Tenting pegging is a sport in which men horseback attempt to yank wooden stakes out of the ground with a spear while riding at a full gallop. The sports reportedly dates back to the Mughal period, when Mughals attacked the camps of their enemies while they were sleeping and collapsed their tents on top of them.

There are many regional sports enjoyed in Sindh. Malakhiro (Malakhra) wrestling is the most famous. Other sports include Wanjh wati, Kodi Kodi, Beelarhoo, Thipai Rand, Notinn and Biloor. Sufi festivals feature sports competitions, traditional martial arts, horseback riding and fighting with daggers. Wrestling is a popular spectator sport in villages. Men enjoy cockfighting, pigeon racing, and camel racing as well as cricket and field hockey.

Pashtun play Naiza bazi, a game involving riding horses and throwing spears. Some Pashtun also have rock-throwing competitions. Buz kashi (literally "grabbing the dead goat") is played in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan. It is a big sport in Afghanistan and played throughout Central Asia. See Separate Article BUZ KASHI

Among the Balochi and Brahui games such as wrestling and horse-racing have traditionally been useful in developing skills in young men for war. Shooting and hunting are favorite pastimes among the upper classes. In the past, the Brahui had to depend on their own resources for entertainment and recreation.

Polo in Northern Pakistan

Polo is played in Gilgit, Chitral and some parts of Baltistan. The polo season begins with the Spring Festival at the end of March. The matches that take place July or August at 3,700-meter (12,140-foot)-high Shandur Pass are a big deal. The game use to be more widely played but horses are no longer used as much as beasts of burden and are prohibitively expensive for most ordinary people. The horses have traditionally been nourished on a diet of walnuts and mulberries.

The polo grounds at Shandur Pass lie on a stretch of lush grass hemmed in by stone walls. Paul Raffaele wrote in Smithsonian magazine” Siraj, my guide, “tells me that Sikander — whose name is an adaptation of "Alexander" — practices here most days with his team year-round. "When the Duke of Edinburgh was here a few years ago, he asked my brother what he did for a living, and Sikander replied, ‘I play polo.' The Duke thought my brother had misunderstood the question and asked again. ‘I play polo,' Sikander answered once more." [Source: Paul Raffaele, Smithsonian magazine, January 2007]

Shandur is “usually six hours on bumpy roads by jeep. "Even though the men and their horses are used to high altitudes, the pass is so lofty that they need to acclimatize to its thin air," he says. Sikander and the team spend each night at a different village, playing practice games.

History of Polo in Northern Pakistan

Polo is an equestrian sport that originated in Central Asia and was developed into a competitive sport by the Persians. It spread to southwest Europe where it died out and to India. Tribes of the Karakoram kept the sport going and it is here that the British picked up the game.

Polo is said to have originated in Central Asia in the 6th century B.C. At first it was a training game for cavalry units for the King’s guards or other elite troops. To the warlike tribesmen who played polo with as many as 100 players to a side, it was a miniature battle. It became a Persian national game in the A.D. 6th century. From Persia, the game spread to Arabia, then to Tibet, China and Japan. In China, in the year 910, death of a favourite relative in a game prompted Emperor Apao-Chi to order beheading of all players!

Polo was introduced in South Asia, by the Muslim conquerors in the 13th century. Gilgit, Chitral and Skardu are said to have always played the game of polo closest to its original form. In the past, local Rajas, Mirs and Mehtars were the patrons of the game. At times, more than 50 percent of the annual budget of the principalities of what is now northern Pakistan was spent on supporting the game. The English word "polo" is a Balti word meaning ''ball''.

Rules of Extreme Polo Played in Northern Pakistan

In ancient times, there was no limit to the number of players in a polo match and no time limit. Whichever team scored nine goals first, became the winner. Today, there are six players to each side, but this is by no means a rule in local polo games. The game lasts for one hour with a ten-minute break.

Paul Raffaele wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “Persians brought the game here a thousand years ago, and it has been favored by prince and peasant ever since. But as played at Shandur, the world's highest polo ground, the game has few rules and no referee. Players and horses go at one another with the abandon that once led a British political agent to label Chitral "the land of mirth and murder." [Source: Paul Raffaele, Smithsonian magazine, January 2007]

“Siraj's son-in-law, Shah Qubilal Alam of Lahore, captain of Pakistan's polo team, watches from the main grandstand. He shakes his head at the violence. "We've so many rules in mainstream polo, you can't do this, you can't do that, strictly controlled by a referee....In our polo, a chukker lasts just seven and a half minutes, and then you change horses. And that's at sea level. I can't see how the horses can go at it for half an hour at a time without a rest."

