Saving the polo festival at the world’s highest pitch

The world’s highest polo pitch is host to Pakistan’s Shandur Polo Festival, an annual event attended by thousands. But with one of the leading teams pulling out this year due to a land dispute, its future prospects are in doubt. Rebecca Conway in The National:

Wind whips across the 3,700m, high Shandur Pass in northern Pakistan, stirring the cobalt waters of the Shandur lake and sending smoke from cooking fires spiralling over a gathering crowd.

Dappled sunlight picks out small groups putting up tents, drinking chai and greeting friends, to a backdrop of rising and falling notes from gathered musicians. The start of northern Pakistan’s Shandur Polo Festival is bringing life to a barren land.

A silent and uninhabited stretch of ground that straddles the mountain peaks between the districts of Gilgit – to Pakistan’s east on the Karakorum Highway, and Chitral, north of the city of Peshawar on Pakistan’s Afghan border – the Shandur Pass is covered in snow for half the year.

Surrounded by ice-capped peaks, scattered with tiny teahouses, and more used to playing host to grazing animals and the northern bus route that ferries passengers over the mountains, for three days in July every year the pass takes on a new identity and welcomes around 20,000 visitors and tradesmen for a sporting event steeped in history and one which sustains a very modern rivalry. More:

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