Light Within

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Changing Chitral

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Picturesque Chitral town sits up in Pakistan's northwest district, walled in by the Hindu Kush range. During winters, the only way in is by air (weather permitting) as the two passes, the 3118-meter Lowari from Dir and the 3810-meter Shandur from the upper Gilgit Valley are closed to road traffic. The Fokker Friendships drone for 50 minutes and burst through clouds on decent to reveal on mountains covered with whitecaps and red tin roof houses.

This is Chitral. On the small airfield, the cold wind thrust you to shiver. The remoteness of the district has left it undeveloped in spite of grand natural beauty, hospitable people and ancient history. The town is a base camp for tourists, adventurers and researchers from across the world. And, people seem to be living there in peace.
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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Monday, January 26, 2015, , links to this post

Malka Hans

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Punjab is a gold mine for history seekers and curious travelers. You may find much more than what you hear or read. It pays to get out into the countryside and talk to ordinary people. What is more, people of the area are eager to help – on their own expense - when you ask anybody. One finds volunteer 'guides' who were forth coming with wealth of information. The distances in the hinterland are short but the landscape is so enormous that it had to be studied in parts like a large mural seen by a child.

Given the history and heritage, it is easy to fall in love with ‘out of the way’ town like Malka Hans. Once an abode of Waris Shah, who stayed here and composed universal romance Heer Ranjha, malka hans is still serene, tranquil and pollution free. Legend has it that Malik Muhammad (alia Malka) who was a member of Hans tribe founded the town some 700 years ago. Hans became powerful when Mughal King Alamgir conferred a vast land around Malka Hans on Sheikh Qutab Hans. In 1764, Muhammad Azam who was the descendant of Qutab Hans became head of the clan. Ran Singh Nakka treacherously took Muhammad Azam prisoner where he died in confinement.
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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Wednesday, January 21, 2015, , links to this post

Historic Trilogy

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The first thought that came into my mind after visiting Okara can be described by four words: milk, butter, mammals and farms. Peers also told me the same. Besides Harappan ruins, I did not know the area. But one thing I did know, though, was that I should be happy to say goodbye to the place. Two years later, I felt drawn to the area and its people and it was very hard for me to part. There is so much to be seen, so much to be done. Above all, it has spirited, sincere and full-of-love people living in Gogera, Dipalpur and Pakpattan historic trilogy. The distances in the hinterland are short but the landscape is so enormous that it had to be studied in parts like a large mural seen by a child.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Tuesday, January 20, 2015, , links to this post

The mountains

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Climbing the mountain had been on my mind for almost all my life, particularly ever since I did a course in Rock Repelling and trekked some softer mountains up in the North. But I have never climbed K 2 or Nanga Parbat -- icons of Pakistani climbing, as identifiable and as famous as the Mount Everest. I have been pretty close to them, at the distance that seemed nearly close enough to touch their summits. In different capacities, I had lived some of my life in the base camps of these majestic mountains and some others in Northern Pakistan; with mountaineers, explorers and adventurers from all over the world.

Sitting in the base camps, I have seen determined, committed and sponsored climbers arrive at base camps; some less savvy teams taking a look around and going back. Some staying and waiting for the weather breaks that do not come; some even taking a start only to abort and some conquering the mighty mountains. Staying in base camps is important for climbers to give their bodies more time to acclimate to the elevations.

Life at all base camps is almost the same. Mess tents are the best places in the base camps where every one huddles like a living rooms. It usually is a hole climbers dig in the snow or rocks and cover it with tarp or it is a natural cubby hole behind and in between rocks. "You eat and drink (hot tea, coffee) your way to the top," is a way of life with climbers. Climbers get up early in the morning because moving early in the morning is essential for crossing snow bridges that melt in the midday sun.
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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Tuesday, January 20, 2015, , links to this post

Where I Get My Supply of Salageet - Shilajit?

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Some places are so peaceful and unspoiled that it is almost unbelievable. One such locality is the picturesque, tranquil and pollution free (and undeveloped) boarder village Arrandu in district Chitral. The very sound of the name is musical. This village is located 'on' the Pakistan Afghanistan boarder. Dir-Chitral Road bifurcates near village Mir Khanni and a jeep able track along Kunar River leads to Arrandu through Domail Nisar and onwards into Afghanistan.

Gateway to the South Asia, the Chitral valley has been center of activity since ancient times. Macedonians advanced through this region in fourth century. In 1338, Timur subdued the area on his way to the plains of Punjab. Mughal King Akbar garrisoned here in 1587 and the British in 1897 in Chakdara on Dir side of Lowari Pass. Among soldiers who served here in Chakdara then was young Winston Churchill who later became Prime Minister of Britain. So far about the past importance of the valley but the little hamlet got the international fame during Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. It remained in the news and was commonly called as 'BBC Baby'.
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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Monday, January 19, 2015, , links to this post

The village boy

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There are lessons in the first landscapes of every one's life. Mine was a vista of green paddy fields, smoking with Salt Range mist, against a setting of ribbon of River Jhelum which from distance looked like a shore of another land altogether. The rough, rugged hill range appeared uninviting against a sky withering with the morning, interrupted by the dawn's red and blue brush strokes. My first learning in life was also in the village.

