Shandur Polo Festival
The tournament is held at Shandur Top, the highest polo field in the world at 3,700 meters (the pass itself is at 3,800 meters). The festival includes folk music and dancing, while a large camping village of polo enthusiasts, adventurers and supporters also adds to the atmosphere for the duration of the tournament. During the early 20th century, the British colonial rulers of India were the patrons of the game. In 1935, the British Political Agent, Major A.H. Cobb commissioned a polo field at Shandur, which came to be known as “Mas Junali” in the local Khowar language; the “Moon Polo field”. Cobb then encouraged the people of Chitral and Gilgit, quite often at odds, to settle their differences through an annual polo fixture, now known as the Shandur Polo Festival. Mas Junali became a venue of conflict resolution between the people of Chitral and Gilgit; while the three-day Shandur Polo Festival has developed steadily in recent years into the massive celebration of mountain polo that it is today.
Chitral and Gilgit have always played the game of polo closest to its original form. Each team has six players. The match is divided into two halves of 25 minutes, with a 10-minute interval. Only 1 polo pony is permitted per player, and if a player or pony leaves the field injured, the opposing team also reduces its strength by 1 player. A fresh polo pony may not be introduced into the game, as that will prove to be a distinct advantage.
The field measures about 200 meters by 56 meters (a normal polo field is about 270m by 150m), with 60 cm high stone walls running the length of the field on both sides instead of boards. Players rarely wear helmets, the horses' legs often have no bandages, and very few mallets have proper grips or straps.
In order to decide the final teams to play at the Shandur Polo Festival, preliminary matches are played both in Chitral and Gilgit;...from which the best horses and players are chosen for the final games by the local juries. Free-style mountain polo is arguably polo in its purest form. This version of the game played at Shandur-Top has attained legendary status and is of great interest to international and domestic adventure tourists alike. There are no umpires and everything goes. The rules are: There are no rules!
In "The Roof of the World" Amin/Willets/Tetley write: "by comparison, an American Wild West rodeo might pass for choir practice."
No hit-ins! If the ball runs out over the back line, the goal-judge immediately launches another ball towards the middle of the field and the game carries on. If a player scores a goal, the goal-judge gives him a ball to hold in his right hand while also carrying the mallet. The player must then gallop down the side of the field, and at the halfway line chuck the ball in the air and strike it. Hit or miss, the game continues, but if he scores, he gets to do it again. This is known as the “tumbuk”; truly a privilege to witness if it sails through the goal! Yet there is a certain method to all the madness; it’s an extremely strategic sport! Man-marking is just as important as in any other form of polo. It’s also interesting to note how team members take turns in giving their mounts periodic breaks while the game carries on. They care very deeply for their entire pony string of ONE, which they maintain at great expense and sacrifice!
7th, 8th and 9th July – Every Year
Shandur Polo Festival
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