Leaning low from his saddle, a rider thunders forward with a cavalry lance. His target is a wooden tent peg stuck upright in the ground. Such a spectacle could never be imagined at Britain's Royal Windsor or any other venue staging the elite sport of polo. But on a plateau high in Pakistan's Karakoram Range above the market town of Gilgit, the most ancient form of the sport is still practised - and with a passion verging on the obsessed. According to tradition, demonstrating prowess with a lance is the accepted manner in which a player establishes his credentials before participating in one of the roughest and most dangerous games devised. Such competitions indicate the martial origins of this sport, which was born 2,600 years ago in Persia before finding an unlikely sanctuary from extinction in the mountains of Pakistan. In the 13th century, Muslim conquerors introduced the game to Asia and it spread as far afield as Tibet, China and Japan. The game eventually died out with the fall of the Mogul empire, surviving for centuries only in this remote region of the Himalayas until it was re-discovered and subsequently institutionalised during British colonial rule. But the modern game, followed mainly by aristocrats and the jet-set, is a far cry from polo played today among the hardy people of Gilgit, Chitral and Skardu. Only in Pakistan's northern ranges, surrounded by spectacular mountains, is it played closest to its original form. And the most historic and breathtaking polo tournament of all is also the highest - contested every year on top of the Shandur Pass at almost 4,000 metres above sea level on the Major Cobb Moony Polo Ground, named after a British political agent who played there. The event, which marks the annual rivalry between two polo teams from Gilgit and Chitral, is one of the country's little-known attractions now being promoted under a new five-year plan to develop the tourist industry by the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC). 'The main thrust of the plan is to motivate the private sector to join hands with government to develop tourism,' a PTDC spokesman said. 'The public sector's emphasis is mainly to open up new and untapped attractions like polo in the north, as well as resorts, roadside restaurants, camping sites and adventure sport facilities in unspoilt areas.' To attract private sector investment from home and abroad, special fiscal and monetary incentives have been introduced and projects are guaranteed 'fast-track' approval.