Travel Worn Satchel

Shandur Polo Festival

Shandur Pass, Northern Pakistan

Sometimes called ‘the roof of the world’ Shandur Pass is the site for the highest games of polo in the world. The pass at 3,800 metres, separates the regions of Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Both Chitral and Gilgit bring three teams (A, B, C) to compete over the three day festival held early July every year. From what I can gather Chitral always win, but this year the Gilgit B team beat their rivals.

A sign in Gilgit’s polo field goes someway to explain the seemly anarchic way the game is played. It explains simply: ‘The rules: There are no rules’. It’s a testament to the riders’ skill and horses’ athleticism that I saw no injuries.

I reached the camping grounds at dusk. There is great atmosphere up there, folk music and dancing in the evenings, football and cricket games during the day. Once settled in I went to explore. I was welcomed into tents and offered all sorts of goodies…some legal some not. In one tent a group of friends from Gilgit sang me a song. (I will upload the recording when I’ve edited it).

Folk Dancing on the Shandur Pass

After a cold night spent under the clear star filled sky I had a look round the temporary ‘town’ that pops up during the festival. You can buy anything here from cooked food and raw ingredients, including live chickens to second hand clothes, tarpaulins, string, and toilet paper.

Just by the army and police camp there is ‘Hash & Barber’ Tent where you can go to smoke quality dope and get a haircut! I was not allowed to take pictures of it (inside or out). While I can see the attraction of a communal dope tent it seems a little dangerous to let someone loose with a pair of scissors and razor at the same time. Needless to say I didn’t try either…

The polo field is in the middle of snow capped mountain amphitheatre which at this time of year is a dust bowl.

I was made so welcome by everyone here. I am so happy to have witnessed this unique Pakistani festival.

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