Hundreds of people journey to the small border town of Wagah near Amritsar in Punjab, India to watch the border closing ceremony between India and Pakistan.
I got a shared taxi from the front of The Golden Temple, being squished and sitting hunched over for the 25 minute journey – it was a mere INR100 there and back – so I’m not gonna complain. Bargain.
No bags are allowed, so I checked my bag in with the very unofficial bag check guys where the taxi parked up, stuffing money and passport in my pockets and putting my camera round my neck.
A lovely couple I met in the taxi treated me to ‘horse drawn carriage’ up to the entrance, where they also bought me a bottle of water. Lovely people.
We started the walk up.
Then guys and gals were separated. The guys were kept in line with a man on horseback, who was pretty strict and his horse seemed to be playing up a little – you could actually see fear in people’s faces.
Us girls were less organised and it was a case of rotating elbows to get to and through the security check.
After being padded down, it was the final walk to where the ceremony was held. People were running to get the best spot. Foreigners and VIPs have a different entrance (see the sign on the left), so I headed there.
Take your passport showing you’re not from India and you can go in.
You end up on stoney steps that whilst no more comfortable than the rest of the place, do offer a much better view closer to the action.
You’ll see VIP seats lined along the road and near the gates – sadly I’m not that important. That green and white? That’s the Pakistan side.
As it starts filling up, the guys patrolling have a fun (yet difficult) time organising folks. ‘Here’. ‘Sit down’. ‘Move’. ‘No’.
Young and old take part, either by themselves or in pairs.
Music starts playing and people flock to the centre and dance.
Think music along the lines of Jai Ho from the end of Slumdog Millionaire and you’ve got it.
The atmosphere is excellent with everyone in good spirits; dancing, singing, cheering and clapping.
Then it’s time for the final bus to depart India into Pakistan with its waving occupants and roars from the crowd.
The people inside must feel like celebrities.
As the bus goes into Pakistan, a bit more dancing ensues.
And then there are peculiar noises coming from the Border Security Force) BSF standing behind the school children. They roar into a megaphone to uproarious shouts and applause from the crowd.
Then proceed to the central road for more shouting and kicking.
If the crowd calms down a little, you hear the Pakistan side doing the same (and you can’t help but feel almost a sense of pride that the side you’re sitting on makes a lot more noise and seems to have a much better atmosphere – go India!).
The shouting and kicking occurs several times, all carried out with a touch of humour from the BSF.
It’s around this point the two sides start ‘facing off.’ Each side approaches with kicks and shouts.
And they almost dance together.
I must say, the Pakistan Rangers look pretty swish in their black outfits.
This is also repeated several times over, but it really doesn’t get boring. They know they’ve got an enthralled, captive audience and they really do work it!
Finally, it’s nearly time for the lowering of the flags and the closing of the gate.
With the crowds looking on, the gates are closed.
And people start to leave.
As you make your way back to your bus, car or taxi, you’ll pass newly erected stalls selling various wares. This is your chance to buy a DVD of the ceremony in a language you don’t understand (I couldn’t help myself, the kid selling it was very persuasive).
Everyone has some snacks and chai as you wait for the parked cars to clear.
Eventually movement is made towards the taxi.
And it’s time to head back. But what a great way to spend an afternoon. It’s free, it’s fun and it’s child friendly.
Handy Hint: There are a lot of coaches, buses and cars. Remember where your taxi parked as it’s getting dark when you leave.
Further Information: Wikipedia