‘It’s magnificent, it’s beautiful’: Visitors flock to northern Pakistan for ‘Blossom Festival’

A Polo player rides his horse during Blossom Festival in Khaplu Valley in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region on April 14, 2024. (AN photo)
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Updated 16 April 2024
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‘It’s magnificent, it’s beautiful’: Visitors flock to northern Pakistan for ‘Blossom Festival’

  • Festival organized for the first time to promote local and international tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan region
  • Area is home to thousands of apricot, cherry, apple and peach trees providing perfect backdrop to spring 

KHAPLU: Hundreds of people have gathered in Khaplu valley in Pakistan’s picturesque Gilgit-Baltistan region in the last few days for a ‘Blossom Festival’ organized for the first time to promote local and international tourism.

Home to five of the world’s 14 mountain summits of at least 5,000 metres, the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region is Pakistan’s only land link to China and at the heart of the $65 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure development program. Due to its geographic location and climate patterns, thousands of apricot, cherry, apple and peach trees are found in GB, with their beautiful colors offering the perfect backdrop to spring.

“We are holding this [Blossom] festival to celebrate the upcoming spring,” Rizwan Hussain, an assistant executive engineer at the GB Communication and Works department and a member of the event's organizing committee, told Arab News.

“The blossom festival is mainly in the Baltistan region and starts with cherry blossom as well as apricot blossom ... it’s mainly about celebrating the flowering of apricot and [other trees],” he added. “Mainly in Ghanche [district in GB], we are now celebrating apricot blossoms because cherry blossoms are very rare here."




Locals attend Blossom Festival in Khaplu Valley in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region on April 14, 2024. (AN photo)

The festival also featured sword dances and other cultural and musical performances, stalls of handicrafts and polo matches.

“Different festivals, different cultural shows have been organized as part of the celebration and they have their own significance,” Hussain added.




Musicians bang drums during Blossom Festival in Khaplu Valley in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region on April 14, 2024. (AN photo)

Iftikhar Ali, an assistant commissioner in Ghanche, told Arab News the festival “signified the arrival of spring.”

“This event is celebrated annually on a local scale. But this year the district administration with the support of associated departments has decided to organize the festival at a mega-level,” he added.

Visitors, both local and foreign, marveled at the beautiful colors and cultural shows organized as part of the festival. 

“April is the best time to be here,” said Tshering Digi, a Taiwanese tour guide who was visiting GB for the first time.

“We can see all the different fruits like apricots, the cherry blossom season. That’s why we are here … We see so many flowers blossoming and it’s really beautiful,” she told Arab News as she stood by an apricot tree planted in the garden of Khaplu Palace, an old fort and palace located in Khaplu, a city in Gilgit-Baltistan.

“We can see [blossoms] in our country also, but we found here that everywhere you go, every valley, riverside or village, all are blossoming with flowers, it’s magnificent, it’s beautiful.

“And the view is fantastic, you can see the magnificent Karakorum Mountain Range … you can see different flowers and colours that make everybody very happy. So I would recommend my Taiwanese people to visit here [Pakistan], especially to the northern part, to the Gilgit-Baltistan area.”




Foreign tourists attend Blossom Festival in Khaplu Valley in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region on April 14, 2024. (AN photo)

A local tourist who identified himself only by his first name Faizan said he was visiting with his parents, wife and children.

“We have come for the first time to the Skardu and Khaplu area,” Faizan told Arab News. “We are especially here to see spring blossoms ... we have seen cherry and apricot blossoms and seen really great colors in this area.”

Visitor Sidra was also in GB for the first time:

“Our experience was very good. We saw cherry blossoms … And definitely, we will recommend our friends and relatives to visit this region and observe its culture, enjoy its weather, especially in this season, and enjoy these spring blossoms.”


Amid heat wave spell, authorities say mercury to rise further in southern Punjab from today 

Updated 5 sec ago
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Amid heat wave spell, authorities say mercury to rise further in southern Punjab from today 

  • Temperatures to rise in Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalnagar, Dera Ghazi Khan, Multan districts from Monday
  • Heat wave first spell to last till May 30, second to begin from June 7-8 followed by third one in last week of June 

ISLAMABAD: A spokesman for the Punjab Disaster Management Authority has said temperatures will continue to rise in southern parts of the Punjab province from today, Monday, amid an ongoing heat wave that is expected to carry on until next month.

