Indian border guards might fly into a tizzy every time a pigeon from Pakistan crosses over to their side. But little do they know that at least some of these birds might simply be trying to visit their ancestral home.
“Most of the breeds Pakistani pigeon enthusiasts raise these days are descended from Indian varieties,” said Muhammad Rehan, a pigeon enthusiast who rears birds of more than 25 unique breeds at his Ali Town residence.
“We have cross-bred Rampuri, Saharanpuri and Ferozepuri pigeons from India with the local Pakistani Highflyer or Teddy to produce birds that are prettier, faster and able to sustain flight for a longer period of time,” he said. “Some of these can fly for as long as 18 hours non-stop.”
Rearing pigeons is both costly and demanding. Many passionate enthusiasts can spend tens of thousands of rupees on a single bird.
“I rear pigeons of the Teddy, Golden, Rampuri, Kamangar, Ferozepuri, Lakhay, Jalandhari and Anmol types among others. Each of these is worth more than Rs 100,000,” claimed Rehan. “I spend hours with them to train them to fly higher and faster,” he said. “I spend Rs25,000 to Rs35,000 every month just on their food.”
A pigeon’s price depends on the breed it belongs to and its physical beauty.
“Five things are most important when determining a pigeon’s value,” said Muhammad Irfan, another pigeon enthusiast from Lahore. “We see the eyes of the bird first. Various colours help us recognise how intelligent it is,” he said. “Then we look at the pigeon’s feet to judge its strength.”
“We check the length and breadth of a pigeon’s wings along with the number of feathers they have to determine what sort of flight characteristics it might have,” Irfan added. “We also look at the tail, which allows a pigeon to stay balanced on longer flights.”
“Finally, pigeons with bigger heads are considered better,” he told The Express Tribune.
Irfan agreed with Rehan in that the quality of pigeons produced by cross-breeding local and Indian species is much superior to purebreds. “These cross-bred pigeons have left Indian pigeons in the dust when it comes to performance.”
These days, a pigeon-rearing competition is taking place in Kahna Nau, Lahore. Various pigeon enthusiasts fly their pigeons every morning around 5am and wait for them to return by the evening. The pigeon that comes home last is deemed the winner.
Although such competitions are usually held in summer, pigeon enthusiasts prepare their birds for them the whole year round. Among the many steps enthusiasts take is the preparation of special meals for pigeons, which is considered an art in itself.
“Pigeon buffs prepare a blend of various ingredients they think will increase their pigeons’ strength and stamina,” said Irfan. “Often, the meal is made using various dry fruit, like almonds.”
Some enthusiasts, however, go too far when it comes to special meals for their pigeons. “Some enthusiasts resort to feeding male enhancement pills to their pigeons, which is a brutality on these birds.