In villages, people still live without roads or other civic amenities of this modern age. No telephone or the Internet (smartphone works in my village), even the electricity is the recent phenomenon; some are still without it. You see one village and you have seen all. This was the setting where I spent first twenty year of my life savoring the freedom of adulthood. It is where I decided what (and how) I wanted to do with life. It is where my brothers and friends live. It is where I return whenever my active life allows me to. It is where I want to settle and spend my future.
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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Saturday, January 17, 2015, , links to this post

In Shalimar Garden with squirrels

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It's easy to love a place where residents make efforts to feed the squirrels. In the Shalimar Garden, a few senior citizens party with the squirrels every morning.

When my friend Hussain Qazi who is naturalist and a photographer told me about people feeding birds and squirrels, I planned to skip my ‘ritual morning walks’ and decided to visit Shalimar Garden instead; hopping to find more about the party with the squirrels.

The care and feeding of squirrels in Shalimar Garden is a recent phenomenon. Long overshadowed by heritage talk (it is on UNESO’s world heritage list), Shalimar Garden is overcrowded during day. Whether or not Shalimar Garden ultimately can maintain its past glory - and with it, an influx of foreign and local tourists - it's a surprisingly satisfying open space during early hour of the day.

Every morning, two charismatic old men, loaded with biscuits, rice and pluses came to the waiting population of birds and squirrels in the Shalimar Garden. They sit on the same benches and start throwing grins to the birds. When this is happening, one can see squirrels coming down from nearby trees for their breakfast and then those gentlemen dig deep down their satchels and take out biscuits and start feeding the squirrels. The tiny winy animals are so use to those caring hands that they jump to take the first bite.

One of the old men Fazal Karim – a retired primary teacher who lives in nearby Daroge Wala – explained me this phenomenon and said, “I am coming here for my morning walk every day for a long time now. I feed the bird population and squirrels and find them very friendly. I miss them and look forward to meeting them every day. I think they miss me too.”

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Thursday, January 15, 2015, , links to this post

Fog in Lahore

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Winter in sprawling Lahore spells horror for thousands of residents. Not because of cold but due to the phenomenon of smog. Let your gaze roam over the cityscape while standing on top of the Yadgar-e-Pakistan and one finds how the skyline of the minarets and domes looks dark and sad against the clouds of thick smog.

The fog is triggered by temperature inversion -- the formation of a static layer of cooler air close to the ground as the nighttime temperature drops. Normally, air closer to the ground is warmer than the air above it, and therefore rises. Inversions are frequent on winter nights after the ground has cooled down so much that it begins to chill the air closest to it often causing mist to form as water vapor precipitates on dust particles. Normally the morning sun swiftly breaks through the mist and heats the ground, which warms the air above it, breaking the inversion.
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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Sunday, January 04, 2015, , links to this post

Making Money Online in Pakistan

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Blogging is no more a new phenomenon in Pakistan. Many Pakistani online users are writing their own and rest are reading others' blogs and interacting in meaningful ways. Their voice is being heard in the blogsphere. Getting paid for blogging is still a new idea in Pakistan though.

There are reasons for this. Ironically, corporate Pakistan is yet not aware of blogs as economical, effective and interactive marketing tool. Like anywhere else, blogs can be a welcome mat for local businesses to reach out across the world but this has not started happening yet. Which is why Pakistan blogsphere can be characterized by only anti-establishment, noncommercial write-ups and rants, mostly. Exceptions aside, Pakistan blogs are mainly personal where bloggers post purely because of their own interests.

One wonder why local businesses have failed to notice the growing readership and influence of these Internet postings and the buzz corporate blogging can create particularly as a process of Search Engine Marketing or targeting online segment of consumers. But this is not about how Pakistani businesses can harness the power of blogs to reach out. This is about the options available to Pakistan bloggers to get paid for their work online.

Payments by most online advertising programs and affiliates are made through Paypal - widely used online money transfer service. Sadly, Paypal is not available in Pakistan so far. This alone puts Pakistan bloggers at a great disadvantage because without Paypal account they cannot join most of the programs.

That said, Pakistan bloggers are exceptionally good (and I am not being ethnocentric here). They have acumen for corporate writing. Their language and blogging skills and networking capabilities can be compared with any bloggers' community in the world. Internet coverage and users ' base is constantly growing. Even trend to shop online is taking off. Given chance, all this can indirectly help in efforts to make making through blogging.

