Saturday, November 22, 2008

11-14 November – South on Karakorum Highway, Pakistan

After Karimabad it was time to drive south again. Winter was approaching and we had no intention to continue the last hundred kilometers to the Chinese border.
In Gilgit we were very lucky to catch a polo match between the local team and a visiting team from the United Arab Emirates. Several thousand people had come to see the game. Polo has its roots in this region and it is still a very popular sport. It was our first polo match ever and we enjoyed it very much. The horsemanship was excellent, especially among the local players. How can they manage to hit the small ball with the long bamboo club while riding at full speed! Wow!
After the game we spoke to an English guy who participated in the visiting team. He said that the version of polo played here is called ‘no rules polo’. The locals call it ‘freestyle polo’. It is apparently very different from the polo played in the UK…

The long drive south from Gilgit was very challenging. It started raining, and since it was the first rain of the season a lot of sand and stones fell down on the road. At times we felt like we were driving in a mountain stream. The trucks coming from the opposite direction, driving uphill through the water and debris, were suddenly very unwilling to move away from the center of the road. One truck broke our side mirror and another dented our footsteps. But apart from those small mishaps we arrived safely to the plains south of KKH. We had driven 1600 km on the Karakorum Highway (at an average speed of 30 km/h). It was a fantastic adventure, something we will always remember!
We are already dreaming of coming back to the Hunza Valley again. There is a reason it has been described by early travelers as Shangri-La. And the Ismail Muslims here are a lot more liberal than their sunni and shia brethren in the rest of Pakistan. Next time we will come in June/July, and make sure to catch the annual polo tournament at the Shandur Pass before continuing to Chitral and the Kalasha Valleys.

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