In July 1947, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer on his first ever visit to India was assigned the duty to draw a border that would separate India and Pakistan. The border he drew divided people who had fought, loved and lived together for centuries and created two nations that went on to become arch-nemesis. Seventy two years after the border was announced on August 17, 1947, it remains one of the most contentious issues and has taken its toll on the lives and livelihoods of millions of citizens.
The border separated the twin city of Amritsar and Lahore – two cities that were so closely embedded that it was hard to imagine the existence of one without the other. While India and Pakistan have been a taboo land for the citizens of either country, the Wagah-Attari border brings people from both sides to close proximity only to be separated by the border gate reminding people from both the countries of the enormous prospects had that gate not existed.
While we can visit the Indian border with all its neighboring countries at some place, there is special feeling about the India-Pakistan border and even more at the Wagah border, the gate which has witnessed the agony of the people crossing across from both sides in the aftermath of the partition. Since the inception of the custom in 1959, every evening, at sunset, a flag lowering ceremony accompanied with a blustering ceremonial parade is jointly held by the Border Security Force of India and the Pakistan Rangers. The ceremony has been conducted every single evening, even during wars and times of extreme animosity. The ceremony is witnessed by hundreds of people on both sides of the border and the aura of patriotism that runs in the wind is an experience in itself.
During my visit to Amritsar, I had the opportunity to witness the Wagah border ceremony. Wagah, where the border actually gets its name from, is a town in Pakistan – on their side of the border while the area on our side is called Attari. I reached the venue at about 3 PM and by that time the area was already quite occupied. 1 km before the border all vehicles are stopped and people have to walk to the border on foot. Cycle rickshaws are also there but they are seldom availed by the visitors. No baggage is allowed to the border which also includes ladies handbag and camera bags. So visitors have to deposit them with local vendors or keep them inside the cars.
On reaching the border, there are security check gates where ladies and gents are thoroughly frisked and scanned by army personnel. After the security checking, I entered the border area through a large gate. In front of the gate, there is a small memorial dedicated to the martyred Sikhs.
There is a stadium like sitting arrangement on both sides of the Grand Trunk Road with separate enclosures for VIPs, foreign tourists and the general public. The ceremony usually starts at 4:45 PM during the winter season and 5:45 PM during the summer. However, on the day of my visit, there was some VIP visit due to which some army personnel from the Pakistan side came to our side and there was a special ceremony, all of which created an inordinate delay in the start of the main ceremony. For about 2.5 hours, we were entertained with patriotic Bollywood songs which augmented the patriotic aura of the place. Similar patriotic songs were played on the Pakistan side as well. I could see some dance programs on the Pakistan side where people were dancing and waving large Pakistan flags.
The ceremony started with drumbeats and a blustering parade by soldiers wearing colourful turbans, lead by two women from our side. A similar parade was held by the Pakistan Rangers on the other side of the gate. The parade is unique and consists of perfectly coordinated, rapid dance-like maneuvers and high raising of the legs. All through, there was a guy who incited the visitors and led them in shouting slogans.. He would scream Hindustan….. , Bharat Mata Ki…. , Vande….. on a mike, while gesturing to the crowd to shout loud enough so that the Pakistan side hears it; the crowd reciprocated with boisterous Zindabad… , Jai… , Mataram….
The parade takes place for about 15 minutes and culminates in a perfectly coordinated lowering of the national flags. The gates which are opened for a brief period during the parade are slammed close for the night after a brusque handshake between the soldiers from either side.
After the ceremony ends, people usually dance on some Bollywood numbers but on that day owing to the late start of the ceremony, the crowd was immediately dispersed after the ceremony. I had the opportunity to click a picture with one of the BSF jawans who performed the border retreat ceremony which is a memory I carry from the place along the patriotic thrill and a glimpse of Pakistan which was once a part of our country.
Few points to note:
- Reach the venue by 2:45 PM to get a good seat. Sit in the middle tiers where you get a clear view of the activities both on our side as well as Pakistan side.
- Nothing except camera, mobile and wallet is allowed to the site. Prohibited items include ladies handbag, power banks and camera bags. So avoid carrying any baggage with you.
- Unlike what is mentioned in a few posts available online, it is not mandatory for ladies and gents to sit in separate enclosures.
- There are network jammers, so you cannot use cell phones to call. Remain close to your group to avoid unnecessary inconvenience.
I hope you liked this post. For any queries or if you have been to Wagah border please share your experiences in the comments section below. Keep Travelling & Spread Love..