By Abdul Wali Khan
July, 7 – 9, 2018 will mark the glamorous tournament of Polo (the game of kings and king of game) at the world highest polo ground of Shandur –a famous land in the boarder of Gilgit and Chitral. In the wording of the worthy minister of tourism GB Mr. Fida Khan Fida shandur festival will attract more than one million tourists including locals, regional and international. To pay homage and welcome to the dignitaries and guests, all arrangements have been made. Awesome job minister sahib, as a leader you have truly been vanguard to make the event happen.
The history of polo game in shandur ground earns contradictory opinions: some credit its initiation and construction of the polo ground to Ali Sher Khan Anchal- the Balti Raja of Skardu. While the other give its due credit to British occupiers who built the ground and started polo. There is understanding that in 1935, Evelyn Hey Cobb ( Kab Sab in Khowar language)- the UK administrator for Northern Areas ordered Niat Qabool Hayat (Numberdar Alla from Gulaghmuli) to make a well-constructed polo ground in Shandur. With the help of local community Mr. Niat Qabool Hayat constructed the polo ground. Latter on the ground was named “Mas Junali”. The word “Mass Junali” is derived from khowar. The word “Mas” means moon and “Junali” means polo ground. There is also folklore that Cobb sab used to play polo in the ground at night. Any way this is how Mass Junali became a source of relation and connection between the people of Chitral district in Khyber Pukhtunkhawa and neighboring Gilgit-Baltistan. Now Shandur polo festival opens a door step to the people of the world to enjoy the nature, experience cultural diversity during the 3 days festival. Many people across globe come to shandur to watch the polo match played between Chitral and Gilgit polo team. Being a small event in nature the festival has ripple effect on the local economy, social interaction and spending happy movements of life talking to nature. Lush green grass, cold water and air, fountains, stream, rivers, flora and fauna and what not bring the tourist very close to the nature and self and reveal on them the countless manifestation of God. By now I hope shandur seems a tented colony. People are there for luxury and enjoy.
Shandur festival not only provides us with the opportunity of entertainments but also to reflect and observe the nature. Though, the event could significantly contribute to the local economy and a source of advertisement of the area in the world. However, there are environmental issues as well. Insight literature informs us that increasing tourism has serious consequences for the environment. For instance, solid waste, littering, sewage because of hotel and other recreational sources and pollution are the potential side effects of shandur festival. The question then is what our roles are to cope with this challenge? We need to understand that nature is not only a luxury that people go and entertain rather it is self within us. For example, if the resources are rare what will we use? And if the land is made erosion where will we go? In other word there is a deep connection between our environment and us. Do we want to destroy this connection for our greedy wishes or we want to make the connection strong?
In sum nature is insight us so save it, be fair to it and be cooperative with us, this is how mutual coexistence is possible. I hope you all have intentions to come to shandur next time. If so please be a responsible tourist, help volunteers to ensure cleanliness of shandur and let shandur live its life. This is far now enjoy shandur festival and god bless you all!
The writer is a MPhil Scholar at the Aga khan University, Karachi.