We arrived at Astore, a Himalayan village perched on the slope of a mountain, to find access to our guesthouse which was blocked by a polo match. It’s on the edge of the field, on the other side. We are fascinated, polo is the best sports participation audience available and we have only seen one match before in India.
There are some female viewers but generally they are behind the cage or on the roof of the house. No one is on the sidelines like us and of course as the only foreigner we watch is our own right. As we walked along the field behind the audience, each head turned to look at us. Even local media people want to interview us (we refuse).
We were happy to be close to the action and exploded by dust and hurriedly had to jump out when the ball headed towards us followed by stepping on a horse and waving a stick. We have one interlude to go to the store to get mango juice when the crowd of people in us gets a little too big around us, but we just returned to
different places and stay there until the light starts to fade and some types of disputes are called cessation of the game (followed quickly by others). We watched the tip from behind our homestead wall, high burning passion about their national sport, small fights marked the end. This is a short video clip.
We are covered in dust. It’s definitely time to take a cold bucket, but not before we drink tea and visit a policeman to record our passport and visa details.
The next day began with tea and boiled eggs. We got up and were ready to leave early at 7am but nothing happened quickly in Pakistan, they also didn’t wake up early, so breakfast (ordered the night before) didn’t show up after 7am.
Astore is on an ancient trade route that connects the Gilgit-Baltistan region with Kashmir, and we will follow this old route back to Gilgit. But first we headed higher into the mountains.
When we finally left, we came out of Astore (which at an altitude of 2400m was just below height), narrowed
remote rocky roads through villages and agriculture loaded with potato and corn plants. It’s early enough to watch children walk to school. All ages, even small children walk alone, they only meet their friends and walk around with the children. It’s nice to be able to get out early enough to see this and see the changing light in the surrounding Himalayas.
Above the road, we entered the pine forest from large trees. It’s full of campsites. We stopped at the police checkpoint. We did not understand the interaction between the police and Kabluie for extending past the usual transaction of giving away copies of our passports and visas, but it became a kind of debate and we gathered the police nervously about us continuing. A man in normal clothes, a folded arm in the background watching a debate. Finally the police surrendered and we understood when he said that we could leave as long as we checked in again when we returned. His farewell words to us were “see you again, in God,” a very unusual thing for a Pakistani to say, but confirmed our feeling that he was not entirely comfortable.
If they have an armed officer, we are pretty sure that we will be escorted, but they did not do it because we instead joined with Shallah.
Formerly foreigners need permission to visit our destination on Lake Rama, but you no longer do it. We can’t see how having permission will make it safer.
We continued, and it turned into a very rough 4WD track. We stopped when we could not go further. We are at 3360m. Then we walked for 45 minutes until we arrived at the view of Lake Rama. We were at an altitude of 3490 m but the mountains soared. The lake has perfect glass reflections and from snowy peaks rolling up several glaciers. That’s a perfect Himalayan picture. We take our time in perspective and soak it.
On the way back, we stopped at the shop (tent with some equipment) we didn’t need anything, but it was definitely a difficult place to make a living and a packet of dusty biscuits and some sweets were always useful to have.
Kabluie stopped at the police checkpoint on the way home
to confirm we are still intact. It took us a long time to go back to Switchback to rejoin the road, but it was an extraordinary place and very much worth the effort to detour.