The greatest and most infamous Polo tournament takes places annually on the Shandur Pass in Pakistan, the highest polo ground in the world (3700 meters) where a Chitral Vs Gilgit tournament is held every June. During the 1920s, the ruler of Moskuj, the Hindukush highland between Chitral and Gilgit, was told by his Mir, or king, to promote integration within his realm through a polo tournament between the best players. The rules of the game at this venue date back 800 years to those created by a descendent of Genghis Khan himself. Polo, whose roots go back to 600BC, and was brought to India and the Himalayas from Persia, is said once to have been played with the heads of sheep, goats and other animals. In Genghis Khan’s day even the severed heads of conquered enemies are said to have been used.
The Shandur Pass is located at 11,000ft above sea level and is described dramatically as being on the ridge between Heaven and the descent to Hell. It’s no casual sightseeing affair – to even get to this ground you face a 13 hour drive from Gilgit along a treacherously dangerous and narrow mountain pass where you risk possible death if you meet another jeep on the other side of the extremely narrow Pass! Even the ponies face a 5 day trek before the match. All in all, the fatalities are high before the match has even begun!
The Polo ground in the Shandur Pass is smaller in width and breadth than the conventional field, being 60 yards wide and 220 yards long. Also alien to a modern western player would be the 2 feet high stone wall which surrounds the ground. In ice hockey, such a wall could prove advantageous – in Polo, it could lead to serious injuries in the event of a fall.