, tourism industry stakeholders and school children.

The screening of ‘Deosai – the Last Sanctuary’ was followed by a panel discussion with Pakistani wildlife experts discussing wildlife conservation as well as human-animal conflict and its solutions. As the title of the 40 minutes suggests, the brown bear is one of the endangered species living in Deosai National Park and their numbers have been decreasing every year. Currently there are about 42-45 only. This is happening because of the increasing tourists, livestock shepherds and lack of funds.

uring the panel discussion, it was mentioned that the Tourists numbers have increased in last few years due to increased accessibility of Deosai. The tourists leave back trash, which is harmful for the environment. It was suggested that tourists should be asked to avoid leaving waste in the beautiful valleys. It was also observed that livestock shepherds commonly known as ‘Gujjars’ come to these valleys along-with their herds and families. They burn the bushes, which are highly rare and a food source for endangered brown bears. The sheep/goats also graze the plants, which are again the main food. Due to lack of funds, the local communities have limited manpower to monitor unlawful activities. This should also improve and donors should come up and contribute with some funds.

The documentary not only shows the untouched beauty of the area, but also highlights various problems faced by the local community, wildlife, flora and fauna along with raising awareness regarding the importance of preserving the ecology of the area. The film also captures some rare and outstanding images of the land and people.

The Deosai Plateau, known as the highest plateau in the world is located at the boundary of the Karakoram and the western Himalayas. Deosai Plains are a backwoods country at about 30 kilometres from Skardu. It is a beautiful summer pasture with greenery and countless species of Fiona flora.

The view of the Karakorum Range from the top of the 4785 meter pass is legendary. Apart from fairies, this plateau is the habitat of the greatly threatened Himalayan Brown Bear and many other wild animals. Although few people will see a bear, quite a few are said to make their homes in the heart of the plateau. At an average elevation of 3500 metre, Deosai officially is a National Park and protected area for wildlife. The undulating meadows here have no trees or shrubs and the area is snow covered for most parts of the year. Spring comes to Deosai late when millions of wild flowers begin to bloom all over the lush green grassland.

This is a time when Deosai looks like a fairies land with a landscape full of wild flowers on green rolling hills and crystal clear water streams with snow covered peaks in the background. That is the seasons when most travellers go to the area. The Deosai Plains is interlaced with streams, a large brown bear population, and multitude of golden marmots. Its remarkable biodiversity has recently earned it recognition as a national wilderness park. Its brief summer brings out intense July August mosquito swarms, which are relieved by strong daytime winds.

Early September, frosts restore peace to the plateau making trekking pleasurable. The most enchanting feature of the Deosai Plateau is its huge field of alpine flowers, the scale of which is largest in the Karakoram and the Western Himalayas. You can look out on an endless scene of alpine flowers as far as the eye can see – the gently rolling hills are carpeted in large part by the purple flowers of ‘adenocaryum anchusoides’, or the reddish-purple flowers of the long tube louse-word (pedicularis siphonantha). The mauve flowers of Aster carpet a wide area, and two kinds of primroses with pink and red blooms can be found growing in large clumps. Flannel mulmein (verbascum thapsus) and pedicularis bicornuta, both yellow in colour, stand tall on the plateau.

The intoxicating aroma is an unforgettable experience to be in this colour bonanza in the full bloom. The peaceful atmosphere of the night, completely devoid of synthetic noise, being broken only by the sounds of rolling stones and falling ice. The colourful plateau is changed to a burning yellow carpet in autumn under a clear sky. There are many places suitable for summer camping: on the bed of edelweiss or at the riverside or lakeside. Chakor Pass (4,266 meters), located at the south end of the plateau, is the most impressive part of the Deosai trip.

The deep blue Shaucer Lake, nestled in the pass, offers picture- book scenery. The view looking northward is of the endless series of peaks of the Karakorum Range. For adventure-loving tourists, there are few paradises in the world that can compare to northern Pakistan for unspoiled natural beauty: a combination of soaring mountains, shimmering glaciers, crystal clear water streams and flower bedecked alpine pastures. In addition, the gentle, warm and hospitable character of the villagers makes trip to this part of the world a fantastic and unforgettable memory of a lifetime.