Saturday, March 31, 2012

My memories of Sakesar and dinner of a Siberian Duck at Uchali Lake

When talking of Ramsar sites in Pakistan, beside many wetlands, the name of Uchali Lake prominently figures out. Each year a large number of migratory birds fly over a long and arduous journey of some 3500 kilometres from Siberia and other Central Asian republics (CARs) fly over th Pakistan and nestle and hatch their young ones in many wetlands that are stretched across the country for the duration of the winter season, when in their natural habitat back home it is all snow and cold winds. The migratory birds stay here till march, when their young ones are able to fly with their parent back home.
Satellite view of Uchali Lake (extreme right) and Sakesar on the left [Map: Google Earth]
Awhile ago I got a chance to visit Uchali Lake on my way to Sakesar, a mountain top located at an altitude of 1,520 metres (4,990 ft), over looking Uchali Lake. I boarded a bus from Sargodha where I was posted for Sakesar one fine day. However by the time I reached the foothills of Sakesar, it was almost evening and to my horror, the bus driver announced that this was the last stop and I was on my own from here onward. This was rather irritating as I was new in the area and soon I was standing on the roadside, besides a large tract of water which I later came to know was the Uchali Lake, all by myself. I could watch countless number of birds, mostly ducks calmly nested on the blue waters of the lake. In the setting sunlight, the whole scene looked dramatic and romantic. 

The winding road from Uchali Lake going up to the Sakesar Mountain Top
To my good luck there was a check post on the road that goes up to the Pakistan air Force Base located atop the Sakesar mountain top. I walked up to the check post and introduced myself to the watchman, who was surprised to find a visitor at this time of the hour as I was later to know that all transport going up or down cease by late afternoon and it would be my good luck to find some vehicle going up and get a lift. However, pending which he reassured me of his hospitality till next morning. Since it was winters, I had no choice but to accept the invitation, lest I was frozen in the cold outside, specially in the presence of Uchali Lake, that made it more colder.
Uchali Lake
I had taken my lunch quite early in the noon and was famished by now. Realizing my state and being the dinner time, and it being the dinner time, the guard took his 12-bore shot gun and went out. After sometime, I heard and a thud and then my cowboy host came back with a duck in his hand - the one unlucky duck from those thousands and thousands ducks which were resting on the rather warm water of Uchali Lake. He hurriedly undressed the duck and put some oil, onions, tomatoes, chilies and salt along with the duck, added some water and put the utensil on the stove. While I had my hands warmed up up from the fire of the stove, the duck curry got ready. In the meantime, the guard and gone out once again to a nearby 'tandoor' to collect hot bread/roti. When he came back, he put the entire duck curry in a bowl and we both devoured it to the last drop. Believe me I have never eaten something so delicious in my life.

A view of Uchali Lake during the bird season - a lor of Flamingos can be seen in the lake
Uchali Lake is part of the conserved wet lands under the Ramser Convention. The lake is home to a number of migratory birds like Marbled Teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris), White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala), Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus), Pallas's Fish-eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus), White-rumped Vulture (Gyps bengalensis), Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) and Common Coot (Fulica atra).The Pakistan Wildlife Department has established its office on the lake and for the bird watching lovers, has erected concealed bird watching hives during the nesting in Pakistan, as can be seen in photos given below:

And after the duck-dinner, the guard made tea for me and we both sipped and talked about many things, till we heard a car horn. The guard went out and came back smiling to give me the good news as one air force truck was going up with supplies and there was room for me too. So joyfully I thanked the guard for his hospitality and mounted the truck that after going through the winding road with rather steep gradient finally reached the top and offloaded me at the air force officers' mess.
The faintly visible winding road from the Uchali Lake to Sakesar
For next three months, I was the guest of the Pakistan Air Force and I really enjoyed their hospitality. Besides my official commitments, I read almost all book so the small library of the base. But one experience that I want to share would be something new for many of my readers, specially those who are familiar with the surroundings of the area.

The Soon Valley, on which I would soon write a separate post, is located in the heart of the Punjab province, which is utterly hot during summers. Therefore, one cannot imagine how sweet the winters could be in these otherwise rocky mountains with least vegetation. As I mentioned earlier that Sakesar is located at an altitude of 4990 feet - almost similar to the height of Murree, where people each year go in winters to enjoy he snow fall. And on day, when it was quite sunny, but extremely cold, suddenly clouds started gathering and then to my surprise, it started to SNOW - yeas, it really did snow for hours together and soon the entire mountain top was painted in white. I had never imagined that in the barren and rugged mountain of Punjab, I would get to see the snow fall. In those cellular telephone cameras had not come our part of the world, depriving me of taking any snaps of the snow fall or my visit to the area.

A beautiful video of Uchali Lake [Video courtesy: YouTube / Majicboy1 ]

I do not know if I would ever go to Uchali Lake and Sakesar again, but my memories of the area would always remind me of those three wonderful months of my life that I spent on Sakesar and ate that freshly cooked Siberian duck.

Photos of Bird Watching Havens Courtesy: Asif Saeed [Flickr]
Related: Bird Watching in Pakistan [Pakistanpaedia]
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