In the nrothern Pakistan game there are six players to a side, and a match lasts one hour with a ten minute break. but these rules do not necessarily apply to all local polo games. In some games there is no limit to the number of players and no time limit. Whichever team scores nine goals first is the winner.

The version of polo played in the Northern Area is fast an dangerous. The field is surrounded by a stone wall which causes the ball to bounce back into action and creates a hazard for careless horsemen. The games is played on a narrower field than the international game which lends itself to charging attacks. Riders are allowed to hold the ball with their hand but it they do this they can be knocked of their horse. The play is accompanied by music from drums and clarinets. The ball use to be a head of a goat. Each team is supposed to have six players but teams do not always ascribe to this rule.

Festivals on the Roof of the World

Festival on the Roof of the World is set in northern Pakistan in a beautiful landscape among some of the highest mountains of the world, with wildlife, awe-inspiring snow peaks, glittering glaciers, serene valleys of lush green foliage and fruits, rushing streams and a rich diversity of people, culture, folklore, arts and crafts. It attracts people from all parts of Northern Areas — including Gilgit, Aliabad, Gulmit, Karimabad and Skardu, as well as from neighboring Xinjiang Province of China and Central Asia. [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. ]

Polo matches and indigenous sports events are the major attractions for domestic tourists and foreign visitors. They are held at Gilgit and Skardu as well as Shandu Pass (See Below). Camping villages and open air local restaurants are set up at scenic spots. Trout fishing can be enjoyed at nearby streams and lakes.

The festival also includes folk music, folk dance, traditional sports and a camping village is be set up on the Pass. An ethnic fashion show with regional costumes and cultural traditions of local ethnic groups is held. Community festivals at district level are sponsored by the AKCSP, AKRSP, craft development projects, literary and cultural forums, IUCN, WWF, and other NGOs.

Polo at the Peak: Shandur Polo Festival

Shandur Polo Festival in the second week of July is held at the world's highest polo ground. Teams from Chitral and Gilgit compete at 3,700-meter (12,140-foot)-high Shandur Pass. The festival includes folk music and dancing from northern Pakistan. A camping village is set up. [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. ]

Every year, Shandur Pass hosts a traditional polo tournament between the teams of Chitral and Gilgit from 7th to 9th July. Most of year the pass is populated by grazing yaks. It comes alive during the tournament. The main events of the festival today are the games between the polo teams of Gilgit and Chitral. The final match between the Gilgit and Chitral teams is colorful spectacle. Supporters of both sides travel long distances from the remote parts of Chitral and Gilgit, to watch the thrilling game.

The first polo tournament at Shandur Pass was in 1936. Col. Evelyn Hey Cobb, a polo-loving British political agent, was fond of playing polo under a full moon. He had the polo ground near Shandur, named. 'Moony Polo Ground'. He sponsored the grudge match between Chitral and Gilgit as part of an effort to unify the region.

Paul Raffaele wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “As the day of the polo match draws near, the slopes of the Shandur Pass have become thick with tribesmen who traveled from across the region. Tents have spread across the slopes like desert daisies after a rain, and charred mutton kebabs scent the air. The two rival teams have pitched their tents close by each other, separated only by a rocky knoll. Their battle flags flap furiously in the wind while their flint-eyed horses, tethered to poles, paw the ground. [Source: Paul Raffaele, Smithsonian magazine, January 2007]

“In a tent amid the Chitral cluster, Prince Sikander sips tea with visitors. At 49, he resembles a middle-aged Freddie Mercury from the band Queen. He seems self-assured, but his eyes look wary. "Polo started about 2,500 years ago as a Persian cavalry training exercise, and there were up to 100 players on each side," he tells me. "It was like a battle, not a sport. Our form of polo is closest to the original, although we have just six players on a team."

President Musharraf Checks Out the Shandur Polo Tournament in 2007

Paul Raffaele wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “By midmorning's light, a military helicopter descends on the Shandur Pass, a 12,300-foot-high valley hemmed in by mountains whose jagged peaks soar another 8,000 feet above us. This part of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province is usually inhabited only by hardy shepherds and their grazing yaks, but today more than 15,000 assorted tribesmen are on hand as Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf emerges from the chopper, a pistol on his hip. [Source: Paul Raffaele, Smithsonian magazine, January 2007]

“Musharraf, who has survived several assassination attempts, seems to be taking no chances in a province roamed by Muslim extremists. But still, he has come: after all, it's the annual mountain polo match between Chitral and Gilgit, rival towns on either side of the Shandur Pass.

