If Mowgli and Baloo were in Pakistan, they would be having an adventure in Chitral’s Gol National Park. Hidden away in the Hindukush, the national park is home to the Kashmiri markhor, mountain goats, Siberian ibex, bearded vultures and black bears. The park also has occasional visitors such as the king of the mountains – snow leopards.
About 90 minutes away from Chitral Town, the park is surrounded by pine trees and is spread over 78 square kilometers – this means the park area is about 7,750 hectares.
The park was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1979 and was open to public in 1984 to promote tourism and preserve wildlife. This was done through a notification which declared the area of Barmogh Lusht and Chitral Gol as a national park. There is, however, a land dispute over the property said to be handed over by the Mehtar of Chitral. Mehtar is the title given to the rulers and descendents of the ruling family of Chitral, the Katurs. The dispute has been going on between the provincial environment secretary and the Mehtar – to determine who has legal right to the land. The case is still pending in court.
Parks and recreation
After the notification was issued, the provincial government funded the development of the area and started to set up a wildlife office, a 10-kilometre road and track to access the park.
The Global Environment Facility also made an investment in the park through the World Bank and cooperation of the provincial government under a project called Protected Areas Management Project. This helped construct new offices and residential colonies to help improve the area. The establishment of the village committees was also an important step taken towards development. The committees instructed and trained people to conduct study tours around the national park. Endowment funds worth Rs40 million were given to the committees out of which each committee could use 40% of the fund to protect the environment on a union council level and 60% for provision of alternative fuel for the residents so they do not cut trees in the forests and avoid deforestation.
It’s a wild life
In July 2010, the national park established a wildlife division which included a divisional forest officer and two deputy rangers. According to sub-divisional officer, Muhammad Buzg, they had achieved the goals they had set because the committees had taken interest in development of the park. The committees have also hired more than 20 watchmen to keep an eye on the markhors and ensure that they were not being hunted since there is a ban on hunting. A survey taken in June showed that the number of markhors in the park was 1,528, while last year, it was just 1,047. Buzg said that surveys are conducted twice a year – once during the mating season and then again after the markhor give birth. This is called the lambing survey.
The far pavilions
The national park is not only home to the ibex and fox, but also of great historical importance and an irresistible tourist attraction. The Barmogh Lusht part of the park is where the Mehtar’s summer palace is located. The Mehtar and his family use to move here in the summer and hold court. The palace was constructed in such a way that they could overlook the entire city. It is said that if the area was under attack, the summer palace was the safest place to be. There are also a few trenches surrounding the palace.
The fort becomes important for tourists as the park management often has to face water shortages and get water from the palace – which is one and a half kilometre away.
Animals living in Chitral Gol National Park
1. Snow Leopard
2. Kashmiri Markhor
3. Siberian Ibex
4. Ladakh Urial
5. Black Bear
6. Tibetan Wolf
7. Red Fox
8. Yellow throated Marten
9. Himalayan Otter
10. Lammergeier Vulture
11. Himalayan Griffon Vulture
12. Golden Eagle
13. Demoisille Crane (Passage migrant)
14. Peregrine Falcon
15. Himalayan Snowcock
16. Himalayan Monal
17. Snow Partridge
18. Rock Partridge
Published in The Express Tribune, December 24th, 2013.