Pakistan’s disaster management authority warned earlier this month temperatures in certain areas of Pakistan’s southern Sindh and eastern Punjab provinces could surge to 40 degrees Celsius between May 15-30. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) warned of an “intense” heat wave in the southern districts of Punjab, with severe risk identified in Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan districts from May 21 to May 27.

An estimated 18 million students are also unable to attend classes because Punjab, Pakistan’s populous province Punjab, has ordered shutting down schools this month due to rising temperatures. 

“Mercury will rise further in Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalnagar, Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan districts from today, Monday,” a Punjab official was quoted as saying by state broadcaster Radio Pakistan on Monday. 

“The National Institute of Health has advised people to avoid unnecessary outings and drink more water to prevent themselves from the effects of heatwave.”

Addressing a press conference last week, the Prime Minister’s Coordinator on Climate Change Romina Khurshid Alam said 26 districts of the country were in the grips of a heat wave since May 21. 

Alam said the first wave would last till May 30, the second would begin from June 7-8 and the third one in the last week of June. May and June were recorded as the “hottest and driest” with higher monthly average temperatures, she added, appealing to the masses, especially children and elderly, to adopt preventive measures.

She noted that the severity of heat waves had increased rapidly during the past few months with 13 districts of Sindh, nine of Punjab and four districts of Balochistan experiencing “severe heat.”

“Harsh weather is likely to persist at least till June 3. There is no possibility for respite, at least for Sindh. The heat spell may break in parts of Punjab but that, too, after June 4,” the chief meteorologist said last week.

Increased exposure to heat, and more heat waves, have been identified as one of the key impacts of climate change in Pakistan, with people experiencing extreme heat and seeing some of the highest temperatures in the world in recent years. The South Asian country of more than 241 million, one of the ten most vulnerable nations to climate change impacts, has also recently witnessed untimely downpours, flash floods and droughts.

Climate change-induced extreme heat can cause illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyperthermia. It can make certain chronic conditions worse, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and cerebrovascular disease and diabetes-related conditions, and can also result in acute incidents, such as hospitalizations due to strokes or renal disease.

According to the Global Climate Risk Index, nearly 10,000 Pakistanis have died while the country has suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion due to climate change impacts between 1999 and 2018. A deadly heat wave that hit Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, claimed 120 lives in 2015.

In 2022, torrential monsoon rains triggered the most devastating floods in Pakistan’s history, killing around 1,700 people and affecting over 33 million, a staggering number close to the population of Canada. Millions of homes, tens of thousands of schools and thousands of kilometers of roads and railways are yet to be rebuilt.


Pakistan PM praises European countries for recognizing Palestinian state, hopes for same attention for Kashmir

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Pakistan PM praises European countries for recognizing Palestinian state, hopes for same attention for Kashmir

  • Prime ministers of Ireland, Spain and Norway have said they will formally recognize Palestine as a state on May 28
  • Himalayan region of Kashmir, administered in parts by India and Pakistan, has been a flashpoint between them since 1947

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday praised Spain, Norway and Ireland for their decision to recognize the state of Palestine, hoping that the international community will “pay the same amount of attention” to the plight of the people of Kashmir. 

The prime ministers of Ireland, Spain and Norway announced on Wednesday they would formally recognize Palestine as a state on May 28, following recent recognitions by Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas. The additions have brought the total number of countries recognizing the Palestinian state to nearly 150.

In a telephonic conversation with Norwegian PM Jonas Gahr Store on Sunday night, PM Sharif appreciated Norway’s “principled stance,” adding that it would send a message of hope and solidarity to the people of Kashmir suffering continuous bombardment at Israel’s hands. 

“I expressed my hope that this bold, principled decision by Norway, Spain, and Ireland will encourage other countries to recognize the State of Palestine,” Sharif wrote on social media platform X from his official account that shares updates in Arabic. 