“Now, as Musharraf takes his place in the stands, the two teams begin parading around the Shandur ground, their stocky mounts tossing their manes and flaring their nostrils. The team from Gilgit, a garrison town, comprises tough-eyed Pakistani soldiers and police officers, and its star player is an army sergeant named Arastu but called Shaheen, or "the Hawk." The Chitral team is led by Prince Sikander, a scion of the Ulmulks — and the losing captain for the past two years. This is his day: to be shamed forever as a three-time loser or redeemed as champion of the mountains.

Early Action in the 2007 Shandur Polo Tournament

Paul Raffaele wrote in Smithsonian magazine” “Today marks the beginning of a three-day tournament, whose preliminary matches pit lesser teams from each side of the pass against each other. In the first game, a team from the Chitral side is easily beaten. That night, as a numbing wind sweeps down from the mountains, the Chitralis throw off their gloom from the loss with traditional dancing, twirling to wailing flutes and thudding drums. But in keeping with local Muslim custom, women are utterly absent from the revelry, remaining in the tents that dot the slopes. [Source: Paul Raffaele, Smithsonian magazine, January 2007]

“The next day, the play is faster and more furious. As one player — a schoolteacher by day — charges an opponent to get the ball, his horse trips and cartwheels across the field, snapping its neck. The rider walks away with scratches and bruises, but the horse has to be euthanized by a veterinarian. After play resumes, the team from the Chitral side of the pass vanquishes the team from the Gilgit side. That leaves the sides tied with one victory each, but the preliminaries are incidental: only the final game really counts.

“That night I walk over to the Gilgit tents. Their star, the Hawk, is tall and spare as a hunting knife. "I've been playing polo at Shandur for 20 years," he tells me in Urdu, which is translated by one of his teammates as acolytes scurry to serve us tea and biscuits. He introduces me to Mohammad Fakir, a shaman, who tells me he has cast a spell to ensure Gilgit's third straight victory in the big game. "Sikander and his team don't stand a chance," the Hawk boasts.

Final Match of the 2007 Shandur Polo Tournament

Paul Raffaele wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “On the day of the final match, the stands are packed, with Chitral fans on one side and Gilgit fans on the other. A few hundred women, faces veiled, are clustered in a separate stand at the field's far end. Musharraf has taken a seat on the Chitral side, which offered a grandstand. A toss of the ball starts the 60-minute game. I'm standing at a break in the low wall with several police officers, and time after time we have to jump to safety as the players rush straight at us in pursuit of a mis-hit ball. They crash their mounts into their opponents', seeking to unseat them, or lash out with their mallets, indiscriminately whacking horse and human. Up close, the grunting and thwacking are terrifying. [Source: Paul Raffaele, Smithsonian magazine, January 2007]

“Sikander and a Gilgit player tear after a ball, both so low in the saddle that their heads threaten to hit the ground. The Gilgit horse noses ahead, and the rider takes a mighty swipe, sending the ball hurtling into the goal. Thousands of Gilgits cheer as an equal number of Chitralis groan. Sikander charges into melee after melee, sometimes hitting the ball, sometimes lashing an opponent. He scores the first goal for Chitral, and to the roar of his supporters charges straight down the field, holding the ball in the same hand as his mallet. With the many bands playing his special song, he tosses the ball into the air as he reaches midfield and with his mallet thumps it on the fly deep into enemy territory. This maneuver — the thampuk — signals the restart of play after the goal.

“At halftime, the score is 3 all. While players and horses try to catch their breath, soldiers take to the playing field to perform traditional sword dances. After a half-hour, the game resumes, and the score seesaws through the second half — which finally ends with the teams tied at 5 goals each. Siraj, who has been doing commentary over the PA system, announces that the teams may now elect to toss a coin to decide the winner or play on for ten minutes of overtime. "They have pushed themselves beyond their limits, and any more could be dangerous to man and horse," he intones.

“But Shandur Pass mountain men don't toss coins. The horses' chests are heaving, and the game has slowed a bit, but the two captains insist that they play on. They get an unplanned breather when a bomb scare empties thousands of seats. But authorities soon determine that the "bomb" was a cigarette lighter detonated by overheating in the sun, and play resumes. Overtime ends with the score tied at 7 all. Siraj, at the microphone, pleads for the players to toss a coin to end the match. But no one is surprised when both captains insist on playing ten minutes more.

