Only cricket diplomacy will not do between India and Pakistan. There are many sports that are popular among the people residing along the border on both sides. Polo is one of the favourite games in both Baltistan and Ladakh. This is the traditional sport of both the regions. If this sport is encouraged then people from both these regions can be made to come together in dialogue and cross-border tours and travel which will open new vistas for reaching long-lasting peace. —Sajjad Kargili
According to Sajjad Kargili, writer and activist, ‘We have seen the result of political agreements and engagements which break down easily between India and Pakistan. People from both the sides want peace, especially people along the border who have to bear the brunt of war and conflicts for long periods.
People to people relations must be encouraged- this will deal the biggest blow to the enemies of peace on both the sides. Ladakh and Baltistan too must be given a place in the scheme of things hovering around sports diplomacy.
Only cricket diplomacy will not do. There are many sports that are popular among the people residing along the border on both sides. Polo is one of the favourite games in both Baltistan and Ladakh. This is the traditional sport of both the regions. If this sport is encouraged then people from both these regions can be made to come together in dialogue and cross-border tours and travel which will open new vistas for reaching long-lasting peace.
The exact origin of polo, the oldest team sport, is unknown. Polo was probably first played by nomadic warriors over two thousand years ago. Used for training cavalry, the game was played from Constantinople to Japan in the Middle Ages. Tamerlane’s polo grounds can still be seen in Samarkand. It is said to have gained popularity in Persia, from where it is believed it reached Asia and India and was patronised by royalty and wealthy citizens. In the modern era, polo was popularised by the British. However, the name ‘polo’ is said to be derived from Manipur in north-east India, where the game was known as ‘Sagol Kanjei’, ‘Kanjai-bazee’, or ‘Pulu’. ‘Polo’ is the anglicised form of ‘pulu’ the wooden ball which was used in the game. The first polo club was established in Silchar in Assam in 1834.
In India, the Calcutta Polo Club, established in 1862, is the first grand, formalised polo club of the world. It celebrated its 150th anniversary last year. The Ezra Cup, played at this historic club, the first ever polo trophy in the world, is named after Sir David Ezra, a leading Jewish business tycoon in Calcutta who patronised the sport in the city. The first Ezra Cup was held in 1880.
Old links between India and Pakistan are intact at the Lahore Polo Club in Pakistan, one of the oldest clubs in the world. According to the organisers, the game of polo has been regularly played in the city for over a millennium by Emperors, Kings, Rulers, Princes as well as commoners. The main ground at the club is called the ‘Aibak Ground’ in remembrance to the 13th century King of Delhi, Sultan Qutbuddin Aibak who died in 1210 when his horse fell while playing polo in Lahore. He is buried near the present Anarkali Bazaar not far from the Lahore Fort. The Mughals, in particular, were very fond of the game. Emperor Babar, who founded the Mughal Empire in India in the 16th Century, played polo, so did his grandson Akbar the Great, who enjoyed playing this game, sometimes by torchlight.
Nur Jehan, the wife of Emperor Jehangir was a polo player as well. Both of them are buried outside the city of Lahore. Polo is an expensive sport, which is why it is patronised only by a handful of celebrities, and of course, the Indian Army. According to informed sources, If you want a trained polo pony which is stick & balling (polo term for a horse which lets you lift a stick for practising your shots) you would have to shell out approximately Rs. 70,000/- and a playing pony could cost you Rs. 1.25 lakhs. A top level playing pony could cost over Rs. 4 lakhs. These are horses played for a season or two by a professional in high goal polo. This is also one way of making money for the top pros. Importing a good polo pony from New Zealand or Australia could cost the same. From England or Argentina it could be substantially more.
Recently, there were indications that the Sahara India group, which has been supporting Indian cricket, Indian hockey, and has made a huge investment in Formula One team Force India, will now enter the Indian polo scenario as well in a big way.
