Polo Tourism: Untapped potential of India’s heritage sport

The royals kept it alive for ages and the army nurtured it; Polo, the hidden heritage that has been enticing the world for decades. 

Bharti Sharma

A historic sport with massive charm and admiration, Polo is not just a sport or a hobby but a national treasure since it was originated in India. India is one of the few countries in the world where this game is still preserved and practiced. The game of Polo has always been synonymous with royalty or later the Indian Army, which has been a custodian of the sport, post-independence. It is not a sport for weak-hearts, and owing to its roots assumed to be a lifestyle that reeks of royalty and tradition. Besides being one of the most ancient and elusive games in the world, Polo in India can be a deal-breaker for tourism with a little more nourishment and positioning in the tourism circuit.

Vintage Polo team

Tracing the Horse’s track

Humans and horses share a timeless bond. Glorious conquerors in history have won kingdoms on horsebacks, and common folks have earned livelihoods through them for centuries. It is therefore impossible to ascertain the timeline of Polo, of which there are different versions but the most prevalent one places the origin to Central Asia sometime between 600 B.C and 100 A.D. It is believed that the sport was fancied by the Moghul Emperors who called it Chaugan back then but the modern Polo as we know today originated in Manipur when it caught the eye of Lieutenant Joe Sherer who saw exiled Manipuri princes playing the sport in Silchar in the 1850’s. The British took such a liking for the sport, that they and the tea planters of Sialchar founded the world’s first polo club, the Silchar Kangjei Club in 1859 and the sport of Polo has never looked back ever since. .

Switching Saddles

Almost 170 years since the modern Polo was introduced by Manipur, the baton for popularising the sport has changed hands over the period. While one hand we have Manipur, where Polo is more than just a sport, it is deep-rooted in their culture and religion, on the other we have West Bengal with its 150 year old Kolkata Polo Club serving as one of the important hubs of the sport for decades. But it is Rajasthan that has undeniably contributed the most in popularising the sport. Rajasthan has given modern Polo the glamour and royalty it is associated with today. Polo as a sport, as a lifestyle, or as a tradition, are the identified aspects of the sport that can be associated with their respective regions. So as far as Polo and tourism are concerned we already have the perfect ingredients for a hot-selling tourism product, these are the areas that need to be marketed and positioned for the world to witness. Polo enthusiasts that wish to witness the sport in the place of its origin and want to learn about the traditions attached with the game can attend the Sangai Festival in Manipur, an annual affair where the state hosts the Manipur International Polo Tournament, participated by teams from several Polo playing countries. For admirers of the sport with a flavour of grandeur and royalty, the state of Rajasthan offers a buffet of experiences, with Jaipur, Jodhpur, Ajmer and Udaipur, which are home to the finest polo clubs in India hosting Polo matches and tournaments almost round the year. There are several hospitality groups that even have Polo training facilities for their Polo aficionado patrons. 

The southwestern Asians originally called the game Chaugán.

The Dark Horse

Polo tournaments and festivals in India already attract a number of foreign tourists. Polo tournaments being organised by various clubs, the IPA (Indian Polo Association) is frequented by participants and spectators from across the globe. So, Polo tourism is not a novel concept for India, and the MoT, GoI has even recognised the potential of this segment and its social-economic impact thus drafting guidelines that identify broad areas of support for the promotion of Polo as a niche tourism product. Throwing more light on the importance of this segment, Rinaa Shah, the first woman polo player believes that tourism and sports are interrelated and complementary. She adds, “Sports tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors in tourism. In my view, more and more tourists are interested in sports activities and sporting events during their trips whether sports are in their travel agenda or not.” 

The modern Polo is symbolic with luxury, royalty and prestige. Sharing her views on the impact and how can it be better marketed for optimum results, Rinaa Shah feels that Polo as an evolving sport is very niche and always draws a quality audience. “In my personal opinion, it’s a sport that needs to be promoted in a big way, and this can be very good for the future of the sport. The polo sector, like other sports, will have a significant economic impact, contributing a lot to the economy and scope for employment generation,” she concludes.

Rinaa Shah

The Dramatic Gallop

If there’s one thing we know about travelling is that anything that’s unique has the potential to attract tourists and when it comes to a sport like Polo, which is both unique and has centuries of history attached to it, there is no way one can control their curiosity and eagerness. Polo is India has more drama to it than a Martin Scorsese flick. The dramatic manner it is believed to have originated back in the 1850’s, the association of the sport with the Moghuls, the traditional value of the game for the people of Manipur, the glamorisation of Polo and the addition of royal flavour by Rajasthan, the adoption of Polo by the Indian army and keeping the Polo tradition alive post-Independence, are all major landmarks in the game’s history till date. All of which, adds to the excitement and drama of Polo, thus rendering it a perfect product for attracting tourists from around the globe.

Lifting the trophy

We have mentioned so many features of the Polo that distinguish the sport as a perfect niche tourism product. But the list doesn’t end here, it would not be wrong to suggest that the sport has completed a full circle as we come back to Manipur, the origin of Polo. This time around though, it’s the state’s women Polo team that is bringing both glory and adding potential to the tourism angle of the sport. The Manipur women Polo team is coming up strong in the international Polo circuit and are making headlines for all the right reasons. All these factors have made the Ministry of Tourism include the promotion of Polo as a niche tourism product. The Incredible India 2.0 campaign also plans to include the women polo players as ambassadors for polo tourism. The segments particularly attract higher-spending tourists or HNI’s. The tourism sector has immense potential in adding to the economic growth and socio-economic development in the country through its multiplier effect. The trend towards travel for the purpose of participating or watching some sports activity is both significant and has growth potential.


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