Polo is ‘Big’ in Nepal

Most often when you see a person dressed in breeches, colored t-shirt, helmet and boots sitting astride an animal and brandishing a mallet, you’ll be watching the horse-orientated sport of polo. It is a fun and exciting sport to watch and play, but in Nepal the game is given a whole new edge. Here the horses are replaced with elephants and the sport is called ‘elephant polo’.

If the idea of sitting on top of a 4000-plus kg animal some four meters above the ground, while trying to knock a small little white ball around a field with a eight foot polo mallet, sounds like your idea of a good time, you simply have to make your way to Tiger Tops in Nepal. Whether you’re deadly serious about getting involved with the sport or simply would like to enjoy the somewhat comical aspect of it, there is no better place to go than to the place where it all started.

History tells us that elephant polo originally started in India sometime in the eighteenth century. However, the game as it is known and played today got its start at Tiger Tops in Meghauly, Nepal, during the 1980s. The game is played using much longer cane polo mallets, a standard polo ball and, of course, some elephants. The polo pitch is only three-quarters of a standard polo pitch as the elephants are much slower than horses and the smaller area ensures that the game continues at a reasonable pace. Another noteworthy feature of the sport is that, whereas one person is seated on the horse in ordinary polo, two people ride each elephant in elephant polo. The first is a mahout who sits behind the animals head and steers it according to the player’s instructions. The second is the player who is seated on the elephants back and carries the mallet with which the ball is hit.

While one might expect elephant polo to be a somewhat obscure sport played only by Asians in Asia, the opposite is quite surprisingly the case. Tiger Tops is not only the headquarters for elephant polo, but is also the host of the World Elephant Polo Championship. That’s right – teams come from around the globe to participate in this usual sport! The December 2008 world elephant polo champions were England, but the U.S has given them some stiff competition in past games. The games are well-supported and the atmosphere is electrifying. And animals need not worry – elephant polo in both Nepal and Thailand is governed by the World Elephant Polo Association, which not only enforces the rules of the game but is also very strict about the welfare of the elephants.