The picture postcard cold desert where artillery shells rained in the thousands during the Kargil war will soon hear the surge of new sounds: the pitter-patter of tourists’ sports shoes and the clicks of polo lovers’ cameras.
A July 27 Hindustan Times story from a village near Drass that was bombed during the 1999 war with Pakistan, and had nothing left except its madness for polo, led to the inauguration of an annual polo tournament on Tuesday in which India’s best polo players played local village heroes.
Jyotsna Suri, chairperson of the Lalit Suri Hospitality Group said the story, “Bombed village lost all, except polo” prompted her to start the tournament where she now plans to invite teams from all over India as well as Pakistan’s Gilgit
region, where polo is played by villagers with similar passion.
“This is a long term commitment to developing traditional-style polo in the region,” Suri said.
A team of The Lalit, which included four leading Indian polo players, won the closely-fought game 3-2, riding mountain ponies like their Drass counterparts.
Boutique hotels of up to 30 rooms are already being planned, said J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who inaugurated the tournament.
He said he would also set up a Drass Tourism Authority to promote tourism in the region that remains buried under snow for much of the year. Drass is the world’s second coldest inhabited place after Oymyakon in Russia.
“Drass was famous when a war was waged here … now I want it to become famous for polo,” Abdullah said to huge applause from some 2,000 people who had walked from up to 18 kilometres away since 4 a.m. to watch the match.
Local players said that could be turned to the region’s advantage, with the holding of winter games.
“We want to thank HT for this. They told our story to the world, and now it will change our life,” said Mohammed Amin, the main organiser and an ace commentator.