Every year in July, a three day festival is held at the 12500 ft high Shandur plateau which also boasts to be the highest polo ground in the world. One reason for the venue to be popular used to be its serene atmosphere and cast away location.
When tourists, both local and foreign travelled to Shandur, they did so for getting away from the humbug , hustle bustle and formalities of the city life. Unfortunately for the last two decades the annual festival at Shandur is marked each time by a nauseating display of flagrant VIP culture battering the very spirit of Shandur..
It started with the visit of General Zia ul Haq in 1986 who had two C130s hovering at Chitral airport to act as decoys / stand byes and F-16s patrolling over Shandur while the General watched polo. Then came the ‘peoples prime minister ‘ Benazir, who attended the Shandur festival twice ,each time with a squadron of Army helicopters chopping by her side and a fleet of Luxury vehicles specially driven from Islamabad just to transfer her from the helipad to the dais ( located a hundred yards away). Nawaz Sharif too was equally (if not more) gullible to such delusions of grandeur.
However when General Pervez Musharaf took over power and in his inaugural speech stressed the need to practice austerity, much hope was pinned on him in this respect. Sorry to say that the General who has performed well in many other fields, has disappointed his admirers when it comes to setting personal examples of simplicity and austerity. His past two visits to Shandur were in the same lavish and wasteful manner as his predecessors. Recent visit of the Vice Chief of Army Staff to Chitral ,Shandur ,is a current account of an uninspiring display of aggressive security cum protocol measures amidst a peaceful and docile people.
The point to ponder is whether in times to come would Shandur Festival completely transform into a money wasting / ego boosting occasion for the rulers of the time or if the VIPs spare Shandur would it revert to its original, informal and hassle free format ….