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   About Ladakh > Archery and Polo in Ladakh

Archery and Polo in Ladakh

Polo and archery are the two favourite past times in Ladakh. In Leh, and many of the villages, archery festivals are held during the summer months, with a lot of fun and fanfare. They are competitive events and all the surrounding villages send teams, and the shooting takes place according to strict etiquette, to the accompaniment of the music of Surna and daman (oboe and drum). Chang, the local barley beer, flows freely, but there is rarely any rowdiness. The men dress invariable in traditional dress, and the women wear their brightest brocade mantles and their heaviest jewellery. Archery may be the pretext for the gathering, but the party's thing.

Archery in Ladakh

Polo is traditional to the western Himalaya, especially to Baltistan and Gilgit. It was probably introduced into Ladakh in the mid 17th century by King Sengge Namgyal, whose mother was a Balti princess. Unlike the international game, Polo in Ladakh is not exclusively for the rich. The game played here differs in many respect from the international game, which was adapted from what Britishers saw in the western Himalayas and Manipur in the 19th century.

Traditionally, almost every village had its polo-ground, and even today it is played in many places besides Leh, especially in Drass and Chushot, a big village close to Leh. In Leh, it has been partly institutionalized with regular tournaments and occasional exhibition matches being played on the polo-ground in the shadow of the palace. The local crowd takes a keen interest, especially in those matches in which a civilian team takes on the Army. Altogether, polo adds a unique kind of colour and excitement to the summer in

Polo in Ladakh

Leh. Here, each team consists of six players, and the game lasts for an hour with a ten minute break. Altitude notwithstanding, the hardy local ponies from Zanskar scarcely seem to suffer, though play can be fast and furious. Each goal is greeted by a bust of music from surna and daman; and the players often show extraordinary skill. For example, when starting play after a goal the scorer gallops up to midfield holding ball and mallet in the right hand, and throws the ball, hitting it in the same movement towards the opposite goal.


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