History and Introduction
Pakistan is home to the world’s 3 highest mountain ranges: Himalaya, Karakoram, and Hindukush. Not only this but in North Pakistan, the strip that stretches from West to East is called the Roof of The World. In the World’s geography, this part is like a CROWN.
At the Roof of the World, Shandur Polo Festival is celebrated every year in the first week of July on Shandur Polo Ground. This is the highest Polo ground in the World located at 3,800 meters altitude. Shandur polo Ground is situated at Shandur pass on the border of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan. The festival lasts for three days. Since 1936, the festival has been a promising event of sports, cultural exploration, and tribal intimacy. In 1986, the festival was organized under the supervision of the government, for the first time.
Gilgit: the Birth Place of Polo
In this region, Polo has been played for centuries. The Gilgit region is said to be the Ancestral Home of Polo. About Polo, it is truly said that it is Sports of the King and King of Sports. In this region, it is said that “There is no rule in life for two things: War and Polo”. Here, the Polo is played in rule-free form i.e. Free Style Polo. No referee on the ground. A sense of pride and joy is seen in the spectators.
The atmosphere of the Festival
Official Shandur song is performed at the event. The people excitedly dance on it, in the traditional Balti way. Women wear the customary attire with headgear. Men wear the traditional Shaati Feather Gilgiti Cap and waistcoats. When dancers wearing Gilgiti caps and black waistcoats dance on “Ae Waadi e Shandur” and “Chitral Gilgit Zindabad”, it is certainly a mesmerizing scene. Some dancers have swords in their hands. What a scene! Before the arrival of teams, the people keep dancing in circles. The festival brings close the tribes of Chitral and Gilgit.
There is a total of 7 matches in the festival. On day 1, 3 matches are played. When the day ends, generally a cultural night is celebrated. Chitrali and Gilgiti culture is portrayed with zeal and zest. Songs are sung. Dances are performed. Ecstasy and enthusiasm remain at the apex. On the first day, 3 matches are played on the 2nd one.
On the 3rd day, the D day, the final match is played between Gilgit and Chitral teams. The final match is awaited for the whole year.
The crowd celebrates the victory of the winning team by Drum thumping, dancing, and taking the players on their shoulders. There is seemingly no end to the jubilations. These people know how to party. The spectators enjoy every single triumph by dancing. Bands come out here to perform the traditional music of Gilgit and Chitral. Surely, the Sword Dance is not missing.
Participants of the Shandur festival must not forget to visit the Shandur Lake near Shandur Polo Ground. The scenes are breathtaking at the lake. The blue-colored lake is second to none in beauty. Interestingly, the lake lies on both the right and left sides of the Shandur Polo Ground. It multiplies the beauty of the ground.
At the tent city of Shandur Polo ground, a bazaar is organized. All sorts of shops in the bazaar facilitate the participation of Pakistan. As people from whole, the country come to visit this epic festival. Therefore, the food stalls represent every area of Pakistan. One finds Jalebi, Pulao, Biryani, Lahori Kulchas, and Crispy Rotis. On the other side, Chapli Kababs of Peshawar with freshly backed roti is just memorable. Stalls of shawls, caps, and souvenirs too in the bazaar. The Shandur Bazar is a cultural representation of Pakistan to the foreign world.
Weather condition during the summer season remains fine. The air is crisp. The skies remain clear. Normally 35-degree temperature. However, after 3,500 meters the snow can fall at any time. The Shandur pass is 3,800 meters high. Therefore, the temperature during the night may fall below 5 to 10 degrees.
Precaution to the Visitors
Shandur polo ground is 12,000 ft. high above sea level. The tourists must take a tent, sleeping bag, jacket, and extra clothes. One should not forget to bring sunscreens. Food will be available at Shandur Bazar.
Itinerary of Shandur Polo Festival
Arrival at Islamabad
The foreign visitors land at Islamabad Airport. Local visitors to reach Islamabad via road or air. After rest, the participants are briefed by the concerned company about the tour.
Flight to Chitral
The next day, after breakfast the visitors leave for Chitral. The distance is covered via a 1-hour flight. This flight is replete with awesome views.
If the flight is canceled due to weather, then the journey is covered by road via Mardan, Batkhel, Malakand, and Dir Lwari tunnels. Night stay at PTDC hotel.
Chitral to Rumber
On the 3rd day, 2 hour’s journey started towards Rumber. A small historic village. Home to Kalasha community. Night stay at camps or guest houses.
Reached to Shandur
On the 4th day, the journey toward Shandur started. This 186 km distance is covered in 6 hours. The visitors arrive at Mastuj. Here, lunch is taken. In the afternoon, they head towards Shandur. On the way, views of Tirch Mir, Shandur Pass, Boni Zong, and Yarkin Valley are awesome.
On the 5th and 6th day, the festival is enjoyed.
Shandur to Gilgit
This 230 km distance, the 6-hour journey is covered on the 7th day.
Gilgit to Naran
On the 8th day, the 5 hours journey of 230 km is covered.
Narran to Islamabad
On the 9th day, the 280 km journey is covered in 5 hours.
In a nutshell, the whole tour is worth remembering. If one is an adventure lover, he must visit the Shandur Polo Ground, especially during the festival days. Scores of foreign visitors rush towards Shandur to watch this promising event. The visitors enjoy the exceptional scenery of the Hindukush and Karakoram mountains. The tourists have an opportunity to visit the serene and beautiful valleys of Kalash, Chitral, Gilgit, and the awesome Shandur Pass.