Even the laziest and the sleepiest individual in Hunza or Gilgit would eagerly set the alarm for 5 a.m. the night before Navroz. No one wants to miss the morning of the ‘New Day,’ the beginning of spring on the 21st of March. Though originating in ancient Persia Navroz is celebrated in different parts of the world and has its local variants.
Ginani is annual crop harvesting festival celebrated in valleys of Hunza and Nagar. General date being 21 June, that coincides with the longest day of the year
In Hunza the celebrations starts around ten days before the Ginani. Musicians at Altit Fort play tunes that are called Hareeps in Burushaski, for ten days till the Ginani day.
On the day of Ginani, people gather at a place called Chattaq, near royal palace. In case of Hunza, people gather at chattaq located at Baltit Fort.
Mir visits the fields of wheat, where butter is spread over the wheat plants. Prayers are offered for prosperity and for betterment of community. A bunch of wheat plants are taken with them. Wheat garins are extracted from husk and cooked.
After many months, the plants are now ready for reaping and harvesting. This stage involves another festival. Harvest time is celebrated. This festival is performed in the same way as the seeding festival. The villagers thank “Allah” for the bounty that they ore going to harvest. For this, it means lively music (drum beats), dancing and eating on top of sharing the happiness with one another.
The Shandur Polo Festival
The exact place where polo originated is shrouded in mists and perhaps myths of the history of Western and Central Asia, but there is no doubt that that this region in general is its birthplace and with some even going so far as to so’ that it was in the Gilgit-Baltistan, and Baltistan’s town of Shigar in particular, where it all started.
Whether or not that indeed is the case polo has a long tradition and enjoys a substantial following of enthusiasts in the Northern Areas. Even among people who could never dream of owning a horse, polo has its loyal devotees who regularly support their favourite team and often ‘ravel long distances throughout the Gilgit-Baltistan to demonstrate that loyalty.
One such instance, and perhaps the largest and most dramatic in the whole Northern Areas, and perhaps all of Pakistan, is the annual Shandur Polo Festival held in July. Until last year Shandur was the highest polo ground in the world ‘it 12,263 feet. That distinction now goes to Babusar at almost 13,599 feet, still in Pakistan.
Shandur is on a spur of the old Silk Route. It has been the site of a fierce rivalry between the polo teams from the old fortress town of Chitral in Pakistan’s and the ancient caravanserai and now modern city of Gilgit in the Northern Areas.
The Shandur plateau is usually the haunt of grazing sheep, goats and yaks. These occasionally become the prey of brown bear, wolf and even the rare and endangered snow leopard. There is a complex of extremely shallow, snowmelt-fed lakes, which are only about 10 feet deep. The complex constitutes one of South Asia’s great bird-migration flyways, and they play a major role in the propagation of species found nowhere else.
The lakes themselves are breeding grounds for species of frogs, toads, snails and plant life in addition to attracting the passing birds.
Polo at Shandur goes back a long way and is somewhat colorfully clouded in embellishment. But originally, the polo match at Shandur was a clash between the region’s ruling classes with the princely Methars of Chitral and the equally princely Rajas from what is now the Northern Areas.
During the days of the British Raj, when Shandur was one of the farthest and most remote point north in South Asia where the Union Jack flew, polo rivalry was shared by the Chitral Scouts and the equally competitive Gilgit Scouts military regiments.
Even though the existing polo pavilion and seating area were established, some say, as far back as the 1930s, Shandur’s remoteness was its environmental saviour. And when Partition of India and Pakistan took place, there appears to have been a break in the activities.
That was until the 1980s, when the federal government started supporting polo at Shandur on a large scale, and things began growing from there. Nevertheless, things still were, and are, kucha at best. Players and mounts live in and around tents with the Chitral team on one side of the border, the Gilgit-Baltistan team on the other. Players and their mounts are still made up of the region’s elite, some of whom are the best players in the country and perhaps the world.
The 1990s saw prime ministers, including the late Benazir Bhutto, flying in by helicopter for the last day’s main event and during the early 2000s the road between Gilgit and Shandur was paved and from Chitral to Shandur partially paved.