“The tension has become almost unbearable. Even with the score still tied, Siraj announces that "this is the greatest game ever" in the grudge match's 73-year history. Play resumes, and Chitral scores a goal, and then another — Sikander's third of the game — to put the game beyond doubt. At last, it's over: Chitral 9, Gilgit 7.

“As Sikander hurtles down the field and performs a final thampuk, the ground shakes from the Chitralis' cheering and stomping. Pakistani soldiers armed with assault rifles ring the field as President Musharraf strides onto the ground. Spurred on by flutes and drums, he lifts his arms in the air and performs a traditional Chitrali victory dance with Sikander and his team.Amid the tumult, Prince Khushwaqt approaches the field with the brisk enthusiasm of a much younger man, but a soldier bars his way. In true Ulmulk style, the nonagenarian thrusts the soldier's gun aside with his walking stick and embraces his victorious son.”

Kushti (Traditional Pakistani Wrestling)

Kushi, traditional Pakistani wrestling, is said to be 5,000 years old. It takes place in a 20-x-20--foot square pite filled with soil mixed with water and oil. The sport is on the decline because of the high cost of training which can begin at age 10 and involves a diet heavy on milk, butter, almonds and fruit.

Kushti is a national sport of Pakistan. In ancient times, it was trained for combat and self-defense. Archeological findings, dating back to 3000 B.C., indicated many enduring legends describing the wrestling bouts between gods, between mortals and between gods and mortals. In feudal times, wrestling matches were often fought to the death. Over centuries, kushti was gradually modified to become a sport. Safety rules were implemented and dangerous techniques were prohibited. Formal training methods were established. Standardized square earth-filled pits [akhara], measuring approximately 20 feet by 20 feet for training and competition were introduced. [Source: Pakistan Image Building]

Friendly but often heated competitions [Dungal] are held in every town and city throughout Pakistan. During holidays and seasonal festivals, Dungals are sponsored by the officials and merchants of every district, region and province. Championship matches are held in makeshift akharas. Thes matches are attended by thousands of spectators. Both men and boys competed with great excitement and enthusiasm. This Dungal is dedicated to all the past and present Phelwans [wrestlers and grapplers] who have devoted their lives for the advancement and development of the martial arts.

Kushti Trophy and Champion

The Gurz has been a traditional Indo-Pakistani Trophy awarded to Champion Wrestlers (Phelwans) at Dungals for over 400 years. The Gurz are handmade and vary in design and size, sometimes made out of silver or gold with inlaid precious stones. The Gurz is a symbol of spirit, strength and skill. The Gurz will continue to be awarded to the best all around competitor, making the Dungal truly a part of the tradition.

Ahmad Baksh Gama (1878-1960) is regarded as of the greatest kushti wrestlers ever. He was born in Datiya in the Punjab and was fond of wrestling as a child. By 20, he had defeated all most all the national level wrestlers. "Rustam-e-Hind" Gama pehalwan, who brought the Indian style of wrestling to international sports and lend it credentials, had tricks of the trade running in his blood. In 1910, a wrestling match was organized for the award of the title "Rustam-e-Hind", Gama defeated all the wrestlers and earned the title. Gama's last match was with J.C Peterson whom he defeated in 45 seconds.

Gama wrestled for many years and always emerged victorious. One of his greatest quality was that he had not only a sense of self respect but was very friendly in nature. Indian wrestling owes its popularity to Gama. He died in Lahore on May 22 in 1960.

Pehlwan (Kushti) Wrestlers in Lahore

Reporting from Lahore, Ayesha Javed Akra wrote for the BBC: “They stand tall — brown, brave, greased up, and ready to fight. This akhara (the pit where pehlwans practice) located behind the Lahore Fort is the largest wrestling pit in the city and can lay claim to having produced many a Pakistan and Asia champion. On this summer morning, a huge variety of pehlwans (wrestlers) have gathered here. Some of them are 14, the ideal age for joining the profession while others are as old as 45, like Bhola pehlwan. But no matter what their age, they are all attired in what can best be described as local briefs. [Source: Ayesha Javed Akra, BBC, June, 15, 2004]

“Training to be a pehlwan is actually extremely expensive. It costs a pehlwan between Rs500 (US$8.5) to Rs700 (US$12) per day just to stay fit: their regimen includes protein-rich meals, frequent massages and exercising with a trainer. "Since the government gives us no money, we turn to organizations like WAPDA (Water And Power Development Authority), the Railways and the Army for support, says Abdul Majeed Chaudhary, who has won both the Pakistan and Asia competitions and is now a grade 18 employee at WAPDA.