“We hope the international community will pay the same amount of attention to the suffering and tragedy of Kashmiris who have been suffering from oppression and brutal occupation for 76 years.”

The Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan since 1947 when the two countries gained independence from British colonial India. The nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors have fought two out of three wars over Kashmir. 
Both countries claim the territory in full but administer parts of it. The western portion of the larger Kashmir region is administered by Pakistan as a nominally self-governing entity.
On Aug. 5 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi withdrew Indian-administered Kashmir’s autonomy in a move that was seen by analysts as a strategy to tighten his grip over the territory. The decision provoked outrage in Pakistan and triggered the downgrading of diplomatic ties and suspension of bilateral trade between the two countries. 
Israel’s war on Gaza has sparked international condemnation from rights activists and organizations and countries around the world. Israel’s constant bombardment has killed nearly 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and fighters in its count. 
Around 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes while severe hunger is widespread and UN officials say parts of the territory are experiencing famine.

Israel says Hamas triggered the war with its Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, in which Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people and seized some 250 hostages. Hamas still holds some 100 hostages after many were released during a ceasefire last year.


ICC includes Pakistani legends Wasim, Waqar and Ramiz in World Cup commentary panel

Updated 18 min 25 sec ago
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ICC includes Pakistani legends Wasim, Waqar and Ramiz in World Cup commentary panel

  • Wasim Akram and Ramiz Raja are former World Cup winners who will share expert analysis during T20 World Cup 2024
  • Veterans Ravi Shastri, Nasser Hussain, Ian Smith, Mel Jones, Harsha Bhogle and Ian Bishop to lead commentary team

ISLAMABAD: The International Cricket Council (ICC) recently announced it has roped in Pakistani cricket legends Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Ramiz Raja as members of a star-studded commentary panel for next month’s T20 World Cup to share their insights and expert analysis during matches. 

The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024, scheduled to kick off from June 1-29, will feature 20 teams across the world compete for the trophy. The tournament will be hosted for the first time partly in the United States while the West Indies will also host some matches of the tournament.

In a post on Sunday, the ICC said the commentary panel would be led by veterans such as Ravi Shastri, Nasser Hussain, Ian Smith, Mel Jones, Harsha Bhogle and Ian Bishop. Former men’s and women’s T20 World Cup champions Dinesh Karthik, Ebony Rainford-Brent, Samuel Badree, Carlos Brathwaite, Steve Smith, Aaron Finch and Lisa Sthalekar will also add insights to the game during the matches. 

“Former 50-over World Cup winners Ricky Ponting, Sunil Gavaskar, Matthew Hayden, Ramiz Raja, Eoin Morgan, Tom Moody and Wasim Akram will also be lending their expert analysis to the upcoming tournament,” the ICC said. 

The global cricket body said other big names part of the commentary team are Pakistan’s Younis, Dale Steyn, Graeme Smith, Michael Atherton, Simon Doull, Shaun Pollock and Katey Martin. Renowned names in broadcasting such as Mpumelelo Mbangwa, Natalie Germanos, Danny Morrison, Alison Mitchell, Alan Wilkins, Brian Murgatroyd, Mike Haysman, Ian Ward, Athar Ali Khan, Russel Arnold, Niall O’Brien, Kass Naidoo and former West Indies skipper Daren Ganga will also be part of the commentary team.

ICC will provide extensive coverage of the tournament across the 28 days of action with a pre-match show, an innings interval program and a post-match wrap-up.

The T20 World Cup is being seen by the ICC as a launch pad toward the sport’s return to the Olympics for Los Angeles 2028. The ninth edition of the tournament, in the fastest and most explosive form of the game, will be the biggest ever after the decision of the International Cricket Council (ICC) to expand the field from 16 nations to 20.

Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Oman are among nations relatively new to the big stage who will be looking to make their mark and grab attention with an upset win or two during the tournament.

