Travelling to Highest Polo Ground on earth, Shandur, Pakistan
The Shandur polo festival is the highest polo match in the world, located in Chitral District, Northern Pakistan. At an altitude of 3,700m makes it bloody hard to breath, not only on humans but also on the horses. I went there two months after Osama Bin Laden, known in spook terms as (OBL / UBL), had been assassinated by SEAL teams in Abbotabad. The tension in Pakistan at that time had never been greater and nobody wanted to escort a lone foreigner on a 24 hour drive up the Karakoram highway (KKH).
Firstly my plan was to go to Gulmit, an area that was completely underwater due to huge landslides that had happened there seven months previously. The aid I had agreed to send there, had already been distributed, but because the Haiti earthquake happened a few months before, and I had to head that first team into Haiti. It had been seven months since the Haiti job. I needed to get back out to Pakistan, and get a bit of fresh air, and more importantly, watch the highest polo match on earth.
Initially I had three objectives to complete: 1. Head to Karachi then to Balochistan on the Iranian border and see the warehouse in Gwadar. 2. Head to Islamabad and arrange two trips. Firstly to Upper Hunza only 25 kilometres south of the China border, and secondly, try and squeeze in the Shandour polo festival in Chitral. All of the plans were planned, and planned to the minute, hour and day; which was all totally possible in Pakistan, as I had learned over the years.
The problem with getting there by road, is the state of them. I was loaned a Toyota double-cab pickup, a driver; and my friend Aziz, whom I'd known since 2005 agreed to come. The road was ok for the first six hours, then it became really dodgy. Dodgy for two reasons, there is really only one route there from Islamabad, the road goes through some bad places, like Upper Dir which was a Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) stronghold. Secondly the road on the KKH snakes its way up through the most treacherous mountain passes and deep ravines; making up some of the most dangerous roads on earth.
When I first started to discuss the plan to go, they said: “it was too dangerous because of the Taliban.” I replied: “fuck the Taliban, give me the keys, I'm going anyway.” And off we went in a spanking new Toyota 3.0l double-cab pickup.
The first few hours were pleasant enough, but then it got hardcore, we could not stop the vehicle anywhere in lower or upper Dir because of the threat level, and that lasted for eight to ten hours.cWe were in one vehicle which was quite new and very well serviced by Toyota in Islamabad, so I felt comfortable with everything. I had good communications, satellite gear and a bottle of Johnny Walker to grease the wheels and a winter warmer in the mountains.
Thirty-six hours later.................................TBC.....................……………………………………..