Did you know that Polo is a part of many festivals in Ladakh like Losar festival and Nowruz festival?
Polo is more than a sport, it is an integral part of the culture of this rugged and beautiful land called Ladakh and can be considered as a major tourist attraction.
The beauty of rugged Himalayas, mystifying lakes, exotic monasteries and the aura of the scenic beauty of the place is unmatched to any other in the country. Thus, a place as timeless as Ladakh is one such destination in India that can be seen again and again and your heart still says – ‘ Dil maange More!
History Of Ladakh
After the breakup of the Tibetan Empire in 9th century, Nyima-Gon, a representative of the ancient Tibetan royal house founded the first Ladakh dynasty.
Those days Shey, was the capital of Ladakh, became part of Ngari-Skorsum, a country of three provinces.
Today, Ladakh is the highest liveable region with a settlement in India. It has been recently separated from the state of Jammu and Kashmir and given the status of Union Territory by the Government of India.
Ladakh is famous for the stark landscape, the Buddhist culture, the pashmina, a photographers paradise, rich minerals and of course – POLO !!!
Polo in Ladakh
Polo was probably introduced into Ladakh in the early 17th century by King Jamyang Namgyal, whose second wife was a Balti princess from Baltistan.
The game of Polo is more part of the Ladakhi culture. It becomes more enchanting because of the link between Polo and music. Surna (oboe) and Daman (drums) are played during polo matches. A special tune called Stakra or Rak or tsarak is played when a horse runs or starts to gallop or while hitting a goal. A reverberating experience.
Polo is a game played on horseback between two teams of four players each who use mallets with long, flexible handles to drive a wooden ball down a grass field and between two goal posts. It is the oldest of equestrian sports and modifications have come in with time.
Polo played in Ladakh is slightly different from the ones played according to the international rules. It is played on barren land and is much more furious than the actual game. Here each team consists of six players.
Polo was ‘discovered’ by the British around 1860 who made it more refined and elitist. It was introduced in the Summer Olympics at the 1900 Games but later discontinued. It was once again introduced in 1996, by International Olympic Committee as a recognized sport.
Unlike the international game, Polo in Ladakh is not exclusively for the rich, especially in Turtuk, Tyaksi, Leh.
Why Polo in Ladakh suffered Negligence
Over the years polo has suffered neglect and lost its popularity. The biggest challenge in reviving polo has been the task of maintaining horses and heavy snowfall for six months each winter and remains physically disconnected from the outside world.
Revival of Polo in Ladakh
However, polo is now enjoying a revival. Over the last few years, Kargil and Leh have seen the formation of social organisations such as Himalayan Sport and Cultural Organization and Indus Chu- shot Polo Club, which are actively working to restore polo. Also, for the first time in the history of the sport, they have started training girls to play polo. Yet, more government support is required to bring it back to past glory.
Polo and Local Connect
The festivals are extremely dear to the locals and one such festival is Nawroz.
Nawroz is celebrated on 21st March, which is the Spring Equinox, the day and night are of equal length that marks the beginning of spring and the ground will no longer ‘ freeze’ !
The locals celebrate Nawroz Festival with traditional music, folk songs, dances and polo matches. The festival begins in the early morning, as all people gather at some highest point in the village and play the music of the heaven and greet each other. The traditional music is followed by Lam-jon, a procession to Shagaran. In the procession, the guests ride horses and the locals walk with the musicians. Traditional dresses, polo competition, the sword dance, Balti traditional folk dances and Balti Gazal are the main attractions of the festival.
Sports In Ladakh:
In Ladakh, there are very few sports that are suited for the conditions of the region. Polo is one sport that is ideal for the physical condition of the region, the physical prowess and social practices along with becoming an importance channel for youth to pursue a respectable career, even represent the state and or the country. They also provide women’s Self-Help Groups to sell their products and tourism helps the economy grow.
What is instore for a Tourist
During these tournaments, as a tourist, you will witness the incredible performances of Ladakhi folk music and dance by the local artists. Archery, popular local drama called Abi-Apo (grandmother-grandfather), food stalls with local cuisines like Thukpa (soup noodles), Mok mok (dimsum), chutai-sku (local pasta) and kholak (barley) and Chang, the local barley beer. Handicrafts of Ladakh which are on display at the stalls, like pattu (a rough woolen fabric), baskets, Thangka paintings, pashmina shawls and hand prayer wheels, besides other items.
Life is short, and the world is wide. It is not what you look at that matters, but what you feel and experience. The goal is to die with memories not dreams. Ladakh is one such place where you can realise your dream.
When to Experience Polo in Ladakh, 2021
Here is your chance – March 21st – Experience the Ladakh Polo in all its fanfare and glory in Turtuk, Nubra valley.
You may feel lucky to have watched the Polo match live. But there is a flip side too: It is unlikely that you will ever enjoy polo anywhere else again.!!
Photos contibuted Fazil Abbas respectively.
Edited by Mahima Gir Mehra