SHANDUR – Known as the ‘Games of Kings’, the internationally acclaimed annual Shandur Polo Festival is a unique historic sport played on the world’s highest polo ground between teams from Chitral and Gilgit Baltistan since 1937 has attracted an influx of tourists and adventure sports enthusiasts. Sunday. Performed at an altitude of around 12,000 feet above sea level at Shandur Pass in Upper Chitral from 1st to 3rd July 2022, the festival saw a large number of tourists, adventurers and lovers of polo shirts from across the country who cheered on both experienced and young players in thrilling freestyle polo matches in the spirit of great sportsmanship, fun and excitement.
Held successfully since 1937, this year’s impressive festival was inaugurated by Secretary of Sports, Tourism and Youth Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Muhammad Tahir Orakzai and Director General of Culture and Tourism Authority KP Abid Wazir. Exciting matches, paragliding, adventures and cultural events took place in the beautiful Shandur Valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains and green forests amid the birds singing valleys, hide and seek between sun and clouds and cool breeze which doubled the joys of sports fans. The event was organized by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Culture and Tourism Authority (KPCTA) in conjunction with XI Corps Headquarters Peshawar, Frontier Corps North, District Administration Chitral Upper and Lower after a two-year break due of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism Secretary Muhammad Tahir Orakzai told the media that it was thanks to the efforts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government that we were able to witness the success of the Shandur Polo Festival after a two-year hiatus. “Rugged polo is our traditional game that plays an important role in promoting adventure tourism. The Malakand Division mountain range is perfect for adventure tourism and the provincial government, tourism department and tourism and culture authority are working together to develop and promote this region as a tourist destination. He said authorities have also been trained at the regional level to promote tourism in the province. Team Laspur from Team Chitral and Ghizer from Gilgit-Baltistan faced each other in the opening game. Laspur team from Chitral comfortably won the game by scoring 16 goals against four by Ghizer team. Spectators cheered as paragliders from the Pakistan Army Physical Training School Abbottabad and Pakistan Army SSG Commandos put on a spectacular paratrooper show and performed various daring tricks in the sky, making of this event an unforgettable event. Children from Gilgit-Baltistan performed national songs, while traditional dances were performed by young boys from the Kalash Valley. The audience enjoyed the concert which included traditional music from Gilgit Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in addition to the song Shandur by Zek Afridi. The excellent arrangements for the successful holding of the historical event impressed the tourists.
“I heard a lot about Shandur Polo Festival and today my dream of watching my favorite freestyle polo matches in the highest polo ground in the world came true,” said Shahryar Khan, a resident of Peshawar, during a conversation with APP in Shandur. “The equestrian skills and sportsmanship of the polo players impressed me the most,” he said. Impressed by paragliding, Shahryar said tourists are taking a keen interest in adventure sports, including mountaineering, trekking and traditional cuisine.
Taking advantage of the pleasant but relatively cool nights in Shandur, he said the cultural and musical performances with the traditional “tabla and rabab” captivated the tourists.
Such events would help promote sustainable tourism and adventure sports in the northern regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, apart from promoting the country’s soft image, he added.
Saad Khan, spokesperson for KP Culture and Tourism Authority, told APP that the Shandur Sports Festival remains very successful.
He said such an event will help ensure the preservation of existing polo sports and the promotion of new tourist sites. To promote adventure sports, he said a 14 kilometer long cable car service between Upper Dir and Chitral Lower would be constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 32 billion, which would make KP a tourism hub . Four Integrated Tourism Zones (ITZs) would be developed in Mankiyal Swat, Thandyani Abbottabad, Ganol Manshera and Madaskhast Lower Chitral to promote adventure tourism. These ITZs would be built with the financial assistance of the World Bank with a loan of 70 million dollars and its feasibility studies and master plan in the final phase. It would be linked to the Hazara and Swat highways by access roads. In Hund Swabi, a sports theme park would be built on a 400-canal land for which a memorandum of understanding has already been signed.
Saad Khan said recreation sites in the premises of five small dams including Tanda Kohat, Kundal Swabi Dam, Chatri Haripur Dam, Jalozai Nowshera Dam and Jangza Dam in Abbottabad district would be developed. Three new ski resorts in Kaghan, Chitral and Swat would be established in addition to four new hill stations including two in Kaghan, one in Chitral and one in Abbottabad. Under the Tourist Facilitation Hub (TFH) project, he said 69 archaeological signs in Mardan, 102 signs were installed on Swat highway, 93 signs in Swat and 48 signs in DI Khan.
RESCUE 1122 stations have been set up in Ayubia, Thandiyani, Kewai, Kalash and Kumrat with facilities for two ambulances, one fire fighting vehicle and emergency equipment. The pro-tourism policies of the Federal Government and the KP Government have helped Pakistan take a big leap by improving the sixth place i.e. 83rd from 89th in the International Travel and Tourism Development Index (TTDI) , which was a great honor for Pakistan.