We arrived in Astore, a Himalayan village perched on the mountainside, to find access to our guesthouse blocked by a polo match. It was on the edge of the field, on the other side. We were stoked, polo is the best audience participation sport there is and we’ve only seen a game once before in India.
There were some female spectators but generally they were behind the caged section or on nearby rooftops. None were on the edge of the field like us and of course as the only foreigners we were a spectacle in our own right. As we walked the length of the pitch behind the spectators every single head turned to look at us. Even the local media guy wanted to interview us (we declined).
We loved being close to the action and blasted by dust and the rush of having to jump out the way when the ball headed our direction followed by a stampede of horses and waving sticks. We had one interlude to go to the shop to get a mango juice when the crowd of guys we were in got a little too big around us but we just returned to a different place and stayed there until the light started to fade and some kind of dispute called a halt to the game (followed swiftly by another one). We watched the end from behind the wall of our guesthouse, passions run high about their national sport a minor scuffle marked the end.
Here’s a short video clip:
We were covered in dust. It was definitely time for a cold bucket bath, but not before we had tea and had a visit from a policeman to take down our passport and visa details.
The next day started with tea and boiled eggs. We were up and ready to be out early at what was meant to be 7am but nothing happens quickly in Pakistan, they are also not early risers, so breakfast (ordered the night before) didn’t turn up until after 7am.
Astore is on an ancient trading route that connected the Gilgit-Baltistan region with Kashmir, and we were going to follow this old route back to Gilgit. But first we were heading higher up into the mountains.
When we finally left we climbed out of Astore (which at 2400m was just under high altitude) up a narrow rocky switchback road through rural villages and farms loaded with potato crops and corn. It was early enough to watch children walking to school. All ages, even the little ones walk on their own they just meet their friends and the roads stream with children. It was great to be out early enough to see this and watch the light changing on the surrounding Himalayas.
At the top of the road we entered a pine forest of huge trees. It was full of campsites. We stopped at the police checkpoint. We didn’t understand the interaction between the policeman and Kabluie as it extended past the usual transaction of handing over copies of our passports and visas but it became something of a debate and we gathered the policeman was twitchy about us continuing. A guy in plain clothes, arms folded in the background was watching the debate. Eventually the cop relented and we understood when he said we could go as long as we checked in again when we got back. His parting words to us were “see you later, in’shallah,” a very unusual thing for a Pakistani to say, but confirmed our feeling that he wasn’t entirely comfortable. If they had got an armed officer we’re pretty sure we would have been escorted, but they didn’t so instead we went with in’shallah.
It used to be that foreigners needed a permit to visit our destination of Rama lake, but you no longer do. We couldn’t see how having a permit would make it safer anyway.
We continued up, and it turned into a very rough narrow 4WD track. We stopped when we could go no further. We were at 3360m. Then we walked for another 45 minutes until we reached the view over Rama lake. We were at 3490m but the mountains towered around. The lake had a perfect glassy reflection and off the snowy peaks rolled a couple of glaciers. It was Himalayan picture perfect. We took our time at the viewpoint and soaked it in.
On the walk back down we stopped at the shop (a tent with a few provisions) we didn’t need anything but it must be a tough place to scrape a living and a packet of dusty biscuits and a few lollies are always handy to have.
Kabluie duly stopped at the police checkpoint on the way back to confirm we were still intact. It took us a long time to make our way back down the switchbacks to rejoin the road, but it was an incredible place and so worth the effort of the detour.
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