The remote wind-swept amphitheater of the Shandur Pass, located on the lofty border between Gilgit and Chitral, comes to life once a year as the dramatic venue of the Shandur Polo Festival held during the first week of July.
At 3738m, this is the world's highest polo field, set in a magnificent landscape of rolling pastures, crystalline azure lakes & Hindu-Raj Mountains; it is just the setting for the clash of the local polo titans, Chitral and Gilgit. This contest is considered the toughest polo tournament in the world - with fraying tempers and passions running high, the strain of the high altitude and the ferocity of the game creates a drama in which horses die and players invariably suffer grievous injuries. Yet despite the hazards, the polo tradition continues unabated.
Historically the game goes back many centuries when the local, Mirs and Rajas were patrons of polo and it was played, not only for pleasure, but for celebratory and commemorative occasions. The Mirs and Raja’s and Mehtar of Chitral would send a message to their relatives the Rajas of Ghizar , Yasin and Ishkuman and would travel far down the valleys to Punial Gilgit and Chilas where the challenge would be taken up. But despite being dubbed 'the game of kings', in the Northern Areas, it is not an elitist sport, often played in village square on sorry nags or even on bicycles. " It is the local obsession along with music & dancing on Shandur. In recent years, the event has become something of a legend - the dramatic landscape, the local colour, the presence of international celebrities but above all the passion with which the game is played by the age-old rivals, make the Shandur Polo Festival an unforgettable occasion. A large tented village and bazaar is set up with thousands of people camping out.
The British Resident at the time, Col Evelyn Hey Cobb, a keen polo player himself, came up with the idea of holding the tournament in the Shandur Pass, approximately 11,000ft above sea level between Gilgit region and Chitral. Every 2nd week of July this fascinating tournament take place and people from all over Pakistan rushing to watch this mountain grandeur festival. Originally this idea was developed by a British Col Cobb who was interested to play polo in the full moon light as he thought on the pass the moon is so closed to earth.