Shandur Polo Festival


Polo is an equestrian sport with its origin embedded in Central Asia dating back to the 6th century BC. Originally it was a training game for cavalry units for the King’s guards and other elite troups. It was introduced into South Asia in the 13th century. The English word ‘polo’ is in fact, a Balti word meaning ‘ball’. In ancient times, there was no limit to the number of players and no time limit – the team that scored nine goals first was crowned the winner. Today the game features six players on each side with the match lasting one hour in total with a ten-minute break.

Shandur Polo Festival is an annual calendar event of the Tourism, Sports, and Culture Department Gilgit-Baltistan, which is held on 7-9th July, each year at the world’s highest polo ground at Shandur Pass (12500ft). During the three days mega festivals, polo matches are played between archrival polo teams of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral. Shandur Polo Festival has attained national as well as international fame due to the traditional freestyle polo matches blended with colorful cultural shows, musical programs, and paragliding. 

The festival is scheduled from 7 to 9 July each year at the highest altitude polo ground at Shandur Top with the joint collaboration of the Gilgit-Baltistan Government and KPK Government. Every year, the Gilgit-Baltistan polo teams, horses, and team officials along with band groups proceed to Gologmuli Phandar on or before 11th June for practice and acclimatization of polo players and horses. After 18 days of training at Gologmuli Phandar, the teams move to Shandur Top accordingly to participate in Shandur Polo Festival. 

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 7th 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 to 4 reserve players in case of injury etc. The match usually lasts one hour. It is divided into two halves, with a ten-minute interval. During intervals, the locals enthrall the audiences with traditional and cultural performances. The game is decided in favour of the team scoring more goals. The final is held on 9th July.

The festival attracts thousands of domestic and foreign tourists to the attractive tourist destination.

Shandur is located on the border between Gilgit and Chitral, due to which both KPK and Gilgit Baltistan governments lay claim to Shandur. The chief ministers of both GB and KP have invited each other to attend the festival. For the people of Chitral, Shandur Valley is their “fairy house”, while the people of Ghizer in Gilgit-Baltistan describe it as their cold haven. For the people of Pakistan, however, it is one of the most serene areas of the country, where they can enjoy the ‘game of kings’ or the ‘king of games’ in cool weather. The Shandur Valley connects the Laspur region of Upper Chitral with the Ghizer district of Gilgit-Baltistan through the Shandur Pass. Shandur is also the meeting point of the Hindu Kush, Pamir, and Karakoram Mountain ranges.