Horses and chiffon

Gaytri Singh Rathore
Catch a polo game when in Jaipur

What do you get when you take eight men, dress them in breeches and striped shirts, give them a stick each, put them on horses and tell them to chase a ball at 35kph over a small ground?

The game of polo, that's what.

The state of princes, Rajasthan, has long been associated with horses and elephants. The cavalry of the Mughals and the British were mainly drawn from the state's forces. Riding horses came naturally to Rajasthan's nobles and their love for the animals was what brought about polo as it exists today.

The game starts with regal flair: bands of army units and palaces play and march across the chaugan (ground) as the players are introduced. There are four players in each team, each with a handicap, which is the rating of a player's record and success in the field. A full game is divided into four, six or eight chukkers (rounds) of 7.5 minutes each, and each time a goal is scored, the teams change hands.

What makes polo even more attractive is the page-three buzz it attracts. You could have a chance encounter with actors Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor or supermodel Naomi Campbell or pop star Lady Gaga. Prince Charles has played polo in Jaipur with Princess Diana in the audience. Politicians, army generals, high-profile business barons, princes and princesses - the rich and the powerful are drawn to the sport.

Wines and drink flow in the after-parties that are attended by the spectators, many trying to vie for the attention of the players. The fashion industry also uses these events to introduce their latest creations. It's quite the rage to wear the latest in the line of Tarun Tahiliani, Rohit Bal or Raghavendra Rathore. Chiffons and dark glasses are de rigueur. Liquor houses, airlines, real-estate developers and multi-brand companies sponsor the matches.

The players are mainly from local noble families, big business houses and old public schools, and fans consider their heroes to be no less than Sachin Tendulkar or Diego Maradona.

A number of polo clubs and resorts have opened up around Jaipur, among which Ramgarh Resort & Polo Complex, run by the famous polo player and former captain of the Indian team, Lokendra Singh, and Jaipur Polo Club, run by another former captain, Colonel Garcha, are extremely popular.

If you don't want to stick out as a novice at a polo match, here are some terms you can casually throw about to gain the approval of the regulars. "When will the umpire bowl in [a roll-in of the ball by the umpire when the players are lined up]?" "My god, did you see that bump [when a player rides his pony into an opponent]?" "How many chukkers [there are generally six in a match and players change horses after each] are done?" "I think I can do a good job as a flagman [the person who waves a flag to signal a goal]." "That horse must be at least 16 hands [measurement unit for a horse's height: one hand = four inches]." "That's a fine hook [catching the mallet of the opponent in swing below the level of the horse's back, to leave or turn the ball for a team-mate]." "How many knock-ins [the defending team roll the ball back into the game after it crosses their back line] do I have to see before I knock someone out?" "He's weak on the nearside [the left-hand side of the horse]."

If you want to watch a polo match in Jaipur, look for an invite or ask your hotel to give you a schedule. Entry is generally free. If you stay at a heritage properties in Jaipur, in all probability the hosts will be able to take you along. The city that houses the famous 61st cavalry has a number of polo playing fields and you can get more information here.

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