Shandur Pass has fascinated me since I was a child because of its mystical land and mysterious tales. I have always wanted to visit there. The land is no longer a stranger to me, but I continue to discover and rediscover it. Shandur is situated halfway between Chitral in KPK and Ghizer in Gilgit-Baltistan. Shandur Pass has an elevation of 12,205 feet (3,720 metres) above sea level. The coordinates are 36°04′32′′N 72°31′12′′E.
The Shandur Top (Pass) or the Roof of the World, is located in Upper Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is 232 kilometres from Gilgit. The flat plateau is accessible from April to November. Many streams occupy the area in the summer. Accessibility is typically hampered in the winter due to harsh weather, which begins in mid-December.
Shandur is the most visited tourist destination. It is famous for the world’s highest Polo ground, which is located at the apex of the Pass. The popular Shandur Polo Festival takes place from July 7 to July 9. The tournament has been organised by the Chitral administration, levies, Chitral scouts, and police since 1982. The Gilgit-Baltistan team participates as a guest team. Seven matches are played over the course of three days. The final game is usually played on July 9th between the Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral teams.
Major Evelyn Hey Cobb ordered Niat Qabool Hayat Kakakhel, Nambardar of Ghizer, to establish a big Polo ground in Shandur in the early 1930s. The Polo ground was later dubbed “Mas Junali” in Khowar, where “Mas” refers to the moon and “Junali” is the Polo ground. Cobb enjoyed playing polo on a moonlit night.
The efficiency of Niat Qabool Hayat impressed the British representative, who awarded him a prize. But Niat requested officials to stock trout in the local streams which were soon released into the water. Now Shandur is famous for trout fishing as well.
When Chitral was part of the Maqpoon empire, Ali Sher Khan Anchan Maqpoun used to play Polo at Shandur. Polo was played between kingdoms, villages and rivals of the Gilgit agency. The annual Polo tournament was held at Shandur. Three-day Shandur Polo Festival has gained popularity in recent years.
Polo began as a training game for cavalry or other elite units of warlike tribesmen who played 100 players per side. It was like a mock battle. In the sixth century AD, it became a Persian national sport. The game spread from Persia to Arabia, then to Tibet, China and Japan. Interestingly the Emperor Apaochi of China ordered the beheading of all players after a favourite relative died in a game in 910.
This festival allows people from all over the world to witness the true essence of the game of kings at the high altitude Polo ground. This will be a life-long memory of thrilling adventure.