Shandur is situated at an altitude of 12,500 feet (38000 meters) above sea level is famous for having the highest polo ground of world. It is sometimes called Roof of the World. It is located in District Ghizer, Gilgit–Baltistan, Pakistan. The version of polo game played in Shandur Polo Ground is considered to be the purist of all. It is also called free style polo.
Polo is the most favorite game in Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. Gilgit, Skardu, Hunza, Shigar, Laspor, Mastoj, Chitral and all other valleys around must have at least one polo ground, where local people can be seen playing polo.
Shandur Polo Ground is naturally designed to be a polo ground. Small hills are on all four sides of rectangular ground, where spectators can sit and enjoy the match. The surrounding landscape and Shandur Lake makes it even more beautiful.
The beautiful polo ground of Shandur turns into a city of tents each year between 7 and 9 July due to Shandur Polo Festival. A match of polo is held between teams of Gilgit and Chitral. A great number of tourists and spectators from different areas of country especially from Hunza, Skardu and Chitral come to attend this event. Shandur Polo Ground is located at an altitude of 12,200 feet (3,700 meters) and it is very hard to play here due to reduced amount of oxygen. It requires a lot of stamina and players must be physically very strong. The match is always marvelous because cream players from Chitral and Gilgit participate in it.
Shandur is the highest polo ground in the world. Here it is still played in its original form, a game as tough rough and hard, on man and horse as the surrounding mountains themselves. A game without rules or empire, a game with only a few agreed convention of play. Polo in Khowar called “Istoorghar” has been the traditional game of Chitral, as our motto is “we play polo the game of king and king of the games”. The game is commonly played to the music band comprising a big drum.
Every year, 10.000 people move with their tents to the breathtaking shandur pass, 4300 meters high, to attend the shandur polo festival where the best teams from Gilgit and Chitral come to compete against each other.
History of Polo festival
Historically, polo being the king of games was played between small kingdoms, villages and rival groups of Gilgit and Chitral. From 1936 onwards polo tournaments were held annually on this ground. The three day Shandur Polo Festival has developed steadily in recent years into the massive celebration of mountain polo that it is today. It is attended every year by prominent celebrities, public figures and opinion makers.
How to reach there?
Shandur can be reached from Gilgit and Chitral. It is about 197 kilometers (122 miles) from Gilgit and 147 kilometers (91 miles) from Chitral. When coming from Gilgit to Shandur one can see the charming valleys of Gahkuch, Gupis, Phandar and many beautiful lakes. When coming from Chitral one can see the beauty of Mastuj and Surlasp valleys.
It is advisable to be there one day in advance to enjoy all the offerings of the festival. Activities at Shandur includes dance and music performances by different groups, trout fishing, mountaineering, trekking, hiking and of course, horse riding. Crystal clear lakes, snow covered mountains, alpine flowers and vast stretches of green grass, are added attractions.
A tourist tent village with restaurant facilities is sprung up during the tournament. Merchants from Peshawar, Chitral and Gilgit set up souvenir and folk craft shops. The tournament offers visitors and opportunity to mix with the locals.
How to reach?
The Shandur Pass lies almost midway between Chitral and Gilgit on a jeep road, travelling on which, is adventurous, to say the least. The distance from either side is 170 kms. One can get to Chitral or Gilgit by Pakistan International’s daily F27 Fokker planes form Peshawar and Islamabad. There are daily two flights from both destinations, subject to good weather. Visitors planning to go by air must expect adjustment of minimum 02 days in their itineraries just in case the weather does not permit flights to operate.
Access to Chitral by road is either from Peshawar or from Islamabad. Both these routes join up in lower Swat valley near Chakdara, from where you proceed via Dir over 3200 meters high Lowari Pass and on to Chitral. It will take about 11 hours for a direct ride, otherwise, a stopover in Dir is recommended. From Dir, you shift to 4×4 jeeps for your onward journey to Chitral and on to Shandur. From Chitral side, travelers can also enjoy overnight stay at Mastuj whereas from Gilgit side, Gupis is a suitable place.
Travelling by road from Islamabad, on the Karakoram Highway (the Silk Route), visitors can stop at halfway for overnight stay along the mighty Indus, at Besham.
For visitors to Shandur, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) has set up its new motels with all facilities like, attached toilet/bathroom, hot/cold water, restaurant etc, at Panah Kot (Dir), Chitral, Bamburet (Kalash Valley), Besham (KKH), Barseen (KKH) and Gilgit, besides some private hotels. On the Pass, a tent village with all facilities is set up.