Gilgit - Baltistan

Horses, sticks and the ball: Polo at Shandur

by Sultan Ahmad

My dreams came true when I finally got a chance to witness the legendary polo match on the world’s highest polo ground- Shandur, a place of calm, tranquillity and peace. 

From Gilgit, it took me around seven hours to get to Shandur after I had, already, travelled for 20 hours on the KKH. It was the excitement I felt that gave me so much energy that even after travelling continously for 27 hours, I was still fresh while breathing in the Shandur pass, 12500 feet above the sea level. Just at the entrance once can feel the fragrance and reverence of this big event that is fixed on the national calendar i.e. July 7 to 9 each year. One can see tents all around and thousands of people roaming around waiting for the big event on July 9. Spectators normally start reaching the place from 5th July onwards. This year there were four matches between Gilgit and Chitral. On July 7, Gilgit D and Chitral D faced each other. The winner was Gilgit. On July 8, C and B teams of both areas were in the arena. In the first match, Gilgit C took the lead while in the second match Chitral B showed greater power. In this way, two cups went to Gilgit and one to Chitral. However, it is always the match between the ‘A’ teams that decides the champion of this event. According to records, Chitral A had been the winner for the last two years i.e. 2006 and 2007.  

So every body was anxious waiting for the final day. We went to the ground an hour before the starting time. The match was scheduled to begin at 11:00 on July 9. We were thrilled to see the floating throng towards the polo ground. The whole area is simply ‘as-it-is’ except a small stadium where guests and invitees sit. We were waiting for the game to begin and then it was announced that the chief guest is late and it may take 30 minutes. We were just counting seconds and finally it was 12’ O clock when the chief guest threw the ball inside the ground and the game started. Each and every second was worth seeing. Each moment in the game simply controlled the breathing of spectators. Gilgit team took lesser time to make five goals and it seemed as if they will be the winners. After the first half i.e. 25 minutes Gilgit were 5 while Chitral had scored 3. The rest time in between was too long and there were many speeches which really took away the taste of the game. Finally the second half began and it was a real war time. At the end of the second half, both teams had scored 7. Each moment was worth seeing and enjoying. Additional ten minutes were offered for the decision and the Chitral team scored 2 decisive goals which left Gilgit behind and Chitral became the winner for the third consecutive year.  

To put in a nut shell, this even is a real legend for many reasons and it is a life time experience to be in Shandur watching free style polo at its best between the two historical rivalries of pol

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  1. The comentory, by sultan Ahmaed, has provided a real picture of the final day for those who have missed the event this year.

    The event was witnessed by all the game lovers on their television sets world wide. While commenting on the game one of the polo experts from Lahore, most often, used the word wild polo as comparing it with the rest of the polo played in the world.

    It is to be noted that polo played in Northern areas and Chitral is not wild polo, instead, it is free style polo. In esence, using the work wild has disgranced the realy and origanal polo.

  2. ( previous comment may be removed, plz)

    This article, by Sultan Ahmed, is a jovail cover story of the final day of the event. It speaks some thing for those who usually attend the event, but missed this time.

    The final day, however, was witnessed by all the fans of free stye polo world wide on their TV sets.

    The matter to the purpsoe is that many of the game lovers were annoyed to know that the experts on Geo Supper were using the word wild polo., meaning it is wild polo, not a single time but over the enitre duration of the tournament.

    The polo played in chitral and gilgit is not wild, instead, it is free style. The word wild has, really, conveyed an otherwise image to the world.

    In all, it is my suggestion that the polo associations, of both chitral and Gilgit, should nominate local experts to cover the event, while airing the matches in future.

    And also the Geo Supper expers needs to be intimated that in the parlance of polo, it is called free style polo, but not wild polo.

  3. You are right. It is called free style becuase there are no specific rules as such and the game is played in the absence of any umpires.Two persons are deputed near the two pole and they show red flag if a team scores goal whereas in case of the ball going out, they would show white flag. If a dispute arises the coaches of both teams discuss and decide. For example, in one match the Gilgit team apparently scored a goal and one of the two persons near the pole showed red flag while the other shosed white flag. The match was haulted and both coaches came to the ground. After some discussions they could not reach a clue and finally they made a toss hence the decision was in favor of Gilgit team.

    I agree with Sajjaed in his arguments of this match not being wild rather it is a very unique stuyle of game where players show greater team spirit. It is always important to give orientation to commentators before they are given such an important and technical task.

  4. My dear Musofer,

    coming again to my point, wilderness and having no rules are two diffrent things….. Wild, actually, means irrational … instead of naming it wild, why do not lable it as Free Style Polo… whereas, the term wild gives an ugly impresssion (anything done by human being is wild)

  5. I agree with Sajjd about this game being free style rather wild. Becuase wild gives a very negative connotation. This game is called free style becuase it has no rules and regulations as such neither umpires. However that does not mean that this game is just played in the air rather it has its own dynamics. For example on both sides two persons are deployed near each pole and they show flags incase the ball enters the goal or goes outside. In case of a goal they would raise the red flag otherwise the white flag is raised once the ball goes outside the line or the boundary. If a dipsure arises, coaches of both teams come to the field and make a decision.
    For example, in one case the Gilgit team apparently scored a gola and one of the guys showed red flag while conversely the other showed white flag. Then there was a dispute and the game was haulted for some time. Both coaches discussed at length but there was no clue. finally they agreed to have toss and this way the goal was declared in favor of Gilgit. That was interesting though!!

  6. Is this free style game only in Chitral and NAs or soemwhere els where no safty for the life of the players as well as for the audiences….? if there human beig playing such game there sould be some rule regulation.

  7. It is full of rules and regulatons, plz consult explainations, by Sultan Ahmed, at comments # 3 and 6.

    Musafir, you, as a well known researcher hailing from that part of the country, should be better aware than we do.

  8. Ok dear i agree with you, if there some rules than good, as i watced a polo match in Gilgit in 1995, there was really nothing, and even the horses ware out of control ware going to jump over the audience and there no such barrier or security system. i was surprised about that time. my father ws a very keen player of polo, from Hussaini he travled to Chaporson for polo, and so many times fell down from horses, and that he suffered till now. Thats very good for a game sould some rules. Thanks

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