Polo horses or ‘ponies’, which are usually imported from Argentina, cost around $ 15,000 each. On an average, each team has around 25 to 30 horses, so Sahara’s investment in the equestrian sport of polo will indeed be on a large scale.
Horses in India
The Government of India has issued a gazette notification which identifies 5 breeds of Indian horses as Marwari, Kathiyawari, Manipuri, Spiti and Zanskari.
The Marwari Horse has acquired it’s name from it’s original breeding place Marwar in Rajasthan. The Marwari horse today is descended from the splendid war-horses that served the ruling families and warriors of feudal India, throughout and from the beginning of that country’s history.
The Kathiyawari has the same history as that of Marwari but having been bred in the Kathiyawar region of Gujarat, it acquires the name of Kathiyawari. Breeding line and environmental differences have distinctively given certain separate features to the Kathiyawari from it’s cousin the Marwari. Such as ears, eyes, nose and in it’s built up structure.
The Manipuri horses are bred in the north-eastern state of Manipur in India. The Manipuri has the best claim to fame, for it was the original polo pony. In the 1850’s the English planters discovered this native game in India. They then took it up and spread it around the world. Manipuri horses are very quick and maneuverable.
The Spiti horses are bred in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh in India. They are very sure-footed and tough and used for transportation in the mountains.
Zanskari horses are bred in the high altitude Zanskar region of Ladakh in eastern Jammu and Kashmir State of India.They are more adaptable for higher altitude where they are used as work horses.
International Indo-Pak Polo Fixture
- Internationally, the 2nd Annual International CST Polo Classic Tournament and Fundraiser at the London Polo Club, held from 14 July onwards, will go down as the latest venue for an India-Pakistan polo match featuring world class teams.
- The invite to this prestigious event said : ‘Whether a polo novice, or an avid follower of the sport, the event will provide a unique opportunity to witness some of the world’s top polo players in the beautiful setting of the last remaining polo club in London, and meet with international aristocracy as well as business leaders and high society alike.
Last year we raised over £20,000 for the 20-million homeless people in the flood-affected areas of Pakistan. Our vital and life-changing work to provide humanitarian care, emergency relief, health and education across Pakistan is still continuing.’
- The Basics: Polo is a ball sport, played on horses. Where one team attempts to score goals by hitting hard hockey-sized ball through their oppositions’ goal with a mallet attached to the end of a 4 1/4 foot stick.
- The Pitch: The outdoor polo field is 300 yards long and 160 yards wide, the largest field in organised sport. The goal posts at each end are 24 feet apart and a minimum of 10 feet high. Penalty lines are marked at 30 yards from the goal, 40 yards, 60 yards, and at midfield.
- Chukkas: Each polo match is divided in to ‘Chukkas’. A Chukka is 7 1/2 minutes of active play time and is supposed to represent the amount of time a horse can reasonably exert itself before needing a rest. Polo Matches are divided into 4,5, or 6 Chukkas depending whether the level is Low, Medium, or High goal polo.
- Players: In outdoor polo there is four players on a team. Numbers 1 – 2 are traditionally attacking whilst 3 is the midfield playmaker and 4 is Defense. However as the sport is so fluid there are no definite positions in Polo.
- Handicaps: Handicaps in Polo range from -2 to 10 ‘goals’. With 10 being the best. A player who is playing above his handicap level (i.e. 3 playing as a 5) is known as a bandit, and is a very valuable but short lived commodity. Handicaps are assessed and independently mediated several times during the season.
- Umpires: Two mounted umpires, referee the game. They must agree on each foul/call made, if they disagree they refer to the ‘3rd Man’ who would be on the edge of the pitch in line with the center mark. His decision will settle the argument.
- The Rules: The Rules of polo are centered almost in totality around safety. When you have 1/2 a ton of horse traveling one way in excess of 30 mph, you do not want to be hit by 1/2 a ton of horse traveling in excess of 30 mph the other way. Polo is inherently dangerous, which may be part of the allure; however, the rules go a long way to negate risk.
Source: History of Polo.