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Every day at sunset, a battle is waged on the Pakistan-India border at Wagah.

 

Members of the India Border Security Force in their daily dance of faux-aggression at the Wagah Border Ceremony
Members of the India Border Security Force in their daily dance of faux-aggression

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
“Death to Pakistan!
Long Live India!”

“Death to India!
Long live Pakistan!”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Soldiers face off
Guns are drawn
Crowds cheer and jeer

 

Indians dance in the street & celebrate
Pakistanis sit in orderly rows by gender

 

It’s a battle that no one ever wins

It’s a daily F.U. from India to Pakistan.

It’s one of the most fascinating and disgraceful things I’ve ever witnessed

It’s the Wagah Border Ceremony, located in between Amritsar, India, and Lahore, Pakistan.

 

A member of the Border Security Force doing his best English Beefeater
A member of the Border Security Force doing his best English Beefeater

Pre-Party on Grand Trunk Road

Before the ceremony starts, the Indian side of the Wagah Border is reminiscent of a high school pep rally…

 

VIPs run around with flags during the pre-Ceremony pep rally at the Pakistan India Sunset Border Celebration
VIPs run around with flags during the pre-Ceremony pep rally at the Pakistan India Sunset Border Celebration

 

Did You Know? The Wagah border is located on Grand Trunk Road, which runs between Amritsar, India, and Lahore, Pakistan. It was the only crossing point in between the two countries until the 1999 opening of Aman Setu in Kashmir.

 

The gate between India and Pakistan is visited by VIPs with flags in the hour or so before the Wagha Border Celebration
The gate between India and Pakistan is visited by VIPs with flags in the hour or so before the Wagha Border Celebration

Traditional music blares at deafening levels

Locals sing along and cheer

Insults are thrown at the other side

And a man dressed in white shouts into a microphone, exciting the crowd even further.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Meanwhile, a long line of VIPs have the honor of running to and from the border gate that separates Pakistan and India, carrying and waving the Indian flag.

This is emulated on the other side of the gate, as the Pakistani VIPs try to get there and back first.

Finally, when it seems that the crowd can’t get any more fired up, the man in white declares it to be party time and invites a small crowd onto Grand Trunk Road to do their best “Indian light bulb” dance moves.

 

A dance party on Grand Trunk Road to usher in the sunset and lowering of the Indian and Pakistani flags
A dance party on Grand Trunk Road to usher in the sunset and lowering of the Indian and Pakistani flags

 


The Border Ceremony: High Kicking & Long Singing

I seriously have never seen anything as silly as the actual Wagah Border Ceremony.

For more than an hour, soldiers march up and down Grand Trunk Road, high-kicking their way to the border gate.

Once there, they stare down their counterpart, emulate his or her moves, say something I can’t understand, and head back to the drill sergeant.

By the microphone, other soldiers are locked in a fierce battle of “who can hold the ‘ohhhhhhhhh note for longer.” No joke.

By the end of each mini-contest, you can hear each soldier trying to give it every last ounce of their breath. The outcome seems to affect nothing.

 

Hold that note longer....loooonger....looooooooonger.....aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Hold that note longer….loooonger….looooooooonger…..aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh

 

Did You Know About Splitsville? Wagah was a peaceful Indian village until 1947 when the country declared its independence from the British and the imaginary – and highly controversial – Radcliffe Line was drawn down the center to separate India and Pakistan.

 

Here’s a video of the marching, cheering & long ohhhhhhhhhs


Down Come the Indian & Pakistani Flags

Nearly an hour – and dozens of long “aaah’s” and high steps – later, the soldiers get to the actual point of the Wagah Border Ceremony: lowering the flags.

Both India and Pakistan have an equal amount of rope and lower their flags at the same speed, so once again there seems to be no winner.

 

The Indian and Pakistani flags both come down at the same time during the conclusion of the Wagah Border Ceremony
The Indian and Pakistani flags both come down at the same time during the conclusion of the Wagah Border Ceremony

 

In spite of the aggressive nature of the entire proceedings, the soldiers from each side shake hands before the gate is closed.

Supposedly this whole event is in good nature, though in 2010, Major General Yaqub Ali Khan of the Pakistan Rangers declared that the event had to be “toned down,” as not to incite aggression between the two countries.


Meanwhile, in Pakistan

Crickets chirp.
OK, not quite. But close.

 

Meanwhile, in Pakistan...gender-separated order
Meanwhile, in Pakistan…gender-separated order

 

Sure, the Pakistani side has its own blaring music and soldier theatrics, but the stands are sparsely populated, the VIP section is mostly empty and there seems to be no emotion from the crowd.

Basically, the Pakistani side has to sit there in silence as India puts on a show of its might and self-declared superiority.