People then began loving Shandur to death. The now-comparative ease of access saw an increase in the numbers of both spectators and sellers, and also an increase in indifference to the environment. Solid-waste management, water pollution and erosion problems manifested themselves in a very big way. Vehicles, horses, clothes, crockery and cutlery, and people were all being washed in the fragile lake complex. The mountain of trash and difficulties managing it grew.
Going on the environmental offensive, this year the 18-month-old Pakistan Wetlands Programme (PWP), a seven year long Ministry of Environment environmental initiative being implemented by the World Wide Fund for Nature, Pakistan (WWF-P) and in particular its Gilgit-located Regional Operations Base set out to “Save Shandur” through an environmental campaign aimed at solid waste management and conscious raising among participants, spectators and vendors. It was acting upon a PWP-sponsored landmark study done in 2006 by Oxford University scholar David Johnson regarding the environmental challenges facing Shandur.
The PWP encouraged support from the army and police, whose duties this year included cordoning off and guarding access to the lake and other environmentally sensitive areas.
The PWP got the Gilgit-Baltistan Environmental Protection Agency (NAEPA) along with Tourism departments from both the NWFP and NAs, and non-government organizations involved in the effort. Officials of the NAs Forest Department along with their counterparts at the NWFP Wildlife Department agreed to assign four rangers to environmental check posts on the road at the two entrances to Shandur.
At the same time, the PWP drew together community organizations from both sides of the polo match’s competing regions to work together for a common cause.
Particularly special help and consideration to the environmental effort was given by the officers and men of the Gilgit-Baltistan Scouts, a comparatively new paramilitary regiment made up from the corps of the old Gilgit Scouts and who were camped next to the PWP. They provided material, logistical and tactical assistance to the program’s staff and volunteers, helped with the maintenance of the PWP vehicles in the demanding conditions, operated a snack stall and dining room open 10 ail and provided evening traditional folk dancing and musical events. The Scouts had a fully equipped medical unit that was prepared to ok., and did aid, in any way it could. Its presence was considered to be a major contributor to the environmental initiative’s success.
And while the polo players battled it out on the polo ground day after day, the volunteers maintained high-profile, periodic clean-ups of the polo ground area and marches on it, inducing a grand finale on the last day. Repeated announcements were made over the public address system encouraging spectators to be environmentally sensitive.
Thirty visually friendly, blue, plastic trash bins were provided by the Gilgit-Baltistan ERA and strategically positioned by the volunteers in the bazaar.
The bins were lined with locally made, heavy-duty polyurethane bags, which had the PWP and NAEPA logos printed on them. For security reasons only the liner bags were allowed to be placed in the polo ground area.
Thanks in part to the public-relations blitz, the corps of environmental volunteers achieved some notable successes. Officially, 550 bags of trash averaging 16.5 pounds each, totaling about 9,232 pounds, or 4.6159 tonnes, were systematically collected by the volunteers, weighed and contents of selected bags analyzed and disposed of in an EPA approved dumpsite on the Northern Areas side of Shandur plateau.
“This year’s Save Shandur showed that with the right dedication and will, things that were in the past considered difficult or impossible can be achieved. And if it can be done at Shandur, it can be done anywhere. It is already envisioned that for next year the cleanup and conscious-raising campaigns will be expanded to include more volunteers, organizations, and cover the entire area of the event. Good fun and good environmental practices can coexist,” said Dr. Humaira Khan, the Pakistan Wetlands Programme’s coordinator for the Northern Areas.
Babusar Cup Polo Tournament
Babusar polo tournament was organized from August 5-7, 2008 by the Tourism Department Gilgit-Baltistan , Gilgit at the highest polo ground in the world at Babusar (13,812 ft) at the highest Polo group of the world.
This Polo Tournament is based on its geographical location, lucid atmosphere and newly constructed NHA road which, will provide easy access to Gilgit-Baltistan from Naran and Kaghan valley, the tournament was designed to signify the touristic potential of Babusar and it’s surrounding.
The festival also includes Tug of war, Tent pegging, Paragliding, Photo Exhibition, Gemstone Exhibition, Handicrafts Exhibition, Trekking, Horse Riding and camp Fire.
The Babusar Pass is located in District Diamer of Gilgit-Baltistan . It is located at a distance of 35 kms from KKH near Chilas, which takes 2 hours drive on road journey to Babusar. The Babusar Pass can also be accessed through Mansehra, via Kaghan Valley covering a distance of 200kms.