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The evolution of polo at Shandur

By Asheq Ali
Roars of crowds, competition of horses, tactics of the players, blend of rituals and clash of  titans. That’s how I would describe Shandur Polo Festival. This event is one of the largest festivals witnessed in Pakistan.
Each year this festival is celebrated during the beginning of July. It is a three-day festival where the main sport is free style polo.
Apart from polo, people also enjoy paragliding, cultural shows, fishing, tug of war and other local games.
Certain issues are associated with the arrangement of Shandur polo festival. The first one is related to cleanliness of the area. More often it has been observed that thrash and rapers are thrown into the open space which pollutes the area. Secondly, during the festival thousands of vehicles use this dirt track which damages the crops and other agricultural products of the villagers.
Moreover, Shandur Polo Ground has resonating landscape which allows the tourists to visit and enjoy the breathtaking views. The ground is surrounded by the hostile pattern of mountains which remain covered by the thick snow blanket throughout the year. The grounds are damp and  land covered with wild flower and grasses. The never ending flow of water makes Shandur a shelter for the unique creature of fishes that is trouts.
Historically polo is traced back to 6th BC in Central Asia but evolved and spread its colours in Shandur during the 19th century when Balti Raja of Skardu roughly constructed the polo ground. Later, during the first half of the 20th century British Commissioner Hey Cobb advised prominent leader Niayat Qabool to restructure the ground. Niayat with the support of the local community rebuilt the ground and named it ‘Mass Junali’. Then after people started visiting Shandur and the festival became more dominant especially in the northern part of Pakistan.
Further, to become part of larger game of this festival, players remain engaged in their local grounds and come a across selection process which is done by the president of polo team. Usually, the major opponents are Chitral A and Gilgit A. Most prominent and distinctive players are part of both these two teams. These players show great combination and team work and try to win over one another.
The successful arrangement of this festival is the evident of great support and cooperation between local people and district government.  Players also contribute by maintaining discipline in and off the ground and by showing sportsmanship.
To recap, Shandur Polo Festival is home to free style polo. Many other games are associated with this festival. The successful organisation of the festival is a reflection of peace and cooperation of people.
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