The Wagah Border between India and Pakistan was one of the Must-Sees for us in India. Nowhere else in the world is there quite a place like Wagah. There is a ceremony each night with the lowering of the respective country's flags. The ceremony starts with a show of superiority by the soldiers from each country and ends in coordinated lowering of the two nations' flags. It is called the "beating retreat" border ceremony. It is really a dying symbol of the rivalry between the two embattled countries, as well as diminishing cooperation between them.
There is daily flag lowering ceremony done with tall soldiers in massive headdresses goose-stepping about and yelling. Both the Indian and Pakistani border forces compete from both to competing grandstands of cheers. Since 2009 around 4:15 PM everyday, this is the main event on the border. Up to 3000+ people can sit n the Indian side and maybe half as much on the Pakistani side.
The Grandstands at the Wagah Border
In a Rush and Running Late To The Wagah Border
After going to the Golden Temple we grabbed a taxi to the Wagah Border. We had to book a taxi because the border lies 30 km from the city and even though the tuk-tuks were cheaper, it would have taken forever and we were pressed for time. Once getting to the border, we then walked 1.5km to the grandstands at the border. We were pressed already for time and I guess we figured that we would be taken to the border. Actually they close down the previous two kilometers to the border to cars probably due to bombing threats and other security issues. Police and military personnel were everywhere. We hustled at a fast walk, like two speed-walkers you think look ridiculous when you pass them "walking" on the road. Butt muscles clenched and swinging with swinging arms, we finally made it just before the festivities started and the grandstands were packed!
Watching The Beginning Festivities
Getting to the Seats
Why grandstands? There is a unique display of superiority and pride between Pakistan and India at this particular border at sunset daily. We found seats in the VIP Section because we are foreigners. (first real perk in India yet. in fact at the Taj Mahal and everywhere else, foreigners pay 10 times more for things without any extra perks, than Indians). We were grateful as we were late in getting there and sat right in front 2 rows back from the road. The grandstands were full of people and on the main road that joined the two countries, music was playing, people were dancing, cheering, and running back and forth waving flags.
Border Security Force Officer
More High-Steppin Than a Kentucky Clogging Crew!
Soldiers, Rangers and Police were everywhere dressed in their military uniforms. One at a time or two at a time, each side would take turns going up to the border to show their stuff. High kicking and yelling, then retreating back with some more high kicking and stepping. The soldiers on the other side of the border were doing the same thing. On the other side of the border was the smaller and much less enthusiastic crowd in Pakistan's crowd. A guy in a white shirt much like an MC would talk over a microphone getting the crowd pumped, and cheering for the soldiers of India for their yelling and high-stepping abilities. The crowd would go nuts! It was a lot of fun cheering for India and obvious the pride the Indians have in their country.
Lowering of the Flags
Before the flags are lowered, one soldier from each country stands at attention on either side of the gate. As the sun begins to set, the iron gates at the border are opened and the two flags are lowered. After a friendly shake of the hands they close the gates. The whole thing lasted about an hour and it was difficult to see or film anything where the exchange was taking place. The pictures don't do it justice. Check out the Video below for the massive kicking and ceremony.
Kesar Da Dhaba
We left the border at sunset and headed for Kesar Da Dhaba, where Anthony Bourdain ate in his Punjab Special on No Reservations on CNN. The food was great and uniquely Punjabi in style. The restaurant itself is nothing special. A simple eatery with nearly no decor whatsoever. The food was extraordinary. The food is served with Parrota which is a multi-layered buttery bread that is almost croissant in nature. This is opposed to the flatter and more unleavened Naan or Roti served with most Indian dishes. Parrotta is buttery-flakey goodness and with the spicy and creamy notes of the curries, this meal was memorable.
Eating Indian Food is done with the hands. No silverware. You tear off some bread and mash it into the gravy (curry) and stuff it down! It's barbarically messy at times. Only eat with your right hand however, as most wipe the nether-regions with their left. Most of the Indian food in the USA and the world for that matter, is Punjabi influenced. We had two different curries with our meal and a lassi (drinkable yogurt). Everything was superb and in some ways the best thing that happened to us in Amritsar.
Change In Perspective
Travel can teach you many things. What did we learn here at the Wagah Border? We learned that two countries at odds can still be friendly, even if superficially. We noticed that the Pakistani side of the border was subdued and nowhere near the raucous party it was on the Indian side of the border. Why is it, that two countries in close proximity, ethnic background, and beliefs can act so differently? Is it because of the "Western Influence"? Quite possibly.
It is possible that the western influence that is placed on India provides them with more "freedom" to act in party down and dance, where the conservative eastern influence of Pakistan does not. Do the Pakistanis look at the Indian side of the border wishing they could join, or in disdain over the gross display? I have never been to Pakistan, however our view was that Pakistan looked boring compared to the side we were on. Maybe it's simply because we are accustomed to this style of life and celebration. Either way, everyone is free to chose the life that suits them best and ours is travel!