11th October 2016
Max Wood is tour leading our Karakoram Adventure: Kashgar to Kashmir, which travels to China, Pakistan and India.
We have had very good weather on the Karakoram Adventure this time. It's especially important in the Hunza valley and at Fairy Meadows where we had great views of the mountains. While passing through Gilgit we were able to watch a game of polo being played. Having spotted a likely-attired player riding through the market he informed us that a practice match was about to start. It wasn't on at the main polo stadium which we usually visit when passing through town but at the 'old' polo field. A rough muddy very long and narrow area now nestled between houses in the old town though obviously originally intended for use as a polo arena.
The 'A' and 'B' police teams were practicing for a celebration match on the anniversary of Gilgit-Balistan independence from the Maharaja of Kashmir. This happened on 1 November 1947 and lasted 15 days until the 16th of the month when the Pakistani authorities officially took over the administration of the province.
Firstly the area was liberally watered and the horses prepared. The majority looked in reasonable condition but a couple were rather lame. Though about the same length as a standard polo field, it was much narrower, maybe only 50 or 60 yards across, and each side had rather more players than usual. There were 6 or 7 participants in each team at any one time, the players dressed in red and blue. It was played with total passion and an eager competitiveness. There was plenty of skill both in terms of horsemanship and use and control of the mallets. Remarkably few air shots considering the state of the surface they were playing on. It was enjoyable to watch especially as the odd sheep or cow or even motorbike sped across the pitch.
Onto Fairy Meadows, the jeep journey up the private road still leaves butterflies in stomach even though it was my third time heading up there.
With few other visitors at this time, our simple cabins gave wonderful views with hardly a cloud in the sky for the two days we were there.
Sala, our very experienced local guide, had been telling us about the rise in local Pakistani tourism. Fairy Meadows can now get very busy in season with thousands of local tourists. We had it extremely quiet and I can certainly recommend late September/early October as a good time to visit - weather permitting. We saw the huge amount of building related to this surge in home-grown tourist traffic, mainly in Kaghan valley, as the urban population look for relief from the summer heat of the cities. Further north in Hunza there are now two other hotels being constructed behind the famous Eagle's Nest guesthouse where we stay and various small campsites on the road up from Atlit and the valley below. Access up this narrow road has become a problem in high season.
Now we have moved across the border to India and onto Srinagar where the lake is as calm and photogenic as ever. Certainly few tourists here at the moment and we are limited in our activities as the locals are with their everyday life due to the government restrictions, but still a lovely place to end the tour.