July 14 - 20, 2008MUSIC, POLO, MASTI - SHANDUR COMES ALIVE
More than 12,000 local and international visitors came to enjoy the annual Telenor Shandur Polo Festival and witness the traditional polo tournament between the teams of Gilgit and Chitral from 7th to 9th July, 2008. Repeating history, this time too, Telenor Pakistan, the country's second largest cellular operator, sponsored this exciting tournament.
Organized by Gilgit and Chitral, Northern Areas' local administration and Telenor Pakistan, the tournament was played in Shandur which is around 3,700 meters above sea level. It is a place unique and exotic in itself, surrounded by some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world.
The event marks the annual rivalry between the polo teams of Gilgit and Chitral. Supporters of both sides travel long distances from remote parts to watch the thrilling game. The event offers a fascinating insight into the lifestyle of the people of the region. The rules of the game themselves are more than 800 years old.
The sponsor of the festival, Telenor Pakistan, has strived to enable the world to enjoy one of Pakistan's unique cultural sport amid the idyllic valley of Shandur, overlooked by snowy peaks. It is an exquisite event patronized entirely by the locals for whom the occasion is the only means of entertainment and competitive sport.
The Telenor Shandur Polo Festival is a journey back in time, through a world that has remained unchanged for centuries, unspoiled by modern development and away from mass tourism.
During the 1920s, the ruler of Moskuj, the Hindukush highland between Chitral and Gilgit, was told by his Mir, or king, to promote integration within his realm through a polo tournament between the best players. The British Resident at the time, Colonel Evelyn Hey Cobb, a keen polo player himself, came up with the idea of holding the tournament in Shandur, approximately 3,700m above sea level in what is now northern Pakistan.
It was agreed that the tournament be held between the best teams from Chitral and Gilgit. The game would be played following the centuries-old rules of Ali Sher Khan, a descendant of Genghis Khan, where each player would be allowed only one horse for the duration of the match, and stoppages would be allowed only for serious injuries to a horse or player. Other rules -- like if a horse or player cease to play, his opposite number in the other team would have to leave the field, and a ball out of play must be thrown back immediately by one of the spectators -- were part of the game as well.
With every day bringing the historic tournament closer, more and more people arrived at the venue. Before long, the empty Hindukush landscape had transformed into a bustling, scent-filled marquee town. And the two 'A' teams from Chitral and Gilgit were camping out in extreme temperatures reaching as low as -10C at night and as high as +40C during the day. On the first day the Game of Kings was ready to begin when Chitral defended the title it won last year. The fans as always took their seats around the polo field on rocks, hills and other natural grandstands. After dancers, drummers and the bagpipe band had given their best, the game was officially declared open.
There is a timekeeper -- the only official, as umpires and referees are non-existent. The game is fast, tremendously fast. It is usually played to the beat of a big drum. The Pakistani-bred Punjabi and Afghan Badakshani ponies, both the result of breeding from Himalayan mountain ponies and English thoroughbreds, are ridden in a wild style, with a lot of skill and at full speed through the m'l'e. The 12 players are usually not afraid to use their sticks to hit not only the ball but also, and vehemently, the arms and shoulders of their opponents.
After a break of two years this event was once again managed by Sarhad Tourism Corporation (STC). Managing Director STC Azam Khan who wanted the event to be highlighted this year as never before, can see his dream come true with support from Telenor. The game which was once played to determine who would control the Shandur Pass is today an event to harmonize two cultures with one another, thus highlighting peace.
Shandur has been declared by the Government as National Park Area. The beautiful plains of Shandur surrounded by moorlands reflect the natural aesthetic dimension of the fields. Where a huge tent-village is set up for the visitors, PTDC has also set up motels along the route from Gilgit to Chitral to facilitate visitors.
Telenor Pakistan, in continuation to its services to the culture of Pakistan and keeping the natural heritage of the Northern Areas alive, has contributed with the construction of an amphitheater in the Shandur Plains The arena will provide a permanent base for folk music and dance performances during the festival. This is the first-ever amphitheatre built at Shandur. For the first time ever, Telenor is taking Zeek Afridi to perform live on the Shandur Plains along with other local performers. To add to the excitement, there will also be a fireworks display at the event.
With technology, especially telecommunications, stretching in the remotest areas of the country, every Pakistani now feels part of the global village. As the 2nd largest cellular network of Pakistan, Telenor is operating in the northern region of Pakistan, covering not only areas like Chitral, Gilgit but is also planning to spread its wings in remote areas like Mastuj with exclusive coverage at the heights of Shandur so that places like Shandur too may enjoy the latest telecommunication facilities.