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
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.