LAHORE - As Indian media’s mania about an alleged Pakistani spy pigeon goes on, The Nation sought opinion on this matter from renowned pigeon-fancier and former Lahore champion Ustad Sohail Ansar Khan.

Asked if pigeons can do spying and were Indian concerns about the captured pigeon reasonable, he, with a cheeky smile, said: “Pigeons are intelligent creature and they can do simple tasks if trained properly – like they were used for carrying written messages in the past. But, believing that these birds can perform complex tasks, like surveillance, is simply ridiculous.”

“I think Indians have just gone mad about it. Or, may be, the media keeps reporting it, even from bizarre angels, because it earns them more viewership,” he said.

Ustad Sohail explained that pigeons in Pakistan are kept and raised for three main purposes: for consumption as food, as birds of beauty and for flying. Obviously, they are more valued and cherished for their last two uses.

Their use as messengers became defunct simply because there are better, faster and much easier ways of communication available in modern world, he said.

Standing in front of white cages full of different famous breeds of high flying birds at rooftop of his house in Architect Society of Lahore, he spoke in detail about the qualities of his birds.

As he was speaking with The Nation, a flock of his Kamagars pigeons suddenly took a flight and disappeared into the high skies.

“My relation with pigeons is of love and fun,” he pointed towards the flying birds and asked one of his students to keep an eye on them before narrating further details.

“Kamagar or Kaman Gar pigeons have reddish eyes and black feathers around their white body. They can fly more than 12 hours in month of June and July in 50 degree centigrade,” he explained.

A legend tells that two Kamangar (technician) brothers of Kasur visited a Nawab of an Indian State during British period to fix some of his out of order machines. In return of their labour, Kamangars requested the Nawab to give them two of his pigeons. The Nawab first hesitated but he later gave them one pair of his pigeons on a promise that the technicians would visit him whenever he needed them to fix his machines.

The breed was later spread in Kasur and Lahore and named after the Kamangars which changed into Kamagar with the passage of time.

“This is original breed. I possess them for forty years,” he referred to one of the white cages.

“We usually avoid flying pigeons in this season as days are shorter than their stamina. But, I just opened them to show you their magic,” he smiled and explained that there was a possibility that the bird would not return home in case the darkness prevailed.

In second cage he keeps Teddys, another known breed of high-flying Lahori pigeons. Chaudhary Sakhi Bhatti’s teddy pigeons are famous across the world and especially among Arabs. A teddy has an endurance to fly whole day in 50 degree centigrade.

“Lahori pigeons have proved their skills in summers of Dubai, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia,” Sohail said.

Since there is possibility that a pigeon would not return home and fall some other place (as some Indian’s claimed of catching Pakistani pigeon), the pigeon followers usually fly the cross breeds during competitions. There are two benefits of flying the cross breeds: first, your pigeon would give a better flying result, and second, the other would not get the original breed if cross-breeder is caught.

“Flying and breeding pigeons is a complete science. I learnt it years from my predecessors. An Ustad gives the title of Ustad to his student when he becomes experts in this filed,” Khan, who also got third position in recent Punjab government sponsored Pigeon Flying Competition, said proudly.

A bird racer feed pigeons with almonds, precious saffron and other herbs made medicines for months before entering them into the competitions which usually take place during scorching heat days. Arabs also host competitions in Pakistan in which thousands participate from Lahore, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Sheikhupura, Nankana, Faisalabad and other districts. The famous Bahrain Cup occurs in summer.

Some rich Chinese are crazy for Belgian racing pigeons which take part in long distance racing competitions. Three years ago, a Chinese businessman had paid a world record of $398,500 for a Belgian pigeon. But in Pakistan, the bird followers usually hold competitions of high and low altitude flying.

Low altitude flying pigeon competitions are mostly held in district Okara, Sahiwal, Jhang, Toba Tek Singh, Khanewal, Multan and others. But, in upper Punjab and especially in Lahore, people love keeping high flying pigeons.

Ustad said that the Mughal rulers were considered pioneer of high flying birds in Indo-Pakistani region.

“You know Akbar was passionate lover of pigeons. Dr Allama Iqbal also kept this bird,” he said.

“Yes, I know about Belgian racing breed prices but the prices of our pigeons are also not less,” he replied during a discussion about the prices of racing pigeons. However, he added that he was strictly against pigeon selling.

“I consider selling and gambling on pigeons a sin. This is a love and love is priceless,” he added with emotions.

The price of a Pakistani high flying pigeon start from Rs5,000, and even goes high at Rs100,000. Arabs offer 5,000 UAE Dirham or even more for a good quality pair.

Late Bao Shams and late Ustad Riaz are considered the earlier pigeon racers who started holding Lahore’s high flying competitions after creation of Pakistan. But, later, many groups emerged who hold different competitions in which winners get cars, motorcycles and cash prizes.

After Bao Shams, his group is being led by Malk Nazir, Ch Sakhi Bhatti, Rana Azmat and Ustad Sohail Ansar. Ustad Riaz Group includes Mian Saqib, Malk Javed, Ustad Hussain, Aslam Depot Wala, Mehar Mazhar and others.

Teddy, Kamagar, Ali Walay, Bankay, Sialkoti, Zeray, Kasuri and Neelay are known breeds of high flying pigeons among dozens other across the country.

“Don’t make pigeon a full time craze. One should first give time to family and work and then make it a part time hobby,” Ustad suggests.