Historically, polo being the king of games was played between small kingdoms, villages and rival groups of Gilgit Agency and Chitral. From 1936 onwards polo tournaments were held annually at Shandur by the British Rulers. 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 organised by the Tourism department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the locals of Chitral and attended every year by thousands of foreign and domestic tourists besides prominent celebrities, public figures and opinion makers.
Polo is an equestrian sport with its origin embedded in Central Asia dating back to 6th century BC. At first it was a training game for cavalry units for the King's Guards or other Elite troops. To the warlike tribesmen who played polo with as many as 100 players to a side, it was a miniature battle. It became a Persian national game in the 6th century AD. From Persia, the game spread to Arabia, then to Tibet, China and Japan. In China, in the year 910, death of a favourite relative in a game prompted Emperor Apaochi to order beheading of all players.
The field measures about 200 meters by 56 meters (normal polo field is about 270m by 150m), with 60 cm high stone walls running the length of the field on both sides instead of boards. As six players make up one side, the field can get fairly crowded. This has the advantage of slightly slowing down the pace, which, all things considered, is probably somewhat safety-enhancing. Players rarely wear helmets, many do not wear boots. The horses' legs often have no bandages, and mallets often have no grips or straps.
During the course of the tournament A, B, C and D teams of Gilgit and Chitral battle it out on the polo field. Each team has six members with 2-4 reserve players in case of injury etc. The match duration is usually one hour. It is divided into two halves, with a 10 minutes interval. During intervals the locals enthrall the audiences with traditional and cultural performances. The game decided in favour of the team scoring nine goals. The final is held on 9 July.
n order to decide the final teams to play at the Shandur Polo Festival preliminary matches are played both in Gilgit and Chitral in which the best horses and players are chosen for the final games by the local juries. The festival begins on the 7th of July with a polo match between the local Ghizer Team of Gilgit-Baltistan and Laspur Team, from Chitral(KPK)
Freestyled mountain polo is arguably polo in its purest form. This version of the game played at Shandur-Top has attained legendary status and is of great interest to international and domestic adventure tourists alike. There are no umpires and there are no holds barred. The rules are: There are no rules! In "The Roof of the World" Amin/Willets/Tetley write: "by comparison, an American Wild West rodeo might pass for choir practice." As one player once mentioned: "You can ride head-on into the opponent, if you dare."