Playing on Top of the World
Pakistan Pakistan is home is home to to the the world’s world’s highest highest polo polo ground. ground. Polo As is Polo fast becomes becoming an an internationally internationally competitive competitive sport sport, but how it needs much more is it pat
The sheer serenity of the Shandur Pass turns into a ferocious field every year, during the Shandur Festival or polo tournament in Pakistan. A three-day festival, held in early July, includes folk music and dance performances by locals, trout fishing, mountaineering, trekking, hiking and horse riding along with of course, the great polo tournament.
Pakistan is home to a number of magnificent landscapes and topography. One of these is the Shandurtop polo field, located in District Ghizer in northern Pakistan. The tradition of playing polo at the world’s highest polo ground, located at a towering height of 3,700 meters, has been ongoing since the British era. The best teams from Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan compete in the Shandur Polo Tournament, playing with passion and vigor, thus creating a healthy yet warlike atmosphere throughout the area. Due to Shandur’s geographical beauty, the popular yearly tournament also draws international polo spectators and observers. Scores of people from all over the world and nearby areas gather at the beautiful landscape surrounded by crystal-clear lakes, snow-covered mountains and breath-taking views, to witness the clash of the local titans.
Shandur served as a Polo ground much before the 1936 inception of an annual polo tournament during the British rule. Previously, the game was played between small villages and rival groups from Chitral and Gilgit. It was only after 1936 that the polo tournament was held annually. A British army officer, Evelyn Hey Cobb, first introduced the idea and organised the tournament. Cobb, an avid Polo player, was fond of playing the game under the full moon. Since then the ground has never been used for any other purpose than as a polo playing field. Polo at Shandur Pass follows the ancient rules of Ali Sher Khan, the supposed descendent of Genghis Khan. It is one of the only venues in the world that still hosts the sport in its original form with centuries old rules, while internationally it is now played with new rules.
Polo demands a strongly built player, a speedy horse and a zealous team to generate a real competition. Players from Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan are passionate about the sport and participate in the Shandur Polo Tournament with full vigor. These players are best at what they do; however, they are restricted to their local grounds and do not participate in international polo tournaments. All Pakistani players who play polo internationally hail mainly from cities like Lahore, Multan, Karachi, Bahawalpur and Rawalpindi; none of them are from Gilgit-Baltistan or
Given the climate, natural beauty and their practice of staying outdoors, almost all sports played by the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and surrounding areas are outdoors. Horse polo, the national game of the region, is the most famous among all the outdoor games. Other sports that keep natives busy include paragliding, rafting, horse racing, Buz
kashi and the traditional tug-of-war. In Chitral, sports such as cricket,
tuksoru, gulli danda and volleyball are actively played. During various festivals, a number of parallel competitions are held such as archery, swimming across torrential rivers, rock climbing at Shasha cliffs, rafting down the Chitral River and wrestling on wooden logs placed high over water. However, polo remains the most watched sport and soccer, the most played.
The importance of polo in the northern areas can be gauged from the presence of two clubs, FCNA Polo Club and the Shandur Polo Club, both associated with the Pakistan Polo Association.
Pakistan has much to boast of in terms of natural beauty and cultural heritage. It is no coincidence that it is home to the world’s highest Polo ground, a sport increasingly embraced by locals residing in the northern areas. While the annual Polo festival serves as a strong magnet for international followers of the sport, the general population must also value the natural venue and traditions associated with it. Other countries spend exorbitant amounts of money to host international polo matches and competitions within their countries. There is an urgent need for the Pakistani government to introduce measures to protect and maintain its naturally given advantage as it would be a waste to watch one of the most prized Polo locations in the world, gradually deteriorate due to negligence.