The Shandur Polo Festival

by Dr. Jessie Voigts / May 18, 2008 /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Imagine an exciting polo game, nestled among high mountains, in between the green earth, a gorgeous lake, and the blue blue sky.  Welcome to Shandur, the highest polo ground on earth! Where is Shandur? Pakistan! and Shandur Polo festival is held in July ever year.

Here's a little history on the sport... "polo is an equestrian sport with its origins embedded in Central Asia, dating back to the 6th century BC.  At first it was a training game for cavalry units for the King's guards or other elite troops.  To the warlike tribesmen who played polo with as many as 100 players to a side, it was a miniature battle.  It became a Persian national game in the 6th century AD. From Persia, the game spread to Arabia, then Tibet, China, and Japan.   Polo was introduced in South Asia by the Muslim conquerors in the 13th century," (Pakistan Tourism News, August 2006, Issue 1, Vol. 1, p. 7).

Shandur Polo Festival

This week, I had the chance to sit down and talk with Tayyab Mir, the Editor of Pakistan Tourism News, with the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation in Islamabad.  As well, Tayyab is our new Pakistan Editor here at wanderingeducators.com, so you'll be seeing a bit more of him! He was a wealth of information...here's our interview...

WE:  How did the Shandur Polo Festival blossom into the great event it is today?

TM: The first time a polo tournament took place at the Shandur Pass, was in 1936. A British Political Agent, Major Cobb, who was fond of playing polo under a full moon, had the polo ground near Shandur, named 'Moony Polo Ground'. The most exciting polo tournament of the entire Northern Pakistan, it is played on top of Shandur Pass, around 3,700 meters above sea level. It is a place unique and exotic in itself, surrounded by some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world. The event marks the annual rivalry between the polo teams of Gilgit and Chitral.

Until 2005, the Festival was being organized by the Provincial Government of North West Frontier Province. However, after that, President Mushrraf on a request from the local people of Chitral, assigned this task to Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation under the Federal Government. The objective behind this move was to turn this traditional local festival, first into a national and then an international event through better organization, by adding innovative sideline activities and through better marketing.
 
Today, we have been sucessful in making it a national level festival. In 2006, it was telecast live for the first time, by Pakistan Television. The National Geographic Channel and the BBC had also covered it for their documentaries. For the first time, the festival was partly sponsored by an oil company in 2006 and by a telecommunications company in 2007. The Festival has also brought improvement in road networks and other infrastructure in the area.
 

WE:  Are there polo teams that have long records of participating in the Festival?

TM: Yes, the traditional rivals of Shandur Polo Festival are the teams of Chitral and Gilgit. Other teams like those from Laspur, Mastuj and Ghizer also participate in the tournament.

Shandur Polo Festival 

WE: How many international visitors do you expect each year?

TM:  Earlier, this figure was less than 100 due to the reason that the date of the event was not fixed and announced in advance. But since 2006, we have fixed the date from 7 to 9 July for all the years to come. That has helped our tour operators to market within their programs. With some efforts, we expect to touch the figure of foreign tourists to 3,000 within three years time. Last year, there were over 20,000 people attending.

WE: Where can people stay? What about transportation?

TM:  Shandur Top has been declared by the Government as National Park Area, therefore, no permanent structure is allowed to be constructed. Therefore, a huge tent village is set up for 3-4 days during the festival. Apart from that, PTDC has set up its motels all along the route from Gilgit and Chitral at following places:

Gilgit, Gupis, Phandar, Mastuj, Buni, Chitral

By having a comfortable night's stay either at Phandar or Mastuj, tourists can visit the Festival daily by jeep. But it is advisable to enjoy night festivities by staying at least one night in a tent on Shandur. PTDC set up its tent village along side Shandur Lake.

PTDC and many of other Pakistani tour operators organize 8-day package tours (based from Islamabad) for the incoming foreign and Pakistan tourists for Shandur Festival (itinerary on our website). Cultural programmes like traditional music, folk dances, bon-fire, food festival, paragliding show, boating, fishing, etc. are part of the festival.

Shandur Polo Festival 

 

WE: Thank you so much, Tayyab! I appreciate your kindness in sharing the Shandur Polo Festival with our members. 

 

 

For more information on the Shandur Polo Festival, please see:

www.tourism.gov.pk/shandoor_polo_festival.htm
 

 

 

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