High Horses

Polo and patriotism in northern Pakistan

01 April 2017
The Shandur Polo Festival has become an integral part of the Pakistan Army’s communications strategy in a politically precarious region.

On a warm dawn last July, in Gilgit, a city in northern Pakistan, I sat in a bus packed with fans of a historic sport. “We call it ‘the game of kings, king of games,’” one passenger said.

In most other places in Pakistan, as in India, such statements are typically reserved for cricket. In the country’s northern mountains, however, polo also enjoys immense popularity. Polo competitions are held across the region, from the beginning of spring until the end of summer.

That day, I took a bumpy, nine-hour bus ride up to Shandur Pass, which cuts through the Hindu Kush mountains at an altitude of 3,700 metres above sea level. A plateau called “Shandur Top” stretches out nearby, home to a well-manicured polo field—the highest in the world. The field lies between two cities: Chitral, in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, and Gilgit, the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan province.

Paul Gasnier is a French journalist based in Paris. He reports for French television and occasionally collaborates with foreign news outlets.

Keywords: Pakistan military sport festival Polo Army Raheel Sharif