The Wagah Amritsar India Pakistan border!
The town of Wagah is split in half. One side stayed in Pakistan, and the other side in India. There is a border post, as in so many other towns on the dividing line between the two countries. But this is different. On this India-Pakistan border every day of the year, everyone, since 1959, has celebrated a party. It is actually a ceremony, but it is dressed in loud music, screaming, and patriotic paroxysm. And of people buying and drinking trinkets. Today I tell you in detail 🙂
When you approach the India-Pakistan border in Wagah village
You quickly realize that it is not a normal border . Not at all. Look, you’ve seen a few African, some Latin American, and Asian. But this is different. In fact, you are not there to cross from India to Pakistan. Not anyone at this time because they have a schedule. You are going to see, like many other people, what is cooked there when the sun goes down.
It is extremely hot and humid. You get off the little bus in which you have gone to the India-Pakistan border. On the way the rickshaws pass each other, all full of people. They want to have fun, they are in a good mood. Noticeable.
As if it were a pilgrimage, there are a lot of stalls that offer food, drinks, toys for children … The open field that is currently used as a parking lot, is filling up with cars and buses of various sizes.
A multi-lane highway, closed to traffic, marks the way to the border.
What you should know before going to see the closing ceremony of the India-Pakistan border
It is advisable to leave Amritsar at about 4 pm to arrive in time to pass the controls and take up seats in the stands before the “show”, which, as I have already said, is a little before sunset.
The first thing to do, and this is like all borders, is to go through a check point. There they will check what you have on you, and that is where you will appreciate having known before that you cannot pass with a backpack or bag of any kind. Yes you can go with your camera, mobile phone in your pocket, of course your passport and some money. But nothing else, not even tobacco and / or lighter.
I went in August 2016, and at that time the entire venue was under construction. I always speak on the side of India. They were building more stands and I don’t know if they have already finished it, but it was starting to take on the look of a small stadium.
The ceremony lasts about 90 minutes in total.
The preliminaries of the ceremony
After the control, you walk along a path that is guided by the soldiers who are posted every few meters so that no one gets out of hand. There are some bathrooms off to the side, in case you’re wondering. Then you arrive at the venue and it’s time to find a seat.
Soldiers usually guide the few foreigners to the top of the stands. We are in a clear minority, by the way. I don’t know if they send you up because it is the best area from their point of view, but I didn’t like it. I would have liked to be much lower, closer to where the action was taking place, but a soldier urged me very seriously to go up, period. At least that area is covered with a roof (this is one of the improvements to the reform) and therefore protected from the unrelenting sun. You don’t get rid of the heat.
In front there are some temporary stands and it seems that it is the VIP area because they were reserved (we tried to get there but they said no). In fact, a British couple with personality-like appearance arrived a few minutes before the start and, accompanied by a uniformed man with chevrons, sat in the front row. They vaguely reminded me of someone from the English royal family . They were the same, or is it because to me “all English people look alike”, ho, ho (just kidding).
A Bollywood music welcomes you . The volume is deafening and won’t let you talk to anyone unless you yell or get close to their ear. Music also comes from the Pakistani side, very similar. Both countries compete in the volume of their music. They raise and lower it alternately and everything is very crazy.
In the stands, street vendors come and go with a small fridge loaded with bottles of water and cold sodas. Let’s see who can resist, in the heat!
I look to the Pakistani side
I try to see everything I can, which is little. There is a fairly high wall and barbed wire in between.
I do not notice any nearby town. I know Lahore is 23 kilometers away because I see it on one of the road signs.
From my position at the top I can only see some bleachers and neat plastic chairs. It seems that everything is smaller than the ones we occupy and without a roof to shelter from the sun. There are people sitting, men and women. Most well dressed, they are not much different from the Indian side. It also seems to me that there are a lot less people, but maybe those are the VIP stands in Pakistan.
At the end of everything I could see how a group of Japanese (I think, because of their clothing, but they were still Chinese), left there.
I look to the Pakistan side and I can’t help but dream of going there …
The atmosphere is full of competition
Healthy competition, because everyone smiles. There is a huge local crowd, and most have the Indian flag painted on their faces. True fans of your country.
There are also quite a few soldiers on leave. Most are very young, boys and girls. Many still have an innocent look.
The music doesn’t stop. An entertainer comes to the fore with a microphone. The guy, who is not wearing a military uniform, jellies the audience in Hindi. I don’t understand a thing, of course, but I look at everything with my eyes wide open and I can’t help but laugh like a girl. The audience screams, raises their hands. There is a short pause and then from the Pakistani side comes the answer. Let’s see who screams the loudest.
Sometimes it seems to me that they say “Atleeeetttiiii….” I don’t like football and I’m not from any team, for the record, but that’s what I think they say and I’m very funny. The truth is that it is one of the moments of this trip where I laughed the most.
Some girls go down to dance at the place where the soldiers, in a few minutes, will leave for the ceremony of closing the India-Pakistan border. They are there for a little while, in that incredible heat, doing jumps and doing Bollywood dance steps. They are spontaneous, and some tourists, my traveling companions, come up and join them.
For its part, the public chants the songs, shouts the slogans and awaits the response from Pakistan, which is not long in coming. It’s like a game of something, with the two teams saying things to each other while the appointed time arrives.
And so it is, because everything comes in this life. Then the lord with the megaphone asks the spontaneous dancers to sit down and there is a strange silence that precedes the music of the national anthem. They all get up, sing it, and then sit down. They wait for the same thing to happen in Pakistan, next door. And it begins.
The moment we all waited for has arrived. The soldiers are impeccable with a hat crowned by a kind of red fan. They are really tall and stocky. There is also a woman.
On the Pakistani side, the scene is similar, as far as I can see.
While Indian soldiers wear khaki or beige, Pakistanis wear black or a dark color. Their height and build are very similar on both sides.
They begin to parade as if they had been wound up, at a dizzying pace. A little music accompanies them and sets the rhythm. They come and go several times towards the door that is the border. In front of her, they make movements that transmit strength, challenge, I don’t know … raise your fist, raise your leg until it is almost vertical with your body. It is very histrionic, very theatrical. The audience screams in waves. On the other side, the same.
The border closure
They lower the flags and when they are perfectly folded, they are carried with great pomp. The doors of both countries are closed. When will they open them, in the morning? I guess so.
So every day of the year. Have those giant soldiers who meet face to face every day have known each other, have made friends, have their lives told each other …?
The ranks of soldiers break and people rush down from the bleachers to take photos and selfies at close range.
I take one last look at Pakistan. A great ball of fire, the sun, sets on the horizon.
Little by little the crowd disintegrates and we all go back to the area of cars and fair stands. With that fatigue that we all have left after a day at the amusement park.
I think of the surrealism of all this
India and Pakistan are killed, everyone is known. In 1947, both territories became independent from the United Kingdom, although they had been getting along very badly since, they say, the year 1000.
They have not come to blows, sorry, to arms, since both countries have the atomic bomb. In 1998 they threatened each other brandishing that terrible weapon. We were on the point of experiencing a nuclear war in this world.
Today, at least in the Kashmir area , a territory that continues to be disputed, the conflict is far from over. In fact, that summer of 2016 several deaths had occurred again and there was a curfew, as I already told you. Arundhati Roy , in his second and last novel for the moment, tells you very well and I cannot help recommending it: The Ministry of Supreme Happiness.
But here in Wagah, on this India-Pakistan border, things seem totally different. And it has been that way since 1959. They have never stopped, not even in the most tense times. Another sign that everything is possible in this world.