shandur polo festival

The Thrilling Shandur Polo Festival: A Celebration of Sports and Culture on the Roof of the World

The Shandur Polo Festival is a three-day annual event held at the Shandur Pass, located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. The festival is a celebration of the traditional sport of polo, which is played on the highest polo ground in the world. The festival attracts visitors from all over the world and is a unique experience for both players and spectators.


The Shandur Polo Festival has a long and fascinating history. The festival was first held in 1936 when the British built a polo ground at Shandur Pass. The polo ground was used by the British to play polo matches between their officers stationed in Gilgit and Chitral. The locals soon became interested in the game and started playing polo themselves. In 1947, after the partition of India, the polo ground was abandoned and fell into disrepair.

In 1978, the Government of Pakistan decided to revive the Shandur Polo Festival as a means of promoting tourism in the region. The festival was an instant success and has been held every year since then.

The Game of Polo:

Polo is a traditional sport that has been played in the region for centuries. The game is played on horseback, with two teams of four players each. The objective of the game is to score goals by hitting a small wooden ball with a long-handled mallet. The game is fast-paced and requires a high level of skill and physical fitness.

The Shandur Polo Festival:

The Shandur Polo Festival is held every year in July. The festival is a three-day event that includes polo matches, cultural shows, and handicraft exhibitions. The festival attracts visitors from all over Pakistan and abroad.

The highlight of the festival is the polo match played between the teams of Chitral and Gilgit. The match is played on the highest polo ground in the world and is a unique experience for both players and spectators. The game is played in a traditional manner, with no protective gear worn by the players. The players ride their horses bareback and use traditional wooden mallets to hit the ball.

The festival also includes traditional music and dance performances, showcasing the rich cultural heritage of the region. Visitors can also explore the local handicraft markets, which offer a variety of handmade products, including carpets, shawls, and embroidered fabrics.

shandur polo festival

Shandur Polo Game Format and Rules

The Shandur Polo Festival is a unique and thrilling event held annually at Shandur Pass, Pakistan. The tournament follows a distinct format and set of rules that contribute to the excitement and competitiveness of the matches. Here is an overview of the tournament format and rules:

  1. Teams: The Shandur Polo Festival features a friendly competition between two teams, representing the districts of Chitral and Gilgit. The teams are typically composed of six players each.

  2. Polo Ground: The festival takes place on the Shandur Pass polo ground, which is known as the “highest polo ground on earth.” The ground is a vast open space surrounded by mountains and offers a challenging terrain for the players.

  3. Game Duration: Each match consists of six periods, known as “chukkers,” with each chukker lasting approximately seven minutes. Therefore, the total playing time of a match is around 42 minutes.

  4. Half-Time Change: At the end of the third chukker, there is a half-time break during which teams switch sides. This allows for a fair playing field considering the potential impact of wind and other environmental factors.

  5. Horse Changes: After every chukker, players have the option to change their horses. This allows the teams to utilize fresh and energetic horses throughout the match.

  6. Scoring: The scoring in polo is determined by the number of goals scored by each team. When a player successfully strikes the ball through the goalposts of the opposing team, one point is awarded to their team.

  7. Handicaps: Polo handicaps are used to ensure balanced gameplay and provide equal opportunities for both teams. Handicaps are assigned to individual players based on their skill level and experience. A player’s handicap determines their contribution to the team’s overall handicap.

  8. Equipment and Safety: Players use mallets to strike a small ball, aiming to score goals. They wear protective gear, including helmets and knee guards, for their safety. Horses also wear protective leg wraps. Umpires closely monitor the matches and enforce the rules to maintain fair play and prevent dangerous situations.

  9. Spectator Participation: The Shandur Polo Festival encourages active spectator participation. Spectators are often invited to join the game during breaks and play a friendly polo match of their own. This engagement fosters a sense of community and adds to the festive atmosphere of the event.

It’s important to note that specific rules and variations may be implemented each year, and the tournament organizers have the authority to make adjustments as needed to ensure a fair and enjoyable competition.


Shandur Pass is located in a remote area of Gilgit-Baltistan and is only accessible by road. The road from Chitral to Shandur Pass is open from April to November, while the road from Gilgit is open from June to October. Visitors to the festival can either drive to the pass themselves or hire a jeep or bus from Chitral or Gilgit.


The Shandur Polo Festival is a unique and fascinating event that showcases the traditional sport of polo and the rich cultural heritage of the Gilgit-Baltistan region. The festival attracts visitors from all over the world and is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in sports and culture. The festival is a celebration of the resilience and determination of the people of the region, who have preserved their traditions and way of life despite the challenges of modern times.

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