Shandur Polo Festival (Urdu: شندور میلہ) is one of the big festivals in Pakistan. This festival is held from the 7th to the 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, is a free style game .
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 as well. Shandur invites visitors to experience a traditional polo tournament which since 1936 has been held annually[ in the first week of July between the local teams of Gilgit and Chitral. Organized and financed by the Tourism Corporation of NWFP, the tournament is held on Shandur Top, the highest polo ground in the world at 3,700 meters (the pass itself is at 3,800 meters). The festival also includes Folk music, dancing and a camping village is set up. The polo tournament is featured in the first episode of Himalaya with Michael Palin.
Various teams of Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan have always played the game of polo closest to its original form. During the early 20th century, the British in neighboring India were the patrons of the game.
Free-styled mountain polo is arguably polo in its purest form. This version of the game played at Shandur-Top has attained legendary status and is of great interest to international and domestic adventure tourists alike. There are no umpires and there are no holds barred. The rules are: There are no rules! In “The Roof of the World” Amin/Willets/Tetley write: “by comparison, an American Wild West rodeo might pass for choir practice.” As one player once mentioned: “You can ride head-on into the opponent, if you dare.”
In order to decide the final teams to play at the Shandur Polo Festival preliminary matches are played both in Chitral and Gilgit, in which the best horses and players are chosen for the final games by the local juries. The festival begins on the 7th of July . During the course of the tournament A, B, C and D teams of Chitral and Gilgit. battle it out on the polo field. Each team has six members with 2-4 reserve players in case of injury etc. The match duration is usually one hour. It is divided into two halves, with a 10 minutes interval. During intervals the locals enthrall the audiences with traditional and cultural performances. The game decided in favour of the team scoring more goals. The final is held on 9 July.
The field measures about 200 meters by 56 meters (normal polo field is about 270m by 150m), with 60 cm high stone walls running the length of the field on both sides instead of boards. As six players make up one side, the field can get fairly crowded. This has the advantage of slightly slowing down the pace, which, all things considered, is probably somewhat safety-enhancing. Players rarely wear helmets, The horses’ legs often have no bandages, and mallets often have no grips or straps.