The elephants are all lined up at the touch line where the players of the two teams preparing for the up coming game are gathered. Some players are choosing sticks which are a few metres long. Others are sizing up the elephant they are about to mount. One after the other, the elephants sit down on the ground to let the player climb up. Once up on the elephant’s back, it is time to decide which stick to use, judging from how comfortable it feels to swing it from that high perch. It’s not an easy task, hitting a ball from that height with a long flexible stick. Of course some of the playing elephants are almost half the size of the big ones and the sticks used are considerably shorter. Nevertheless, a certain amount of skill has to be acquired before one is able to accurately hit a ball and send it in the intended direction. Some accomplished players do score a few goals from 25 yards out, inciting loud cheers from the spectators.
There were a few rule changes in this edition of the World Elephant Polo Championships at Meghauly organized by Tiger Tops, Chitwan from 30 November to 6 December. The playing field was a little smaller than in previous years which consequently led to goals being scored more quickly. It therefore also made the game more exciting. The Umpire (usually Prabal Thapa; relieved occasionally by Yadav Bantawa) sits on the tallest elephant controlling the game. The game begins when the Umpire throws the ball between the two teams at the centre of the field and each half of the game (chukka) lasts for ten minutes with a fifteen minute break between the two chukkas. Both elephants and sides are changed at half time to ensure neither team gets the advantage of having swifter or smarter elephants. The pachyderms are controlled by their mahouts while the players sit behind them. The games can be anything from a one sided thumping to a fiercely contested one where one team looses by a goal. In fact one of the matches was decided by a goal in the last few seconds and another by a golden goal.
A team from England won the World Elephant Polo Championships this year. The English ‘Air Tusker’ team, captained by Robert McKenzie, raised the Tiger Tops World Cup Trophy after defeating Chivas Scotland in an epic encounter. In another encounter, Kristjan Edwards led the Tiger Tops Tuskers to last gasp victory in The Chivas Olympic Quaich.
England had beaten Nepal National Parks (6-4) to reach the final while Chivas Scotland had narrowly ousted Australia Pukka Chukkas (6-5) in the other exciting Semi-final. On the other hand, Tiger Tops Tuskers beat the British Gurkhas team (16-6) to reach the final of the Chivas Olympic Quaiche while the New York Blues defeated the Indian Tigers (6-1) to meet the Tuskers in the final.
World Elephant Polo Championships was started in 1982 by co-founders Jim Edwards, Chairman of Tiger Mountain Group of Companies and James Manclark of Scotland and registered in Nepal as World Elephant Polo Association (WEPA). The game is also played in Thailand and Sri Lanka under WEPA rules and regulations.
Eight teams from around the world took part in the thrilling Polo Championships this year. The games were attended by the Duke of Argyll, who also took part in the competition, the Minister of Forestry, Kiran Gurung and the British Ambassador to Nepal, Andrew Hall. The games were telecast to a worldwide audience by B.B.C. Television. Each year, the Polo Championship raises money for charity, brings world attention to Nepal, entertains a crowd of people and attracts players from around the world. The players and guests put away their mobiles, and enjoy a week of polo, safari and camaraderie in the Chitwan National Park hosted by Tiger Tops.