“A lack of financial support means that the pehlwans are eking out an existence. "In India, pehlwans are supported on a stipend from the government and they can train without worrying about making ends meet," says Chaudhary. "The sport gets more patronage in India where even women have started entering the profession. "Pehlwani is one of the oldest sports of this region but our government just doesn't seem bothered about its bleak future."

Other pehlwans, who are not fortunate enough to get support from any of these organizations, try balancing pehlwani with daily jobs. Eighteen-year-old Shahzad works at a shop from 1100 to 2300. He trains early in the morning and on weekends but says that his work tires him out and his training is not going well.

Pakistan's Pehlwans Face Extinction

Ayesha Javed Akra wrote for the BBC: “Perhaps the battle has already been lost for Lahore's pehlwans. Twenty years ago at the famed Bamma Pehlwan's akhara, there used to be several hundred men training in the sport at any one time. But now their numbers have dwindled to barely 20 as no more than a few loyalists struggle to keep the sport alive. "Pehlwani is fast heading towards extinction," says the presiding Pakistan champion, Bashir Bhola pehlwan. "The ones left are becoming disillusioned with the sport." No more than two dozen stalwarts make it for the four-to-six-hour training sessions that begin at 5:00am when it is a relatively cooler time of day. [Source: Ayesha Javed Akra, BBC, June, 15, 2004]

“But even if these few pehlwans take their sport seriously it would be difficult to say the same of the government. "We don't even have a stadium where pehlwani competitions can take place in this city," says Bhola pehlwan. "There used to be a proper stadium here in the 1980s but it was converted into a hockey stadium." The pehlwans have made repeated appeals to the government to allot them a stadium of their own but little has come of it so far. "Pehlwani is the only national sport that does not have its own stadium," says Chaudhary.

“Hundreds used to come to training sessions, now it's barely 20 Sixteen-year-old Raghal and 14-year-old Bashir are stuck in similar predicaments. They dropped out of school to become pehlwans but soon realised that they needed to support themselves by other means. Their coach agrees that it is impossible to work and train simultaneously. "Pehlwani is a full-time job and one needs to be completely focused on it in order to succeed," he says.

“In theory, the pehlwans could earn their keep through the ticket sales from their competitions. "This is why it is so important for us to have our own stadium," says Bhola pehlwan. "In the absence of proper facilities, Lahore has not hosted any major competition in the last five years and as it is, no more than two to four competitions take place across the country every month," answered Achaya pehlwan.

“He has strongly discouraged his son and nephews from entering the profession because he thinks there is no future in it. "It's actually the nation's loss," says Muhammed pehlwan. "Pehlwani is actually one of the healthiest sports known to the subcontinent. That's why pehlwans rarely have heart trouble or stomach problems." But while they may be fit as a fiddle, Lahore's pehlwans are definitely having trouble keeping body and soul together.”

Kite-Flying in Pakistan

Kite flying is particularly popular in Lahore. The strings are covered with glass and competitors try to the strings of their rivals. Declan Walsh wrote in The Guardian: “Kite flying is a popular passion across south Asia. It became a symbol of liberation in Afghanistan, where it was banned by the Taliban, and acquired a romantic appeal after the publication of The Kite Runner, a best-selling novel by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini about a pair of kite enthusiasts in war-time Kabul. [Source: Declan Walsh, The Guardian, March 11, 2006]

“Indian and Pakistani youngsters give the pastime a competitive edge through "kite duelling" — trying to knock a rival's kite from the air by slicing through his or her string. But the sport, which requires considerable skill, has acquired a dark underside in recent years. To gain the upper hand enthusiasts have spurned cotton strings for glass-coated versions, often strengthened with chemicals. The upgraded strings can be as sharp as a knife and have deadly consequences.

Nicolas Brulliard wrote in the Washington Post: Metal strings laced with chemicals and coated with shards of glass began replacing cotton thread. The new, pricier strings allowed less adroit kite-fliers to reign supreme over Lahore's skies, but they also proved a threat to bystanders and motorcyclists, who risked being slashed by a discarded kite string. [Source: Nicolas Brulliard, Washington Post, March 22, 2010]

Basant Kite-Flying Festival

Basant — "The Festival of Kites" — in February marks the advent of spring in the Punjab. At this time the skies over Punjabi cities such as Lahore, Faisalabad, and Rawalpindi teem with multicolored kites. The color yellow is has a special place in this festival. Everyone dresses in yellow and mostly yellow foods are cooked. Although it has traditionally been a secular event, Islamists have attempted to ban it by condemning it as a Hindu festival. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, Thomson Gale, 2006]

With the advent of spring, the skies of Lahore are filled with all types and sizes of kites. The Lahorites participate in kite flying competitions to herald the spring. Basant is not only a kite flying event, but a cultural festival of traditional food, dresses, dances and music. Events and activities include night kite-flying amid illuminated colorful, historical monuments and balconies, kite flying competitions, performances by cultural troupes, performance by famous folk singers, dancing horses and jhumar dances, stalls with kites, bangles, flowers and handicrafts and tonga rides. You can enjoy meals on Food street at the Punjabi Food Festival.

