Day 11: Masherbrum Sighting & No-Rules Polo
I was excited this morning as overnight we had received special permission from the authorities (police + army) to travel further up the valley from Khaplu. Usually foreigners aren’t allowed further east as we’re getting close to the Line of Control, and the Siachen Glacier (the world’s highest battlefield with soldiers posted at over 5000m, the Pakistanis and Indians lob mortars and artillery shells at each over the ridges every now and then) is at the end of the road.
After breakfast we drove to the checkpoint and after some animated discussion with the soldiers on duty we successfully passed through. Our destination on the other side was just 2km past the checkout. At a view point a couple of hundred metres above the sandy Shyok river delta we had perfectly clear views to the north with a jagged granite ridge framing the right-hand side of the valley and Masherbrum (7821m) with its irregular, iconic peak visible at the head of the valley. Fantastic to see such a formidable mountain!
In the late afternoon we walked down to the nearby polo ground (a long but narrow stone-walled field which the kids usually use for kicking a ball or playing cricket) in the village to watch two Khaplu teams play the local version of polo. In the polo played here in the mountains, there really aren’t too many rules and the objective of the game is to get the ball through the posts any way you can. Unlike the more refined version of the game, the players are allowed to carry the ball up the field on their horses and their opponents are allowed to whack their hands/arms with their sticks to try and dislodge it. You can score goals by hitting the ball through, carrying it through, or even throwing it through! They also play five to a side (not four) and don’t play to a certain winning score but play for an allotted time (2 x 20 minute halves). It was thoroughly entertaining to watch them play and the horsemanship was impressive, and seeing polo in the mountains of northern Pakistan was like watching rugby at Rugby School in England.