The Calcutta Polo Club Lives On
West Bengal is one of India’s smallest, but most highly populated, states. Kolkata is the capital, commonly referred to as the “city of joy”. Kolkata brings memories of Mother Teresa and Rabindranath Tagore, and is known for its miraculous Eden gardens, Victoria Memorial, and its seemingly mystical Bengal animals. Tourists visiting West Bengal cannot pass up the opportunity to embark on a Bengal Safari. You and your family jump into the tour guide’s jeep and explore the historic Himalayan lands of exotic birds and animals. Several stunning Bengal tigers roam within meters of your safari car as you observe the massive Himalayan elephants in the distance. Your tour guide informs you that polo in India used to be played on elephants. Bengal elephants represent strength, intelligence, and grace. The qualities of these magnificent animals result in an unforgettable (and mystically beautiful) polo experience for both players and spectators.
Is it possible to play elephant polo in Kolkata today? Probably not, but there are endless reasons to visit the historic Calcutta Polo Club. Established in the year of 1862, the Calcutta Polo Club lies in the heart of West Bengal’s capital city. It is quite possible that without the birth of the Calcutta Polo Club, the Sport of Kings may have never spread across the world. In the late 1990s, the Calcutta Polo Club experienced several challenges. The sport of polo in Calcutta almost died as it competed against the Indian powerhouse sport of cricket for sponsorships. Keshav Bangur, the club’s president (and experienced businessman), was too passionate about the history to let it whither. He started the Calcutta Polo Club’s redemption by subsidizing young players and training them with the humble sum of gear, horses, and funds the club had to offer. Bangur then had another fantastic idea: to bring back the infamous 18th century Ezra Cup. The club began thriving again, and remains a popular polo destination in India today. Bangur did much more than revive a dying polo club – he let a piece of meaningful history live on!
Thanks to Bangur, you are still able to visit the historic Calcutta Polo Club in West Bengal. Imagine you are traveling by tuk tuk through the crowded streets of West Bengal alongside camels, monkeys, and seemingly infinite numbers of pedestrians. Once you arrive at the Calcutta Polo Club, you step out of the tuk tuk and walk past the horse stables and foliage to the club’s entrance. There is a colorful history and strong passion in the air. You can see it in the staff’s friendly demeanor, the children’s smiling faces, the players’ rich enthusiasm, and even in the vintage red roof of the club house. Despite the hot and humid temperatures of West Bengal, every spectator is dressed in his or her finest clothing. A waitress comes to seat you under the deep red awning as you look out at the grey Hooghly River flowing underneath the Vidyasagar bridge. You enjoy a cold drink while watching the passionate players and skilled horses compete on grass fields. You gaze past the fast-paced polo match to admire the sparking white Victoria Memorial. After the matches have ended, you and your family kick back at the luxurious Oberoi Grand Kolkata, the highest rated hotel in New Bengal. Oberoi offers 5-star restaurants, modern workout facilities, beautiful spas, and unmatched services. You will never forget your Kolkata vacation.
Calcutta Polo Club: The Spread of Modern Day Polo
The ancient sport of polo was first played by the king’s guards and elite troops in Iran, with records dating all the way back to 6th century BC. Modern day polo though, was rediscovered and developed in Manipur, India. Babur, Mughal Emperor, is credited with keeping polo alive during the formation of British rule. At the time, the sport was called “Sagol Kangjei” which referred to the wooden ball used by the players. In the late 1850s, Manipur players got the British soldiers hooked on the game.
Joe Sherer and Robert Stewart, two British soldiers, fell in love with “Sagol Kangjei” in the late 1850s. They were so mesmerized that they became deeply motivated to turn the horse and stick game into an official sport. In 1862, they gathered teams of four and founded the Calcutta Polo Club, the first official polo club with an official rulebook. Kolkata’s club is home to the first polo tournament ever played: The Ezra Cup. The tournament attracted world class teams from numerous regions and is still a staple of today’s world of polo.