Featured Image: Lady Finger or Bublimating (6000 metres) and Hunza Peak (6270 m) above Karimabad, Hunza Valley, Pakistan. Ultar Peak (7388 m), Bojahagur Duanasir II (7329 m) are within 5 km. Rakaposhi (7788 m) and Diran Peak (7266 m) although around 27 kilometres away dominate the horizon across the river and the Karakorum Highway, KKH, May 1995.
The Hunza Valley, Karakorum Highway, Pakistan: Our Trip 4
In my first article about the Karakorum Highway I said that I’d been always fascinated by the Hunza and Nagar Kingdoms since I first heard about them in obscure books about South Asia and 19th century British India many of them out of print.
However, there are still many terrific books available about the Karakorum Highway and associated areas referenced in my articles, which are either still available in print, or historical books available as downloads on the Internet.
I found Hunza a magic place from my reading and had wanted to go there from quite a young age, before I persuaded Denise to make her first trip to Asia in 1995. The actuality of Hunza was not disappointing. It met expectations and fantasises.
We arrived in Gilgit on 18 May 1995 at 7pm in the evening after a long day’s travel from Besham and were snagged or touted at the bus stop by the delightful Mr Ibrahim owner of a new lodge called the Mountain Refuge (more of whom later).
We enjoyed our stay in Gilgit marred only slightly by intermittent rain. We even hired a motor-bike. Though the state of the roads meant that we could not travel as far as we would have liked and bits kept falling off the bike, sometimes making the travel uncomfortable.
We left Gilgit on 27 May when the rain seemed to have set in permanently. Surprisingly, at our next stop in the Hunza Valley the rain stopped and we had delightful weather during our stay there, though the rain began again immediately we left and we saw almost no scenery up to the Pakistan border post at Sost.
Whilst in Gilgit, one of the things we most enjoyed was the series of polo matches in a tournament several of which we managed to see. These matches would eventually lead up to the famous Shandur Pass match in July.
History of Polo
Polo probably began as a simple game played by Iranian equestrian nomads in Central Asia. In time polo became a Persian national sport played by the nobility. Women played as well as men.
The first recorded tournament was in 600 BC (between the Turkomans and the Persians – the Turkomans were victorious). The name is supposed to have originated from the Tibetan ‘pholo’ meaning ‘ball’ or ‘ballgame’. Although all of this is debatable.
The modern game was derived from British tea-planters observing it in Manipur (located between Burma & India). The first official rules were not created until the 19th century by an Irish Captain in the 13th Hussars and the modern International Rules are based on them. The size of the polo pitch (nearly 10 acres in area; the largest field in organised sport) has not changed since one was built in Isfahan Persia in the 1500s.
Each team has four players and each player must have at least one spare horse. The game is played over 4, 6 or 8 chukkas. Each chukka lasts 7 minutes with a break of 3 minutes between chukkas and a five-minute break at half time. More chukkas normally require more spare horses.
Polo mallets are made of wood. The head is of a hardwood called tipa and the shaft of varying types of wood and flexibility. The mallet must be exactly 2 foot six inches in length. The ball was originally bamboo, then wood and has mainly been fibreglass since 1990. The object of the game is to score goals by hitting the ball through the goal posts. The game is fast, furious and exciting. There are a range of tactics, strategies, allowed manoeuvres and fouls.
As with most equestrian sports the need for a number of horses and equipment make polo an expensive sport to play.
This is the same with polo played in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. The upkeep of the horses is expensive. Although less horses are required.
Denise used to play a game in Australia called polocrosse (a cross between polo and lacrosse) which is more widely played and is less expensive than polo because it requires only one horse. Another similarity with extreme polo is that the game is also played with six players on a smaller ground. Continue reading “Extreme Polo in Gilgit Pakistan: Our Trip 3”→
Besham to Gilgit, the Terrain on the Karakorum Highway: Our Trip 2
This is the third article on our trip up and down the KKH. The first is The Karakorum Highway which gives an overview of the terrain on the whole journey. The most difficult section to construct was in Indus Kohistan, which includes part of the area described in the second article The Lower Karakorum Highway: Our Trip 1.
We drove from Besham to Gilgit in a long day. Being stuck in a wagon all day, I did not get the opportunity to take photographs and need to fudge by showing other photographs from around Gilgit and Hunza to give you some idea.
The Gorge Country
The gorge country begins below Besham and continues after Besham for some time. One can see from the featured image a view of the Indus Valley from the Alai road the beginning of the difficult terrain in Indus Kohistan. One can imagine I think from that photograph that this is only the beginning of the mountains and that things are going to get worse rather quickly.
From Abbotabad on, the KKH winds mostly through narrow gorges on the Hunza, Gilgit and Indus rivers, which flow into one another down from the Khunjerab Pass. There are many bridge crossings across seemingly endless tributaries. The deepest and narrowest gorges are on the road from Abbottabad to Gilgit. The gorges open out somewhat above Gilgit. The climate at the bottom of the gorges is unbelievably hot and oppressive in summer.
‘It is like an oven’ said the gloomy bank manager from Dasu who travelled with us on a ‘Wagon’. The heat radiates from the cliffs thousands of feet above and is reflected down into the bottom of the valley. Although heat rises, it does not rise quickly enough. We met some walkers who had walked down from Fairy Meadow near Nanga Parbat base camp to the Raikot Bridge. The soles of their boots had melted on the black rocks. They regretted not paying for the jeep.
The canyon walls were high and slide prone for the first part of the trip. We were mostly in dry country at the bottom of chasms, but we saw all that there was to see of the river fans of the tributaries we passed over and small plateaus of cultivation above and near the edge of the river. We passed Chilas, the Raikot Bridge, the turn off to the Astore Valley and Bunji, but were not versed enough in history to pay much attention. We did however, stop at Talechi and viewed the largest number of snowy peaks viewable from the KKH, including Nanga Parbat (8126 m) behind us and Rakaposhi (7790 m) ahead of for the first time.
I also mentioned in in the first article about falling rocks. How these are the major cause of death for locals on the Pakistan side of the Karakorum Highway. And how rocks rained down on our wagon not long out of Besham.
The Karakorum Highway (KKH) runs from around Rawalpindi in Pakistan to Kashgar in China a distance of about 1300 km, through some of the highest mountains and deepest valleys in the world.
The KKH is sometimes called the eighth wonder of the world as a tribute to the engineering feat when it was constructed. Like similar roads in similar regions, for example Nepal and China, the KKH requires extensive maintenance to keep it open. Nowadays, in China there are endless spectacular engineering feats high bridges and roads that make the KKH seem old-fashioned.
The KKH threads its way through a ‘knot’ of four great mountain ranges: the Pamir, the Karakorum, the Hindu Kush and the [western edge] of the Himalayas, all of them part of the vast collision zone between [the Asian and the Indian tectonic plates]. (Lonely Planet)
The highest peaks near the KKH are Nanga Parbat (Himalaya 8126 metres or 26,660 feet), Rakaposhi (Karakorum 7790 m), Batura Peak (Karakorum 7785) Mt Kongur (Pamir 7719), un-named peak at the head of the Passu Glacier (Karakorum 7611), Muztagh Ata (Pamir 7546), Malabiting (Karakorum 7450), Haramosh (Karakorum 7400), Ultar Peak (Karakorum 7388).
There are many others slightly lower. In the Northern Areas of Pakistan there are about three dozen peaks over 7000 metres. K2 (Karakorum 8611 m or 28,250 feet), the second highest mountain in the world, near Skardu is not far from Gilgit in the Gilgit-Baltistan region.