Tourist Guide to Shandur Polo Festival

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The Northern areas of Pakistan are not only known for their captivating background. There is much more hidden inland between mountains. Travel to the District Ghizer of Gilgit and you will be much amused by the highest polo ground of the world waiting there for you.

Also known as “The Roof of the World”, Shandur Polo Ground is built at an elevation of 12,149 feet. This setting attracts players from all around the country for the annual polo event. Stay hooked and find out the hidden facts about the polo ground and annual event.

Polo in Ancient Days

In ancient days, Polo was used as a training game for Royal knights and cavalry scouts of the United Kingdom. With nearly 100 players on one side, the game portrayed the picture of a mini-battle. The games traveled to Persia, Arab, Tibet, China, and finally to Gilgit.

In Gilgit, the game was played between rival troops and villages. Owing to the establishment of polo ground in 1936, organized polo tournaments were arranged under the headship of British leaders of the area. The game expanded and more teams started to take part until it got developed into massive celebrated event of today.

Polo
Polo

Founding Stone of Shandur Polo Ground

Shandur Pass, which hosts this ground is a connecting link between Ghizer District and Chitral District of the province of KPK (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). The flat plateau is often referred to as roof of the world.  Rolling back into time, links of polo in Shandur are tied to British emperors. Back in 1935, Evelyn Hey Cobb expressed his wish to Niat Qabool Hayat Kakakhel of a polo ground in Shandur. Niat employed his workforce to get this ground established to fulfill the wish of Evelyn Hey Cobb.

The ground was given the name of “Mas Junali”. It is translated as “moony polo ground” in Khowar language. It was named so because Cobb loved to play polo in the moonlight. In return for services of Kakakhel, the Cobb gifted trout fish to the area which was released in the Ghizer River. This led to massive local employment and introduction of delicious trout fish in the area.

Shandur Polo Ground
Shandur Polo Ground

FreeStyle Polo

Shandur Polo Ground hosts finest form of polo i.e “FreeStyle Polo”. It is considered the most rugged and adored form of polo among the polo players and spectators. When looking into the rules of the game, there are in fact “No Rules”. There are no umpires, no board embankments, and no fancy laws. The players are not bound to wear helmets or any other safety bandages on the legs of horses. The mallets are often without any hooks or straps.

The dimensions of the Shandur Polo ground are 200 by 56 meters. Instead of a board boundary, a stone wall of 60 cm height runs on all sides of the field. 6 players represent a team. The final teams that play at the event pass through a selection process. The selection phase recruits the best horses and players. The four teams (A, B, C, D) representing Chitral & Gilgit show their valor in the 3 days event. Each match lasts for one hour with 2 halves. A 10 minutes break intervenes in the halves.

FreeStyle Polo

Shandur Polo Festival

The annual festival at Shandur Polo Ground lasts for 3 days every year. From 7 to 9th July, the venue projects spectacular scenes. The picturesque backdrop of mountains and the enthralling views of the surroundings make this event a real treat amidst natural beauty. This annual event marks for a competition between teams from districts of Gilgit and Chitral. Check coverage of Al Jazeera from 2019 event.

Travelers from Pakistan and abroad travel to Gilgit to enjoy the game. Apart from game, the visitors also get a glimpse of the lifestyle and traditions of the local people. You can indulge into fishing, mountaineering, trekking to explore the scattered beauty around the place.

The colorful annual event is adorned by Folk music and dance performances. This music and dance exhibitions give a true insight of Balti culture. One can also spot “Tourist Tent Village” in the open meadows of Shandur. The visitors can stay up here with easy access to several restaurants nearby. There are also set up souvenirs and local handicrafts sale exhibitions to fuel up the culture and economy.

Find out the full recorded match of polo.

A Polo match recorded behind the lens

Travel to Shandur

The Shandur Pass nestled between Chitral and Gilgit can be approached only by hiring a jeep. The distance till Shandur Pass is calculated to be 170 km from both sides. Get to the main districts of Chitral or Gilgit by flights leaving from Peshawar and Islamabad or by road. 2 flights in a day are planned from both cities subjected to weather conditions.

If you are planning to travel by road then the route ends up at Swat Valley. You will have to continue up your journey from Swat to Dir and then to Chitral via passing through Lowari Pass. Journey onwards from Dir is recommended on a 4×4 vehicle. Traveling by road has its own treats. Take a stop at Dir or Mastuj when traveling to Chitral. Gupis is a scenic spot from Gilgit’s side.

There are various resting spots and motels set up by Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) on the way to Shandur Pass. PTDC has arranged government owned resting facilities at Panah Kot (Dir), Besham, Barseen, Gilgit, and Bamburet (Kalash Valley). Check out the official website for more information.

With an online Visa System and easy registration process, the Pakistan Government has made things far easier for international travelers. Plan your trip to Pakistan today and let your eyes feast this healthy game played among the mountains. Check the location of Shandpur Polo Ground on Google Map.

Shandur Pass
Shandur Pass

Check why Pakistan is termed Best Holiday Destination

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