The term great game is attributed to Captain Arthur Canolly who in 1840 in a letter mentioned it to Major Henry Rawlinson Political Agent Kandahar. It was also used by novelist Rudyard Kipling in his novel Kim in 1901. It was first used academically by Professor Davis in a presentation titled “The Great Game in Asia” on 10 Nov 1926. The strategic rivalry between British Empire and Russian Empire for gaining supremacy in Central Asia is known as “Great Game”. The British wanted to protect their interest in sub-continent and against a possible soviet advance.

Gilgit Baltistan was important in 1880s during the great game when Russian was occupying Central Asian cities and was pressing Pamirs, Oxus and Afghanistan. Being in a far-flung area still for the British, Gilgit was fulcrum of Asia. Therefore they sent British officers to see the situation of northern frontier on ground and report. The Gilgit game is simply the story of how and by whom such a remote area was explored appropriated and Gilgit game was played. Importance of Gilgit was also appreciated and from its northern passes Central Asia could be reach direct from Gilgit. This forced the British to develop a new policy to be known as forward policy. It was this policy, the British started exploring the areas of their interest and fact finding missions were sent to Gilgit. The first foreigner (European) who visited this region was in 1830, explorer Godfrey Thomas Vigne who had reached Hattu Pir above the Astore River and brought back some first eye witness account of the Indus at Bunji. In 1847 two British officers Vans Agnew and Ralph Young crossed Indus for the demarcation of boundary before Gilgit turned back. In 1866 Dr. Leitner was the first European who visited this region properly. He again visited Gilgit in 1886 when he was sponsored by British government for a linguistic enquiry on Hunza/Nagar. His visit had drawn attention of British India of this remote region.

It was because of the importance of this region, royal geographic society sponsored expeditions to this region. It was royal geographical society which recommended the forward policy to bring Gilgit within the framework of British India’s outer defence. They sent George Hayward a well-known explorer to find the source of the Oxus. He made four attempts between July 1868 to July 1870 to reach Pamirs. The Kashmir Darbar was trying to dissuade him from going to Gilgit because they never wanted an English man to see exact state frontiers. Hayward was murdered in Yasin on 18 July, 1870 in mysterious circumstances. The ruler of Yasin was accused behind the murder. Later Frederick Drew the writer of “Jammu and Kashmir Territories” 1875 was detailed to inquire into the circumstances of his death, whose conclusions were that Aman-ul-Malik of Chitral was instrumental in the murder of Hayward, as he was considered as British agent in the region. Maharaja of Kashmir was also accused as an instigator who was jealous of British dealing direct with the people of Gilgit.

According to Drew instructions of murder were given by Maharaja and paid rupees 10000 to Malik Aman of Yasin for the murder. John Biddulph between (1876 to 1880) would become the first explorer to visit Hunza and first into Chitral was sent to Gilgit as an officer on special duty on a crucial mission which was highly confidential i.e., espionage. He was sent to the area after the murder Hayward because his murder further brought Gilgit to public attention across Europe. Biddulph was sent firstly to inspect the northern approaches through passes to British India; secondly to assess the extension of Kashmir rule right upto the passes and to post Dogra troops for imperial defence. Though, Hunza/Nagar was not in his mission, however, he was invited by Mir of Hunza. In August 1876 he left for Hunza to explore valley up to Wakhan and returning down to Ishkuman. His recommendation to British India was, that Chaprot (Nagar) should be occupied by Maharaja’s troops to secure Gilgit from attacks from Hunza and Nagar. Hunza was important for the British because of the passes leading to Pamirs and to the valley of Yarkand river as it was bounded on the north and east by Hindukush. He added that Raja of Yasin who controlled not only Yasin and Ishkuman valleys but also upper Chitral held the keys to India and the sooner they could be transferred to safer hands better. Therefore, the appointment of political agent at Gilgit was first step towards total political control of Gilgit by British India.