Saturday, July 10, 2010

A festival of a different kind

July is the month of festivities. Americans celebrate their independence day with much pomp and show throughout the country. But far away from the US, a festival of different kind is celebrated each mid July. Shandur, located at a height of some 12,500 feet, in the Khyber Pakhtunkwa province of Pakistan, is host to the Shandur Polo Festival. Polo at this height is played nowhere else in the world. Shandur is located at a distance of some 147 kilometers from Chitral (also famous for the legendry Kafir Kalash people) and 212 kilometeres from Gilgit. Shandur is a spectacular place where the Hindukush, Karakoram and the Pamir mountain ranges meet.

Playing polo at Shandur has a long history. The first time a polo tournament took place at the Shandur Pass, was in 1936. Major Cobb, the British Political Agent of then Northern Areas used to play polo at night when it was a full moon, since he thought that moon looked so near the earth that a match in a moonlit night would change the very meaning of the game. Because of this the Shandur polo ground came to be referred to as the "Moony Polo Ground".

The Shandur Polo Festival attracts a large number of tourists from both within and outside Pakistan. The festival offers much more to the tourists other than the polo match. Trout fishing at the nearby streams and lakes and a festival of folk dances and music of the Northern Pakistan add extra attractions. The final day of the festival commences with a special guard of honour by the Chitral Scouts, followed by the much awaited hair raising polo match.

The festival also provides a life time opportunity to the tourists to visit the famous Kalash Valley, where, Kafir Kalash, a unique and very different and original people of unknown descendants live since centuries.