Shandur Polo Festival takes place on a plateau known as Shandur Pass. Rival teams from Gilgit and Chitral compete against each other on the polo field.
It is estimated that polo, the oldest equestrian game, originated more than 2,000 years ago. Written accounts of it have emerged from various sources across Asia thus making it difficult to pinpoint the exact place of its origin. However, historians have conjectured that it was either in Persia or amongst the Iranian tribes of Central Asia that polo was first played. In fact, the earliest recorded game dates back to 600 BC to a public match between the Persians and the Turkomans. Originally used as training for the cavalry units, polo was meant to prepare them for war.
Travelling east, Polo was picked up by the Arabs and eventually made its way to China and Japan. In fact, the word ‘polo’ is of Tibetan origin and comes from ‘pulu’ meaning ball. The British discovered Polo in the Indian subcontinent during their occupation and exported it to the rest of the world.
The Shandur Polo Festival takes place in July on a plateau known as Shandur Pass, which stands at an elevation of 3,734 metres. It is located between District Ghizer in Gilgit-Baltistan and District Chitral, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. The ownership of this pass is disputed between KPK and Gilgit-Baltistan with both parties claiming it as their property. The first officially recorded polo game was played here in 1936.
The traditional rival teams of Gilgit and Chitral participate in the polo matches and only the best players and horses from each side compete. Playing at such an altitude requires that players be physically strong and have the stamina to withstand the reduced amount of oxygen. Usually each match lasts for an hour with a ten minute break in between. Along with the polo matches, the three-day festival includes folk music and dancing. Other outdoor activities such as fishing, horseback riding, hiking, and mountaineering are also available to partake in.