Despite the odds, some of the savvy Pakistan bloggers are already using different methods to make money from blogs; Google AdSense advertising program being the first choice. Google pays through check and is liberal in taking small blogs in their program. Only recently, Google has started paying in Pakistan through Western Union and now bloggers here don't have to wait for 40 long days to get their checks cleared through normal banking channels or pay them $ 12 for every transaction.

Google's AdSense program, which started in 2003, pays Web publishers including bloggers based on how many times advertisements on their sites receive clicks. Google places the ads on participating Web sites using contextual word matching, in an attempt to ensure that the advertisements relate to the content on the page. Users' friendly AdSense also offers the opportunity to monetize site searches while providing a powerful and fast search engine for blogs sites. Google places relevant ads along with search results pages. Clicks on these ads also earn the site owner revenue. Earnings are not big mainly because there are not many local ads in Google's AdWord inventory. "Things are changing," says Badar Khushnud, Google country representative, "as Pakistan businesses have started using AdWord program."

AdBrite and Bidvertiser - both click based advertising programs that make payments through checks - closely follow AdSense.

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Bloggers can also make money through "affiliate networks," which, in contrast to Google's automated system, allow blog writers to choose which advertisements to put on their pages. They also can be paid based on how often ads on their sites lead to sales rather than how often the ads receive clicks. I have experience with Text Link Ads (they pay through check) and it is fun working with them. They sell space off my blogs and I have control over what appears on my multiple blogs.

Then, businesses and organizations from all over the world offer to pay bloggers for mentioning them, their products and or services in blogs in order to create an online buzz, get more traffic and better page rank. Many online services like Pay Per Post, Sponsored Review, Loud Launch - paypal required - and Reviewme to name just a few, have come up. These services manage growing demands by advertisers and arrange supply through interested bloggers. Few months ago, I had signed up for Reviewme because they also pay through check. Reviewme offers products or services for review. I write about whatever I like and they pay me fifty percent of what they charge the advertisers. This arrangement works fine for me.

I have tried with merchandising through my blogs as well. Attempt to sell my own books (and the one I had translated) was a good experience. While I did not have a lot of success with merchandising - I am sure other bloggers can see this as an opportunity to make some money from blogs by selling products. That is not all. Bloggers can sell branded products whatever way their entrepreneurial heart desires using CafePress by creating and adding online store's link to blogs and CafePress will do the rest. There are so many more ways to earn money by blogging for those who are interested in earning using blogs. Driven by demand, more advertising programs, affiliates and sponsors and others are coming up every day. Bloggers can experiment with different programs that suit them and can create diverse stream of earnings.

A word of caution; earning through blogging does require persistent postings of quality contents and blog promotion. Best is to keep blogging for joy and monetize blogs on the side; keeping money making expectations realistic. It is a long and slow process. Only "17 percent of most popular bloggers in NYC earn more than thousand dollars a month. That leaves a whooping 83 percent earning less," revealed a NYC Blogger Summit Survey earlier this year. But again these figures are relative.

Blogging is a creative activity and fun. Most bloggers enjoy blogging. That is why they are blogging in the first place. Now let's think about getting paid for blogging.

Some of the sources that pay through check and I have experienced are GoogleLink WorthEarn $$ with WidgetBucks and ReviewMe.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Friday, January 02, 2015, ,

Deosai: Land of the Giant

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It is rare to have the opportunity to hear from someone who has literally written “the book” on a place as mysterious as Deosai. Talking of his Deosai romance (that started in summer 1990) Salman Rashid once told me, “Anywhere on Deosai the fantastic vistas of wide open space of miles and miles hemmed in by snow-capped crags. Here the sky is an impossible shade of blue and the thunderheads like huge, huge bales of cotton flung about by some careless cotton packer. Here the clouds do actually look like anything you wish to imagine them to look like. Here, if one has nothing to do (that is, if you are not on assignment), lie on the ground in the sun and just spend hours doing nothing.”
Deosai: Land of the Giant – a book written by Salman Rashid with photography by Nadeem Khawar tells and shows the story of Deosai, its geography and history as well as the heroic effort of bear conservation and the establishment of a national park on the plateau.

The earliest explorers like William Moorcroft and Godfrey Thomas Vigne, long ago, noted that Deosai was inhabited by large numbers of Tibetan brown bear. Though the elusive snow leopard, fox, wolf and ibex prowl across it, it was the easily seen bear that became the signature species on the plateau. Not anymore. Hope is that the in depth research and rich illustrations will be a great source of awareness and an equally good reminder for all stakeholders to do more to conserve the extinguishing wildlife.
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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Friday, January 02, 2015, , links to this post

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