Pioneer of the unique adventure sport in the world – World Elephant Polo Association is the originator of Elephant Polo in Nepal. Every November / December since 1982, Tiger Tops has played host to the World Elephant Polo Championships. The tournament is played on a grass airstrip at the northern edge of Chitwan National Park, with players and guests staying at the nearby Jungle Lodge. These days it was moved to Bardia National Park and Nawalparasi.
The Birth of Elephant Polo:
The Tiger Tops Reservation in Meghauli, Nepal is not just a picture perfect retreat, lying hidden in the dense jungles of Nepal, with the Himalayas rising in the background. It is also the birthplace of one the world’s most unique sports – elephant polo. Elephant polo was conceptualised as a sport in 1982. The foundation of the sport was laid when James Manclark, a Scotsman met Jim Edwards, owner of Tiger Tops Reservation in Nepal, at a bar in Switzerland. However, when the first game of elephant polo was actually played, it was a complete mess. “The field was so big, it took a whole day to score one goal and the footballs that were being used, were crushed by the elephants!” they exclaimed.
How to Play Elephant Polo:
This sport, as the name suggests, involves a game of polo, with the players seated on elephants instead of ponies. Most of the rules are the same as polo, a few of them being modified for the sake of the elephants. The players, sitting behind the mahout (the person who works with and rides the elephant) who guides the elephant across the field, wield special polo sticks (with a polo mallet on the head) that can be as long as 102 inches! The standard polo ball is used for play by the teams that consist of men and women both. Each team has four elephants, which are well-rested and taken care of during the breaks.
During elephant polo there are strict rules against harsh treatment by the drivers. The games end at noon so that the elephants will not get too hot. No elephant is allowed to play two consecutive games. They have snacks and water at half-time and then have an hour to rest. Each elephant plays only two games a day. If an elephant is injured or can’t play for some reason, the game is played with only three elephants to a side, rather than putting extra pressure on the other elephants.
When not playing polo, the Tiger Tops elephants take guests out on wildlife safaris twice a day. The safaris are limited in time so as not to tire the elephants. During the day the elephants are taken out to the fields so their mahouts can cut grass for their meals. They eat a diet similar to that of wild elephants – primarily grass – but they also receive supplements with vitamins and good nutrients. They are bathed in the river daily. We love them dearly and recognize how special they are. Believe us, they are truly cherished.
Tiger Tops – Unbreakable Connection with Elephant Polo:
Since the inception of the sport in 1982, the World Elephant Polo Championship is annually held at Tiger Tops in the last week of November or first week of December. Along with being known as the best place to play elephant polo, it also houses the headquarters of the World Elephant Polo Association (WEPA), the sport’s governing body. Teams from all over world including Nepal, UK, Scotland, India, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Australia, America, Switzerland and Mongolia (with interesting names like Pukka Chukkas, Indian Tigers and British Gorkha Gladiators) participate in this five-day championship.
Elephants – The Kings of the Game:
The most beautiful part of this sport is that it’s all about the elephants. Apart from the general rules in place, at Tiger Tops, these animals are treated like kings. The pitch is the three-fourth length of a usual polo field because of the slower speed of the elephants. No elephant is allowed to play two consecutive games, and they are given 15-minute rest breaks between 10-minute intervals of game time.
At the end of the game, the elephants are given treats like sugar cane, vitamin-packed rice balls and special sandwiches. The mahouts are also rewarded with some cold beer or soft drinks for their hard work and patience.
The intelligence and discipline with which the elephants play the game are astonishing. They not only expertly manoeuvre around the small polo ball but are also quick to respond to the commands of their mahouts. Usually, these mahouts work with the elephants for years, and their symbiotic relationship is visible in their effortless communication.
Watching a Game of Elephant Polo:
Though the official Championship games are invitation-only, locals and tourists flock around the field for a glimpse of this amazing event. The impeccably-dressed guests are seated comfortably in the stands, but it is the outsiders who seem to have more fun. They cheer and jeer as the game progresses, even trying to pet and feed the elephants who venture too close to the boundaries.
This annual event ushers in a wave of excitement amongst the locals, some of whom come from far-off villages in the mountains. Tourists and locals watching the game from the side-lines have a gala time as the game of elephant polo enraptures one and all.
If you are travelling to the Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park or Nawalparashi around November – December, make sure you do not miss this spectacular event. Though elephant polo is also played in countries like India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, nothing matches the thrill of watching the game in the place where it all began. Keep your cameras ready and prepare to be fascinated as you watch the best teams in the world compete for ultimate glory.