Shandur Polo Tournament is an annual festival arranged every July at the Shandur Pass in the northern areas of Pakistan where rival teams from Chitral and Gilgit play. This area has hosted this game since the past 800 years. Playing polo on the Shandur Top is popularly known as ‘Playing Polo On The Roof Of The World’ for it is reported to be as the highest polo ground in the world, where the Hindukush, Pamir and Karakoram ranges meet.
Its history dates back to the 1920s when the ruler of Moskuj, the Hindukush highland between Chitral and Gilgit, was told by his Mir, or king, to promote integration within his realm through a polo tournament between the best players. It is also said that :
“Historically the game goes back many centuries when the local Mehtars , Mirs and Rajas were patrons of polo and it was played, not only for pleasure, but for celebratory and commemorative occasions. The Mehtar of Chitral would send a message to his relatives the Rajas of Ghizar , Yasin and Ishkuman and word would travel far down the valleys to Punial Gilgit and Chilas where the challenge would be taken up. But despite being dubbed ‘the game of kings’, in the Northern Areas, it is not an elitist sport, often played in village square on sorry nags or even on bicycles.”
The world famous Shandur pass is about 3738 meter an above sea level and lies midway between Chitral and Gilgit.
The festival begins on the 7th of July with the feet of the traditional dancers thumping to the beat of the drummers which is the formal signification of the opening of the Tournament in a colour-splashed ceremony.
Then starts a polo match between Laspur Team, which is a village near Shandur in Chitral, and the Ghizer Team from Gilgit. During the course of the tournament A, B, C and D teams of Chitral and Gilgit battle it out on the polo field. Each team has six members with 2-4 reserve players incase of injury etc. The match duration is usually one hour. It is divided into two halves, with a 10 minutes interval.
During intervals the locals enthrall the audiences with traditional and cultural performances. The game decided in favor of the team scoring nine goals. The final is held on 9th July. There are no umpires and there are no holds barred. There are no rules!
The absence of rules not only casts dashes of thrill, excitement and unpredictability to the course of the game but often results into the players or horses getting injured, due to the ferocity and rigourness of it all.
There are no hotels so the people who come to visit camp out in the tented villages while bazaars are organized near them to showcase and sell local handicrafts.
Apart from the Tournament, Shandur is wrapped in an exotic atmosphere. Nestled in the bosom of the grandeur of nature which has lavished it with spectacular scenery of looming mountains, green plains and a huge crystalline azure clear lake laying comfortably stretched-out behind the back of the used polo ground, creating the ambiance of feel of replete tranquility and serenity, thrusting people into a seemingly another portal of the world away from the hustle-bustle of cities. Shandur in a single word, is exquisite.
The Tournament also provides the visitors an insight into the lives of the people of the region, their indwelling lifestyle, heritage, culture and customs.
Hindukush Trails, an Offical Sponsor of the event has mentioned that each year the following events are scheduled.
- Traditional dancing & singing and sitar music
- Para Gliding
- Rafting in the Shandur Lake
- Wild mountain polo , horse races and at times Buz Kashi
- Traditional tug of war
Shandur Polo Festival is all set to begin from the 7TH to the 9TH of July. This year, 2010, it has been dedicated to the Martrys of Uniform of the successful operations conducted against terrorism in Pakistan.
On the other hand, in Swat a festival which is first in its history is happening :
The ‘Aman Mela’ is a 20-day long national peace festival started in Swat on June 29th to celebrate the return of normalcy in the valley.
It has been set up in the same Grassy Ground where last year thousands of Taliban militants had assembled to hear Sufi Muhammad of the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM ) declare all institutions of the country un-Islamic and even democracy as unacceptably ‘un-Islamic’, where he also reasserted with audacity, his goal of bringing ‘their’ Shariat Rule all over Pakistan. This was the address that prompted the Government to decide an Operation in Swat against the militants.
Today, the festival which is being held by the Provincial Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority (PRRSA) in collaboration with the Pakistan Army, it is the site of rejoicing people, music and dance scenes, circus and all those activities that they were never allowed to carry out .
The fair will continue till July 18. Over 1,000 shops have been set up by industrialists and traders for tourists and the local population.
A photo exhibition, car rally, paragliding competitions were held on the first day of the festival.
“The purpose of the event is to bring back the tourists to the Swat following an end to the Taliban control as a result of the military operation last year. It is also aimed at erasing the bitter memories of the people and removing fear of the militants from their hearts.
The site was beautifully illuminated and decorated with welcoming banners, buntings and fluttering Pakistan flag.
The Pakistan Army had put on display the pictures of the valley representing its newfound life, under the title “Swat smiles again.” People streamed into the Grassy Ground in the evening with everyone wearing a toothy smile.”
Since Pakistan’s involvement in the ‘War on Terror’, it has been under the glare of the international media which has best0wed upon it the unpleasant label of ‘World’s Most Dangerous Country'; but what miffs the people of Pakistan is the one-sided coverage that is given to the country.
While every single beheading in Swat was shown by all leading foreign channels, understandbly so keeping in view Pakistan’s role in the WoT, none bothered to show the Aman Mela which was held in celebration of the cleansing of terrorists from the place.
All that the UK’s Telegraph could report about the marvellous Shandur Polo was a flasity terming it as a ‘Brutal Pakistani Polo Festival ‘ which was cancelled. How could such a credible site report such a canard that Polo Festival as cancelled when it was completed as planned and the Team of Shandur were declared champions?
This report caused vexation in many Pakistanis for it ruffled their feathers, passing off the stupendous event as ‘brutal’. In what way, is the Festival brutal? Why is every event or person in relevance to Pakistan deemed or told as barbaric?
Just because the sport is not played on the lines of the rules in the West, it certainly can not be characterized as brutal. Must it be for those who fail to possess the regal qualities of endurance and vigour as that of the participating Pakistanis players of our festival as surely Polo at Shandur is not just for ordinary polo players but it is a Game of Kings which are crowned every year at it.
The international media certainly needs to shed its fabric of bias and give equal coverage to both shades of events in Pakistan.
- Hafsa Khawaja