Shandur Polo Ground

Shandur Polo Ground is naturally designed as the small hills are on all four sides of the rectangular ground and is situated at an altitude of 12,500 feet (38000 meters) above sea level, enjoying the title of the highest polo ground of the world. It is sometimes called Roof of the World. It is located in District Ghizer, Gilgit–Baltistan, Pakistan. 

The spectators enjoy an incredible view along with the game being played in the ground because of the surrounding landscape and Shandur Lake makes it even more beautiful.

Shandur-Top in Ghizer is often called the ‘Roof of the World’ where the Hindukush in Gilgit-Baltistan, between Afghanistan and Gilgit- Baltistan and Karakorum mountainous ranges of Gilgit-Baltistan meet. The top is flat, a plateau and can be crossed between late April and early November. The grade is very gradual, and the area is crossed by small streams of trout. Grazing in summer is plentiful. 

Historical Background

The initiation of polo in Shandur is credited to The Balti Raja of Skardu; Ali Sher Khan Anchan who built the polo ground of Shandur. But the initiation of Polo in Shandur is credited to the British occupiers who made possible the building of the polo ground. It is said that in 1935, UK Administrator for Northern Areas, Evelyn Hey Cobb asked Niat Qabool Hayat Kakakhel to make a well-constructed polo ground in Shandur. He constructed a polo ground with the help of the people. This polo ground was later on named as "Mas Junali". The word "Mass Junali" is derived from Khowar language. The word "Mas" means moon and "Junali" means polo ground.

Cobb was impressed by Kakakhail's resourcefulness and efficiency and wished to reward him for his service, but Kakakhail refused to accept any reward for his work. Instead, for the common benefit, Kakakhail asked Cobb to bring trout to stock the local streams. Cobb ordered live trout from England and dropped them into the Ghizer River. Due to this service, the Directorate of Fisheries was established and hundreds of people were employed. Now the weight of those fishes in Hundarap Lake reach 24 KG and in Baha Lake Khukush Nallah, their weight reached 40 KG.

So Mas Junali became a source of relation between the people of Chitral District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and neighboring, Gilgit-Baltistan. 

Shandu Polo Festival

The version of polo game played in Shandur Polo Ground is considered to be the purest of all. It is also called freestyle polo. Shandur Polo Festival is one of the big festivals of Pakistan. This festival is held from the 7th to 9th of July every year on Shandur Pass in Chitral District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The polo match is played between the teams of Chitral District and districts of Gilgit-Baltistan. Many people from around the world come to witness this polo festival each year. 

Shandur invites visitors to experience a traditional Polo tournament which since 1936 has been held annually in the first week of July and along the game it provides the people with the entertainment of Folk music, dancing, and a camping village. The polo tournament is featured in the first episode of Himalaya with Michael Palin.

Various teams of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral have always played the game of polo closest to its original form. In the past, the British Rulers were the patrons of the game. A great number of tourists and spectators from different areas of the country especially from Hunza, Skardu, and Chitral come to attend this event. As this ground is located at an altitude of 12,200 feet (3,700 meters), it is very hard to play there due to the reduced amount of oxygen. It requires a lot of stamina and players must be physically very stable.

The polo game here is still played in its original form, a game as tough rough and hard, on man and horse as the surrounding mountains themselves. A game without rules or empire, a game with only a few agreed convention of play. Polo in Khowar called “Istoorghar” has been the traditional game of Chitral, with the motto of  “we play polo the game of king and king of the games”. The game is commonly played in the music band comprising a big drum.

How to get there?

Shandur can be reached from Gilgit and Chitral. It is about 197 kilometers (122 miles) from Gilgit and 147 kilometers (91 miles) from Chitral. When coming from Gilgit to Shandur one can see the charming valleys of Gahkuch, Gupis, Phandar and many beautiful lakes. When coming from Chitral one can see the beauty of Mastuj and Surlasp valleys.

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