Nepali Times
The clash of ivories


Twenty-two years ago, a wacky Scotsman figured out a way to play polo in slow motion by replacing horses with elephants. What he didn't realise is that elephants can gallop too!

So, a languid pachyderm version of polo actually turned out to be wilder than the equestrian edition. Accounts of whether elephant polo is more exciting may vary on whether you consider the size of the tuskers an advantage or disadvantage but there is no doubt that elephant polo has taken off in Nepal. And this mainly because of the annual Tiger tops Elephant Polo tournament, which this year takes place from 28 November to 4 December in Meghauli. If you haven't already booked your tickets and rooms, you should.

Unbelievably, elephant polo has been held once annually in the last 22 years, except in the third year when there was confusion about the dates and it was held twice. So much the better.

This year, seven teams are participating. After the first day of festivities, the real fun begins on the second day with the league match, which consists of four chukkers of 35 minutes each. The quarter and semi-final matches will be held on the third and fourth day with the grand finale scheduled for 4 December.

There is no historical evidence suggesting the origin of elephant polo but there seems to have been one eccentrically inclined Maharaja of Jaipur who staged a similar tournament some 50 years ago, just as a joke. There are miniature Mughal era paintings of women that could be described as playing modern day elephant polo.

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How to play

Excerpts from the World Elephant Polo Association (WEPA) Rules:

. The Game will be played by four players on each team on a marked pitch of 120 m by 70 m using a standard size polo ball.

. The game will consist of two 10-minute chukkers of playing time, with an interval of 15 minutes. The whistle blown by the referee stops and starts the play.

. The pitch will be marked with a centre line. A circle with a radius of 10 m in the centre of the field and a semi-circle in front of the goals, with a radius of 20 m, measured from the centre of the goal line at either end of the pitch, will form the D.

. Elephants and ends are changed at half time.

. The complete ball must travel over the sideline or backline, to be out, and completely across the goal line to be a goal.

. Men must play with the right hand only and ladies may play with both hands if desired. However, if ladies play with one hand then it must be with the right only.

. There shall be no restrictions as to the height, weight or sex of the elephants.

. An elephant may not pick up the ball with its trunk during play. To do so shall constitute a foul.

. Sugar cane or rice balls packed with vitamins (molasses and rock salt) shall be given to the elephants at the end of the match; and a cold beer, or soft drinks, to the elephant drivers, but not vice versa.

. l Intentionally hitting another player, elephant, or Umpire with a stick is a personal foul. A free hit shall be awarded to the opposing side, with only one elephant defending 15 metres from the goal.

. Elephant drivers and players must wear a hat in form of the traditional solar topee or a polo helmet. Should a player's hat fall off outside the D, the game is stopped while it is recovered.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)