Declan Walsh wrote in The Guardian: “It is one of Pakistan's great parties — a joyous spring festival in the southern city of Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, where party goers crowd on to rooftops under a riotous sky filled with fluttering kites. [Source: Declan Walsh, The Guardian, March 11, 2006]

Aamir Latif of the Anadolu Agency wrote: “ Basant was taken to its zenith by former President Pervez Musharraf, who made it an international event between 2004 — 2008. It promoted Lahore as the country's cultural hub and prompted citizens to rent out roofs of their homes for use in kite-flying events throughout the month. [Source: Aamir Latif, Anadolu Agency, May 2, 2019]

Kite Deaths in Pakistan

Every year, Pakistani newspapers are filled with gruesome accounts of deaths and injuries caused by kite flying, often of young children or motorcyclists whose throats have been cut by low-flying kites. Between 2006 and 2009, 18 people died and 24 were injured in kite-related incidents, according to a government report. [Source: Nicolas Brulliard, Washington Post, March 22, 2010; Declan Walsh, The Guardian, March 11, 2006]

In November 2018, a kite string killed a nursery-school-age (KG-I) child in Karachi Pakistan Today reported: “A student of KG-I was killed when his throat was slit by a kite string being flown from an unidentified location. According to rescue officials, Alyan, a resident of Qurangi, was riding a motorbike with his father near Sunday Bazaar on Qurangi No 3 when his neck was slit by a kite string. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, but succumbed to his injuries before he reached. Speaking to the media, the victim’s father expressed his grief and demanded a ban be placed on kite flying. He added that the government should ensure that the ban is implemented. He further demanded action against those responsible for his son’s death. [Source: Pakistan Today, November 19, 2018)

In February 2019, a youth electrocuted to death while trying to get a stray kite entangled with power lines in Lahore. Riaz Ahmed of Samaa wrote: “The deceased has been identified as 18-year-old Qadeer. He was a resident of Lalazar Colony. Qadeer was passing by Wahdat Colony on his motorcycle when he stopped and tried to catch a stray kite entangled in an electricity pole. The metallic kite string was dangling from the pole. As soon as the string fell on a high tension wire, Qadeer suffered a severe electric shock. He passed away while being shifted to a nearby hospital for treatment. Police termed the incident an accident and handed over Qadeer’s body to his family for burial. [Source: Riaz Ahmed, Samaa, February 18, 2019]

In June 2020, a Karachi man killed after kite string slits throat in Liaquatabad S. Shahnawaz Ali wrote in Samaa: “The man died at a hospital. The victim was identified as Bilal. He was critically injured by a kite string in Liaquatabad. He was rushed to a hospital but died during treatment. Flying kites has been banned in the city due to the increasing number of casualties. Sharp strings easily slit the throats of passersby. [Source: S. Shahnawaz Ali, Samaa, June 15, 2020]

Two-Year-Old Girl Killed by Kite String

In November 2013, a two-year-old girl was killed and three others were injured by stray kite string. Akbar Bajwa wrote in the Express Tribune: “The girl, Noor, was sitting at the front of a motorbike driven by her father Muhammad Ajmal, 37, when the string got entangled around her neck and sliced through her blood vessels. The string also cut the neck of her brother Hamza, 5, who was sitting behind her, and Ajmal. His nephew, Ali Raza, 10, was also sitting on the motorbike. He too was injured when Ajmal lost control of the motorbike and they all fell to the ground near Scheme Mor, Baba Shah Fareed Chowk. [Source: Akbar Bajwa, Express Tribune, November11, 2013]

“They were taken to the Social Security Hospital on Multan Road, where Noor was declared dead. Hamza also had serious wounds but he was declared to be out of danger after treatment. Dr Anjum Shabbir, the hospital’s medical superintendent, told The Express Tribune that he was being kept under close observation. Ajmal and Ali Raza were discharged after treatment.

