Polo under guns
By Fida Ali Shah
Civil administrations of GB and Chitral failed to organize the historical Shandur Polo Festival at world’s highest polo ground Shandur due to a tangle over the distribution of fund, hosting and overly politicised boundary dispute between the regions.
Both the provincial administrations overruled the option of joint-hosting and organizing the event which has been a dream and demand of the people of both sides. The disagreement and rifts between the civil administrations has left the door open for Pakistan Army to organize the event for the second time in history.
The three- day long polo festival on Shandur, the world’s highest polo ground, is an historical event of free style polo in Pakistan. The event is the only government sponsored sports event in Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral, which attracts millions of polo spectators – domestic and international – to witness the games of kings and the king of games at world’s roof.
Polo is deep rooted in the history as it has been a famous game for centaurs in the region but no one knows about its birth. Col. Durand, the writer of “The Making of A Frontier” and a British diplomat who worked as the Chief of Mission in Gilgit Agency has tried to initiate the debate in two lines;
“We saw at Astor for the first time polo as it is played in what is either the home of its birth or the land of its earliest adoption”
The local rulers of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral were fond of traditional free style polo, They used to play polo as recreation along with many others hobbies. It was not only Astor Valley where Durand saw and enjoyed the polo but there were many other parts famous for polo among the rulers and their public. Baltistan was once famous due to Anchan family who used to play and host polo games between the princely states.
Shandur polo festival is basically the continuation of the polo event organised by the local rulers – Mehtar or Raja- between Chitral and Gilgit agency at Phandar valley in 1934. Latter on the Even Hey Cobb, political administrator at Gilgit agency constructed a polo ground at the Shandur Pass with the help of Mehtar-e-Ghizer and Chitral to continue the inter-princely states polo games. Mr. Cobb was the man behind the all old polo grounds in Gilgit-Baltistan including the Muss Junali at Shandur situated 12,500 ft above the sea level completed in 1935-36 and played a game in the light of Moon.
Since 1936, three days long Shandur polo festival is being organised every year as a joint mega event of Gilgit & KP. But hosting, managing/ administrating the tournament has been a bone of contention between the two provinces GB and KP along with the dispute of land and boundary which is to be decided by the boundary commission of Pakistan. Sarhad Tourism corporation, now -Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa- PTDC, Telenor Pakistan have been co-financers/sponsors of the tournament in past but now the TCKP is the only sponsor of the event.
This historical polo cum cultural event is losing its importance and spirit as it has been the event of sports, love, fun, music and dances now turning to a military event full of security personals, national anthems and songs. These all have replaced the indigenous Khow culture, language and dances which were unique for the domestic and international tourists and full of enjoyment. Commenting on the event last year a foreign tourist said to this scribe: “I saw the polo under guns, will never come again”
The civil administrations of both sides should show responsibility and flexibility to restore the event under their management otherwise the event will rest in peace. — Morning Mail