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Himalaya

Day 18: The Shandur Pass

Michael Palin - HimalayaSilence falls as a prayer is read out from the Koran. The horses canter forwards to the centre-line to receive the ball. Bulbul Jan, bareheaded, looks every bit the midfield general, effortlessly in control at the centre of his team. Truc, less effortlessly in control, is the first to fertilize the pitch.

I don't blame him. If I was facing 50 minutes of constant running, sudden sprints, balls flying about and full-speed charges towards two-foot-high stone walls, I'd have probably done the same. In free-style polo the player is as much fair game as the ball and deliberate obstruction with either horse or mallet is a great skill. Nor are the horses and players the only ones taking risks. Mallets are dropped or broken with considerable frequency and stable boys take terrible risks rushing into the fray with replacements.

The game is non-stop, fast and even.

Predictably, Gilgit score first with Bulbul pushing in an easy goal after a furious build-up. He now gets to restart the game with a tapokh, which is very good to watch. The goal scorer races up the field at full gallop, holding both the ball and the mallet in the same hand, then, still with one hand only, releases the ball and strikes it ahead of him. It's often missed or half hit, but the apricot-wood hammer of Bulbul's stick meets the ball head on. It soars up the other end, bounces past the goal and is thrown back into play by a spectator, this keeping any interruption to the flow of play to a minimum. Maqbool pulls a goal back for Chitral and they go into the break unexpectedly level.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 18: The Shandur Pass
  • Country/sea: Pakistan
  • Place: The Shandur Pass
  • Book page no: 40

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