Click for a fascinating editorial from a Pakistani who attended the ceremony on the India side

 

There it is...Pakistan. Probably the closest I'll ever get to it
There it is…Pakistan. Probably the closest I’ll ever get to it

 

Here’s a video of opening the gates between Pakistan and India


Traveling From Amritsar to the Attari Border
From India to Pakistan…and Back

Yup, we’re going backwards in time here…

Travel Tip: For 200 rupees ($4), any taxi wallah near Amritsar’s Golden Temple will be glad to drive you – and as many other people as he can squeeze into his car – to and from the Wagah Border Ceremony.

 

 The Pakistan Rangers seem far more badass, considering they are dressed all in black
The Pakistan Rangers seem far more badass, considering they are dressed all in black

Carrie and Lauren decided to sit this one out, so Tara and I squeezed into the passenger “shotgun” seat of our group taxi.

Before leaving, a police officer came up to our window and warned everyone about the dangers of theft and violence at the Wagah Border Ceremony. Strike 1.

About five minutes later, our driver was pulled over for not having a license and we had to wait around while he either talked his way out of it or paid off the traffic cop.

We never found out the truth. Strike 2.

Fortunately, there was no strike 3, as our taxi pulled into the packed parking lot in Attari an hour later.

“No bags allowed inside,” our driver said: a fact that would have been helpful to know before leaving. “But what about all my camera equipment,” I asked?

His answer led to a quick scramble to fit as much in my cargo pockets as possible. It’s a miracle my shorts stayed on with everything I crammed in: two lenses, my point and shoot camera, passport, money, water and sunglasses.


A Sea Of Humanity Heads Towards Pakistan

Not even soldiers on horseback could contain the wall of people from shoving their way towards Pakistan and the Wagah Border Ceremony.

Lines were ignored, people were pushed, children weaved in and out and my body was shoved against sweaty backs more than I care to remember.

 

The mob-scene getting into the Wagah Border Ceremony
The mob-scene getting into the Wagah Border Ceremony

 

Getting a Pat Down at the Wahga Border CeremonyI couldn’t help but laugh after men and women were separated for a security check.

I looked over and saw relative order on the female line and extreme chaos from men of all ages in front of me.

Finally, I reached the pat-down station and realized that my plan of bribing a guard to let me bring my bag in would have failed miserably.

Every inch of me and my sagging pants were diligently inspected and after finally making it through I found myself thrusting my arms into the air in a victory celebration.

 

Lost in a sea of humanity getting to the Pakistan-India Sunset Border Celebration

 

A short walk later, Tara and I arrived at the Foreigner’s Gallery, which was halfway between the VIP and locals’ areas.

I took my various lenses and items out of my pockets, sat down on the stone steps and watched the Wagha Border Ceremony unfold…

 

The Foreigner's Gallery about an hour before the start of the Pakistan-India Sunset Border Celebration
The Foreigner’s Gallery about an hour before the start of the Pakistan-India Sunset Border Celebration

 

Here’s someone else’s video compilation of the entire ceremony, shortened to 14 minutes.

Random Observations From the
Wagah Border Ceremony

Badass Mo-Fos in Pakistan (black) and India (camo)
Badass Mo-Fos in Pakistan (black) and India (camo)

I enjoyed the irony of a soldier with an AK-47 standing in a watch tower above a smiling image of Ghandi.

It was a good thing that I took my passport out of my backpack, as a soldier wanted to see it before letting me into the Foreigner’s Gallery…like I could be anything BUT a foreigner…

After the ceremony, Tara and I wanted to take a photo next to the India/Pakistan gate, but that would have involved waiting in a massive shoving crowd of locals wanting to do the same thing.


Want More?!

Read the history of the JCP [Joint Check Post]
between Attari and Wagha

 

Share the Journey

  • http://BluebirdWritingServices.com/ Article Writing

    Nice post Greg!! Loved reading. Thanks for share :)

    • http://www.AdventuresofaGoodMan.com Greg Goodman

      Thanks Irina! Always nice to hear from you :)

  • Catherinesingstad

    Thanks for the tour of the border ritual. Sounds incredible. Feels great to sense
    the outside world out of San Francisco and my family life here!

    Love to you and Carey.

    • http://www.AdventuresofaGoodMan.com Greg Goodman

      Thanks, Catherine. It really was an incredible, surreal and silly experience. So glad that we made it out there…most probably the closest to Pakistan that I’ll ever be. And let’s be honest, you have a pretty amazing family and life back home in SF :) Our love to them all.

  • http://davidmbyrne.com/ David M

    Nice post Greg. I witnessed the ceremony too earlier this year. I like your take on it! Nice work.

    • http://www.AdventuresofaGoodMan.com Greg Goodman

      Thanks so much David. Looks like we missed each other in Chiang Mai. Next time for sure :)

  • nomi

    danger pakistani soldier

    • http://www.AdventuresofaGoodMan.com Greg Goodman

      Haha, no real danger… just pretend danger…