Sun Life’s sponsorship in India is helping to grow the game of ice hockey and promoting health-related activities in a key market for Sun Life. (CNW Group/Sun Life Financial Inc.)

3500 metres, 5000 spectators, India? Ice Hockey?

An irrigation pond in the summer, the Karzoo at 11,500 feet (3,484 m), is the world’s highest natural ice hockey rink in the world. This novelty serves not only as an attraction but also a handicap for the locals. While ice hockey is an indoor in most parts of the world, in Leh, December-January is the only time that it can be seriously pursued in the region.

It may not be well known that ice hockey was introduced to India in the 1920s by the British ling in Shimla. Later, during the 1970s, Indian soldiers were shown the sport as a means to stay fit in the winter. It was only after the turn of the century that ice hockey gained exposure with the formation of the Ice Hockey Association of India (IHAI). Today it is played at the national level in Ladakh, Shimla and Kashmir.

This is ice hockey India-style, and in the remote northeastern region of Ladakh, it’s all the rage.

“It is very popular here and people love it. In winter, people only play ice hockey,” says Tsewang Gyaltson, 23, as he ties up his skates. “No matter how cold the weather is … the sport is so adventurous, so thrilling, so fast that we just can’t stay inside.”

In a country better known for its obsession with cricket, ice hockey has a small but fierce following.

Every winter, as snow blankets the Leh valley and temperatures plummet to -20C, the region’s frozen lakes buzz with hockey tournaments. They invite people from around the world to sign up to the tournament for a fee each year. Imagine playing on an outdoor rink 3,500m high in the Himalayas. Check out the video below!

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