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

Southasia - - Sports Polo - By Am­ber Anwer Am­ber An­war holds a B.A in Mar­ket­ing from the Univer­sity of Karachi. She cur­rently works for Slo­gan and En­ter­prise mag­a­zines and writes on topics of rel­e­vant pro­fes­sional in­ter­est.

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

Chitral.

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.

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