BOONI, June 22: Some two weeks ago, something happened in Chitral. Something so bad that everyone is still talking about it.
Sikandarul Mulk fell off his horse during a polo match in Chitral city and broke his leg. For those who do not understand the gravity of the situation – Mulk is a member of the Chitral royal family and one of the area’s star players, as well as the president of the district polo association.
According to Shaukat, a resident of Mastuj, no one understands the game or the animals as well as Mulk. “He is the best player we have,” he said. “We don’t know how we will win at Shandur now.”
Mulk was flown out of Chitral the morning after the accident and has been recovering since. Although the match continued after Mulk’s fall, and everyone was really into the game – Mastoj A vs the Chitral police – many avid fans of the sport and Mulk could not stop thinking about who would replace the star rider at the Shandur Polo Festival which had been postponed last year after heavy rains disrupted land routes to the venue.
The three-day festival kicked off this Friday minus the Gilgit-Baltistan team which boycotted the event alleging Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s ‘unfair’ treatment over its administration and revenue distribution.
Booni, a town in Upper Chitral, is smack in the middle of Chitral city and Mastoj – roughly a two-hour drive away from both places. The day after the match between Mastoj A and the Chitral police, several horses were travelling back with their teammates to stables in and around Booni.
One of those horses was Lucky, a beautiful brown stallion. He plays for Mulk’s team and had a bad day after losing the match. His owner, Haider Ali Khan, had been trying to cheer him up since with little treats such as cookies and apples.
All three of Khan’s sons are professional polo players. His chest swells with pride as he told The Express Tribune that his eldest was on his way to Australia to play the game with the national team. The other two sons play in Chitral and are participating in Shandur.
Lucky, is the horse of his middle child, who was walking around in his team’s red shirt and jodhpurs.
Khan used to play the game too. After being out on the field for more than 20 years playing with Mulk and the Mastuj A, he says his sons now want him to sit and watch. “Maybe they are just jealous that I am a better player, eh?” he laughed sitting in a room filled with his trophies and certificates.
While talking about the game, Khan said it was an expensive sport. They get their horses from Peshawar and Sargodha – which according to Khan has the best horses these days. “There are no categories as such, we look at the horse’s general health, the ankles or if it has been injured,” he said. “A horse can play up to the age of 20. We usually buy them when they are three-years-old and soon after start the training which takes about a year.” He added that if a horse falls sick they take them to the vet in the area or call the Peshawar hospital.
An average horse, according to Khan, can cost around Rs200,000. His own, Lucky, cost him around Rs270,000 and Khan has another one stabled in Peshawar which cost much more.
“The best team right now is Sikandar’s team but unfortunately he got injured in the last match,” he said. “We play polo as much as people in Karachi play cricket or football. We practice in our backyards and polo grounds.” Khan hopes his grandchildren and great-grandchildren will continue playing the game as it is still the game of kings.
Time to play the game
The rules are few and simple. The game is played in two chukkas (periods) of about 30 minutes each. Every team has five to six players, one man per horse. Scoring ends switch after a goal is scored and the player who makes the goal gets to hold the ball in his hands, gallop down the field, and hit a tampokh (aerial shot) towards the new scoring end. Although punching players in the face used to be allowed, it was banned in 2012 on account of too many bloody noses.
British accounts of the tournament date back to the 1930s when Major Evelyn Cobb, a British political agent, started playing polo at night when he was stationed in the region during 1929-1936.–Express Tribune]]>