“Ajmal, who owns a garments shop, told the police that he had been taking the children to Sabzazar for breakfast from his home in Rasool Park, Multan Road, when the incident took place at around 10am. He filed a complaint with Sabzazar police. An FIR was registered against unidentified kite flyers under Section 302 (murder) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

“Kite-flying was banned in the province under the Punjab Prohibition of Kite Flying Act of 2009, in view of the injuries and deaths caused by kite string, which is often laced with powdered glass. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif ordered an inquiry into the girl’s death, said the Directorate General of Public Relations. He also ordered action against those violating the kite-flying ban.

“Police said that they had arrested three suspects and recovered string and kites, but did not provide their names or the FIR number for the case against them, if any. Acting Operations DIG Rana Abdul Jabbar dismissed three patrolling officers in the area following the incident. He said that the SHOs of the areas concerned had been suspended following similar previous incidents, but there was no law to this effect. CCPO Shafique Gujjar said that a committee had been formed to investigate the incident. After the inquiry, action may be taken against SHO Shareef Sindhu, he said. DCO Ahmad Javed Qazi visited the injured in the hospital. He told reporters that action would be taken against the SHO.

Kite Bans in Pakistan

In 2006 kites were banned in Lahore after several people were killed and injured by glass-coated string in connection with the Basant kite flying festival. People continued to fly kites despite the ban. In 2001, the government of the Punjab province enacted legislation to curb kite-flying, which Pakistan's supreme court upheld in 2005. The law allowed local authorities to suspend the ban for up to two weeks each year, which it had been doing before. Nonetheless, fatalities continued to occur and the Punjab government banned the Basant kite-flying festival in 2010 (See Below). In 2017, a more stringent ban on kite flying was enacted after multiple deaths were caused by strings. The Punjab government province lifted ban on spring festival in December 2018 but soon reversed the decision

In 2006, Declan Walsh wrote in The Guardian: The age-old celebration of Basant has been cancelled amid worries about killer kites, knife-sharp strings and ominous threats to prosecute teenage "terrorists". PPunjab authorities announced a kite-flying ban, in effect ending this weekend's festival, after seven recent kite-related deaths. Most victims had their throats cut by sharpened kite strings coated with ground glass or metal filings. The latest to die was a four-year-old boy who bled to death in his father's arms on Tuesday after their motorcycle was entangled in a kite string. [Source: Declan Walsh, The Guardian, March 11, 2006]

“"A healthy sport is being turned into a game of death," said Punjab's chief minister, Pervez Elahi, offering a £230 reward for information about vendors who sell glass-covered string. Those responsible for kite-related deaths would be punished under Pakistan's anti-terrorist laws, he said. By yesterday morning Lahore police had arrested 74 kite sellers and enthusiasts.

A ban on sharpened string has been widely flouted and public alarm has steadily mounted. "This is something of great concern. It gives the entire festival a bad name," said Yusuf Salahuddin, a society figure who hosts one of the largest Basant parties.” In 2005, “the supreme court banned kite flying with the exception of a 15-day period around Basant.” In 2006 “even that window was closed. Muhammad Rizwan, the father of the boy who died on Tuesday, welcomed the move. "My son's death has ruined my life," he said.

Kite Ban Kills Basant

In 2010,Nicolas Brulliard wrote in Washington Post: “Officials in this leafy cultural capital are struggling to contain a crescendo of terror attacks. But as spring dawns, they have at least eradicated one threat they deem perilous: kites. This is the time of year when rooftop terraces normally are filled with crowds sending thousands of vibrant kites into the sky to welcome the season. But an unpopular new ban — zealously enforced through the arrests of scores of kite enthusiasts — has all but killed the centuries-old festival, called Basant. [Source: Nicolas Brulliard, Washington Post, March 22, 2010]

“And that has made kite-flying the latest lightning rod in Pakistan's struggle to balance sometimes-eccentric customs with rising religious conservatism. Local officials, who restricted kite-flying to a maximum of two weeks a year before banning it entirely now, say it is about safety. The kites — or more precisely their razor-sharp strings — have become public hazards. In recent years, officials say, the celebration turned dangerous. Authorities said those hazards, along with occasional falls from rooftops and electrocutions from metal strings touching live electrical lines, made the case for government regulation.

“This year, only birds dot the skies above Lahore. Basant banners lining the wide boulevards point out the activities still open to residents, such as drumming. The owners of paper-and-bamboo kites risk jail sentences for simply possessing them. "I was just thinking about destroying these things," one former kite-flier, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of arrest, said after nervously unearthing a dozen kites from under a pile of coats hidden in his armoire.”

