Shandur Polo Festival and Swat’s Aman Mela


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.

According to a post on the Express Tribune:

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

Its Not The Players, Its The Boards Stupid !


Since the arrival of 2010, Pakistan’s hockey and cricket teams have been sliding down a string of defeats. Our Cricket team’s Tour of Australia and our Hockey Team’s performance in the Hockey World Cup, both were indeed disasters. Not only did the shock the nation but crushed their hopes.We must wake up to the fact that there are many factors that contribute to the performances of our teams other than the players. Alot of debate has been going on to determine the reasons for such defeats and most of the time, the players of both teams are blamed and held more responsible than the the Boards who have contributed much to the failure than the players, PHF and PCB.

The PCB has recently stinged the major players of the Cricket Team with bans and fines as ‘punishments’ for the defeats on the Tour of Australia and PHF has sacked the management of the hockey team with the entire Hockey Team tendering their reisgnations after their performance at the World Cup.

While one already knows the situation and state of PCB currently, it is no surprise that PHF is also in a reflecting condition of the cricket board. Qasim Zia, President of the PHF was appointed at this position by the PM through a usual case of bringing relatives and politics in the stream of sports. Asif Bajwa, the Secretary of the Pakistan Hockey Federation, is highly reputed to have come into PHF through his links with an MNA from Sialkot of the ruling party. Bajwa seems to lack the vision to purge the national sport of the country out of its current decline and so far, nothing remarkable from his side has emerged to revive hockey except rumours of his ill-management. It is evident that the state of inertia still persisted in our hockey after the elevation of both Zia and Bajwa to these posts, it is also quite evident that they lack direction, skills and leadership qualities to head the PHF. and should have long resigned after the failures of our Hockey Team.

Shahid Ali Khan, a former Olympian and though a hard-working coach of our team was previously a goal-keeper which is quite a restricted role in the game of hockey. Mr.Khan can not be blamed for a goal-keeper can not have the acumen to coach and that too when the state of the team is already deplorable. Can we expect Salman Akbar, our current goal-keeper to coach the future hockey team of Pakistan? Certainly not.

Our Hockey Players, many of who were playing for a long time, were also decided to be awarded the Central Contracts THIS year, and to get it straight, no player plays to his full potential without the assurance of money to be granted to him to support himself and the deserved respect.

Coming to our cricket board and its famed management that has no such qualifications to be in the management of a sport that is the heart-beat of its nation. The PCB Chairman, Ejaz Butt who played 8 tests in his time from 1959 to 1962 was appointed as the Chairman by President Asif Ali Zardari who is the Patron of Chief of our cricket board [Pakistan is the only country where the President is the Chief of a sports board] on account of his relations with Defence Minister, Ahmed Mukhtar. Butt is neither efficient nor is he capable of running PCB. He seems to have absolutely no knowledge about the game and how to handle the players and the management itself is maladroit.

People like Tauqeer Dar and Abdul Qadir are running private academies for the game of hockey and cricket respectively.
Dar who hails from a family of fine hockey players runs his own ‘Dar Hockey Academy’ in Lahore where any youth can join free of cost and he provides them with all the hockey equipment himself. Coaches are always there to instruct the boys.
Last year, Pakistan’s U1-9 Hockey Team won a Cup of a mega tournament and that team consisted of players who were part of Tauqeer Dar’s academy.

Abdul Qadir also runs his own academy for cricket for youngsters and is a strong critic of those who run the PCB currently.

Both Abdul Qadir and Tauqeer Dar are doing more than just a commendable job for the future of cricket and the latter for the revival of hockey and in producing players that shall take the game to its glorious heights again but as long as the official boards of these games, PHF and PCB are run on the basis of nepotism and politics, the conditions of both hockey and cricket will remain stagnant and exacerbate because that is the result when players are mismanaged and handled by people who lack in skills and knowledge.

It should be realized by now, that to save sports in Pakistan, politics shall be thrown out of it and each appointment should be on the basis of merit.

Hafsa Khawaja