Road block: Shandur polo festival hangs in the balance

More than 20,000 people remain stranded.


In the first week of June, nearly one kilometre of the road linking Gilgit with Shandur was submerged as the river flooded and changed its direction at Sosat, Ghizer. PHOTO SHABBIR MIR/EXPRESS

GILGIT/ GILGIT/GAKHUCH: The suspension of traffic between Ghizer valley and Gilgit, which has left over 20,000 people stranded, has also jeopardised the fate of the Shandur polo festival this time around.

In the first week of June, nearly one kilometre of the road linking Gilgit with Shandur was submerged as the river flooded and changed its direction at Sosat, Ghizer. More than 20,000 people in the upstream valleys, including Phandur valley, were cut off at Sosat, about 200 kilometres from Gilgit.

“A team of officials including engineers have returned after assessing the situation there,” said Ghizer Deputy Commissioner Sibtain Ahmed.



“About a kilometre of the road is underwater and vehicles are unable to cross it,” he added. Currently, residents reach their destination by crossing the hills.

If an alternative arrangement is not made immediately, it is likely that the stranded people may face a shortage of food and medicine. Though Phandur valley is also accessible from Chitral via Shandur, it is economically not a viable option.

“The Shandur festival is important but the people stuck in those villages are more important,” said Ahmed.

Given the flow of water which is increasing as the snow continues to melt, Secretary Tourism Syed Akhtar Rizvi said restoring traffic may take more than a month. “Since the festival is due next month, G-B’s participation is highly unlikely,” said Rizvi, an official from the team sent to the site.

“G-B has written to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government to postpone the event until August,” he added.

At an altitude of 3,700 metres is the world’s highest polo ground in Shandur where nearly 10,000 people attend the sports festival.  Since 1936, the G-B and provincial government have jointly been holding polo tournaments on this ground where celebrities and public figures also participate.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2013.

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