“Senator Pervez Rashid, a government spokesman who describes himself as a kite-flying enthusiast, said the ban would be lifted "within just one minute" if kite-fliers could guarantee that only safe string would be used. "As a government it is our duty to protect the lives of our people," Rashid said.

Islamists Support the Kite Ban

The ban pleased religious conservatives, who have long condemned kite flying as un-Islamic. Nicolas Brulliard wrote in Washington Post: “Critics say the ban is also a convenient way for Lahore's powerful Islamic clerics and like-minded political leaders to do away with the parties, drinking and dancing associated with Basant. "It is a step to prevent liberalism to go forward, and this is a very dangerous thing," said Yusuf Sali, a former politician credited with developing Basant into an international tourist attraction. "It is these festivals that fight extremism." So this year, the government banned the festival altogether — and even jailed the secretary of the local kite-flying association when he filed his official request to suspend the ban. [Source: Nicolas Brulliard, Washington Post, March 22, 2010]

“Sajjad Bhutta, a top Lahore district officer, has said that Basant involves immoral drinking and parties that cannot be tolerated in a Muslim society. He declined to elaborate on those views in an interview. Muhammad Raghib Naeemi, head of one of Lahore's largest religious schools, cited many reasons to drop kite-flying, including its ties to Hindu culture and its origins allegedly linked to a man accused of committing blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad. The perils of the festival and the depravity associated with it only strengthen the need for the prohibition, he said.

Critics of the Basant Kite Ban

Nicolas Brulliard wrote in Washington Post: “The kite debate comes as militant Islamists have again set their sights on Lahore. This month, suicide bombers have killed more than 50 people in this heartland city. Basant has offered a sense of normalcy, its backers say. Kite-flying Lahoris would draw cheers from friends and guests as they cut a rival's string through deft maneuvers. Others reveled in pleasures frowned upon by clerics. "It's the time when Lahoris let their hair down," Sali said. [Source: Nicolas Brulliard, Washington Post, March 22, 2010]

Proponents say Basant, more a large collection of private parties than an organized event, has been an economic boon. Over the years, extra flights and trains would be routed to Lahore to bring in thousands of tourists, hotels jacked up their prices, locals rented out their rooftops, and rickshaw drivers and street vendors registered record business. "We are not terrorists, we just want to celebrate Basant," said Sheikh Saleem, who was released after spending two days in jail. He said about 1,200 kitemakers, sellers or fliers have been arrested in a crackdown orchestrated by government kite-monitoring units.

“Meanwhile, kite vendors like Maqsood Ahmad say the ban has already had devastating economic consequences. Ahmad used to sell fireworks and kites, but with both now illegal, he sells snacks and cigarettes in a small shop still called "Basant House." On a recent day he sat behind rows of milk cartons in his store, reminiscing about the days when he said he could rake in US$60,000 during a weekend-long Basant. Now, he said, he has pared down his expenses and has lost hope for the festival's return — at least while the current crop of politicians is in place. "I myself considered many times committing suicide because it was so bad," Ahmad said. "Now I've decided to settle for the new situation."

More than 150 Arrested for Violating Kite Ban in the Lahore Area

Late April, early May 2019 police arrested more than 150 people, mostly youths, for violating a kite-flying ban in northeastern Punjab province. Aamir Latif of Anadolu Agency wrote: “Most of the arrests have been made in Lahore, the country's second largest city and cultural hub, Lahore News quoted a police spokesman. The provincial government in December announced a lift of the ban on Basant, or the Kite-flying festival. However, it soon had to review the decision and reimposed the ban following public and media pressure. [Source: Aamir Latif, Anadolu Agency, May 2, 2019]

“Lahore police warned citizens to stay away from kite-flying, otherwise get ready to face the law, the channel reported. The festival, which welcomes spring, is mainly celebrated in Indian and Pakistani Punjab provinces, and was banned in 2007 following the deaths of hundreds of people — mostly children. The festival was partially allowed to be celebrated in 2008 and 2009.

“Despite the ban, kite-flying could not be fully controlled by authorities as kite lovers, mainly youths, celebrated the festival amid arrests and deaths in the last 11 years. The deaths coincided with a period when the festival had become increasingly popular in Pakistan, spreading from its historical home in Lahore to other parts of the country. But the sharp, often metal, strings used to detach kites during competitive kite fights killed several children by cutting their throats, sparking countrywide anger that forced the government to ban the festival in major cities.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (, Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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