Groups for T20 World Cup 2024

Group A: India, Pakistan, Ireland, Canada, United States

Group B: England, Australia, Namibia, Scotland, Oman

Group C: New Zealand, West Indies, Afghanistan, Uganda, Papua New Guinea

Group D: South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Netherlands, Nepal


Police in Pakistan’s Sargodha finalize ‘hyper security’ arrangements for churches following mob attack 

Updated 55 min 40 sec ago
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Police in Pakistan’s Sargodha finalize ‘hyper security’ arrangements for churches following mob attack 

  • Angry mob attacked Christians in Pakistan’s eastern Sargodha district over blasphemy allegations 
  • Over 1,000 police officers and youths performing duties at key churches in Sargodha district, say police

ISLAMABAD: Police in Pakistan’s eastern Sargodha district said recently it has finalized “hyper security” arrangements at churches following last week’s mob attack against the Christian community that left one person critically injured. 

Violence erupted in Sargodha city on Saturday when a furious mob targeted members of the Christian community after some people accused their Christian neighbor of desecrating the Holy Qur’an. The house and a small shoemaking factory owned and operated by the man were burned down in the ensuing rampage, which was followed by police action that led to clashes with angry protesters.

The incident came within a year after another attack on the Christian community in August 2023, when a mob in Jaranwala city burned churches and targeted several houses in a similar incident involving blasphemy allegations.

“Sargodha police have completed arrangements for the hyper security of churches across the district,” Sargodha Police wrote on social media platform X. It added that over 1,000 police officers and youths were performing duties at important churches in the district. 

Saturday’s attack was condemned by rights activists and Pakistan’s leading human rights body, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). Pakistani Christian rights activists protested against the attack on Saturday in Karachi, raising alarm over the safety of minorities in the South Asian country. 

“As a 27-year-old Pakistani Christian who has never been abroad since the day I was born to the moment I’m standing here, I and every Christian who calls themselves Pakistani live under fear, under pressure and under the constant threat of being, God forbid, accused of committing blasphemy,” Luke Victor, a rights activist and one of the organizers of the Karachi demonstration, said. 

Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam have provoked deadly vigilantism.

Christians, who make up around two percent of Pakistan’s population, occupy one of the lowest rungs in society and are frequently targeted with spurious blasphemy allegations.
Politicians have also been assassinated, lawyers murdered and students lynched over such accusations.


38,150 Pakistani pilgrims under government scheme reach Saudi Arabia for Hajj 

Updated 27 May 2024
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38,150 Pakistani pilgrims under government scheme reach Saudi Arabia for Hajj 

  • Around 179,210 Pakistani pilgrims are expected to perform the annual Islamic pilgrimage 
  • Pakistan began a month-long pre-Hajj flight operation to transport pilgrims to Saudi Arabia

ISLAMABAD: Around 38,150 Pakistani pilgrims under the government’s Hajj scheme have arrived in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah ahead of this year’s annual Islamic pilgrimage, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported this week. 

This year, around 179,210 Pakistanis will perform Hajj under both the government and private schemes, for which a month-long flight operation started on May 9. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14-19.

“By Sunday, collectively as many as 38,150 Pakistani pilgrims, which constitutes almost 54.35 percent of the total, have reached Madinah and Makkah,” the APP report said on Sunday, citing sources in the Pakistan Hajj Mission. 

From May 17, the Pakistan Hajj Mission started sending bus caravans of pilgrims to Makkah from Madinah after they completed their eight-day stay in Madinah. Over 23,464 Pakistani pilgrims have reached Makkah from Madinah under a real-time GPS tracking system, APP said, adding that it is for the first time that the service is being utilized to track the movement of Hajj caravans. 

“This innovative approach aims to ensure a seamless and timely journey for the pilgrims,” Shahid Ur Rehman Marth, who is in-charge of the Madinah Departure Cell, told APP. 

Meanwhile, pilgrims from all over the world including Pakistan, visited the sacred cave of Hira at the mountain of Al-Noor in Makkah. 
 
The site is a revered one for Muslims around the world as it is the place where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) received the first verses of the Holy Qur’an from God. 
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime, provided they are financially and physically able to do so.
Pilgrims from Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi are availing the Makkah Route Initiative facility for the first time. Launched in 2019, the initiative allows for the completion of immigration procedures at the pilgrims’ country of departure. 
This makes it possible to bypass long immigration and customs checks upon reaching Saudi Arabia, which significantly reduces the waiting time and makes the entry process smoother and faster.