About the sport of kings
“A polo handicap is your passport to the world”
by Winston Churchill
By most accounts, polo originated in Persia before Darius the Great but the Monguls were early players of the “sport of kings” as well sometime between the Han period and the Tang dynasty beginning with the Xianbei nomads. It is believed that the Chinese learned polo when the Persians sought refuge from the invading Arabs. The Tibetans are credited for the name “polo” derived from the Tibetan wood used to make the ball called pulu (Tibeto-Burman language of Pakistan). Turkey had its place too along with India and the Brits adopted it from the Indian culture during their colonial reign. Shandoor Pass in Pakistan still holds a polo festival every year and is a magical field beside the Shandoor Lake in the Hindu Kush mountains which is said to be the highest plateau in the world.
Polo quickly became an international spectator sport for the nobility and migrated from central Asia via England to Australia, the United States and South America – in particular Argentina. Polo has been played for thousands of years and has been documented as the oldest of team sports. It is a splendid display of showmanship and prowess on the part of both horse and rider. To watch horses charging at 35 miles an hour towards each other in fully glory is an amazing experience to witness especially when they come to a grinding halt at the direction of their respective riders.
The game is made up of two teams with four or more players on each with the game being divided into six or eight chukkers (a Hindi word for circle or turn) each lasting for seven or seven and half minutes. Each player is mounted on horseback using long mallets to hit the ball through the goal posts on a field 300 yards long by 600 yards wide. It is a rather expensive sport given the cost of the finest polo ponies since usually each player must have a string of them because of the intensity of the game.
“Let other people play other things – the king of game is still the game of kings”
This verse is inscribed on a stone tablet next to a polo ground in Gilgit, north of Kashmir, near the fabled silk route from China to the West. It is between Karakoram Range and the Hindu Khush where polo is still played much as it was centuries ago.