Five years ago, husband and I took a trip to Amritsar to witness the Wagah Border Ceremony. And oh, guess what! He took me there for our honeymoon. That’s a true blue Fauji, don’t you agree?
About 31 km, ie. a 45-minute drive from the Golden Temple, Amritsar is a small place called Wagah, which is the border between India and Pakistan- Lahore being just 22km from the site. Wagah is a part of the Grand Trunk Road, which is used as a goods transit terminal.
Wagah Border rings a bell among every Indian, but just to re-iterate, it is famous for its Border Closing Ceremony. The lowering of the flags of India and Pakistan occurs every evening before sunset.
A Little History before we go into further details of the Ceremony:
Wagah Border Ceremony – a Brief History:
The Beating Retreat Ceremony at the Wagah Border takes place every day and attracts thousands of visitors. This daily military exercise has been followed by the security forces of India (Border Security Force, BSF) and Pakistan (Pakistan Rangers) since 1959. During the early decades, the flag lowering ceremony was a low-key affair with a fewer audience and shoddy seating arrangements.
It was India’s victory over Pakistan in the Kargil War of 1999 that made all the difference. The Wagah Border, where the ceremony takes place has a good infrastructure now with pavilions for seating. The ceremony is conducted in posh and vigor and attracts thousands of people every day.
The Wagah Border
It was March 2013 when I first took the road to Wagah. I had had hot Amritsari Kulchas and Sweet Lassi and was visibly excited. The road was brimming with lush mustard fields on both sides and the bright yellow mustard flowers blooming all together was a sight to behold. Newly married, I remember asking my husband if we could get down on one of the fields and relive and relish a Dilwale Dulhaniya moment. Meh! He simply said that the owner would chase us out. Truly unromantic don’t you think?
Nothing could prepare me for what I was about to witness. There it was the National Highway 1 or the Grand Trunk Road where the parade happens and the huge iron gates on either side- standing as a mute testimony to the divided nation.
The gates on both sides are usually open and are closed before the ceremony. You can travel to Lahore on foot or via a bus/auto/car after clearing the immigration process.
The Pakistan side has Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s portrait.
Loud cheers, ‘Vande Mataram’ in the air, the crowd waving the Indian flags, Popular Patriotic songs in the background, the BSF guards obliging the audience by clicking pictures with them, the atmosphere all charged up and euphoric – Oh, the Wagah Border Ceremony had begun.
Women and children are encouraged to run with the National Flag from the Gandhi arc to the gate and back.
To set the mood, people are appealed for dancing to the popular Bollywood patriotic songs like ‘Jai Ho’ and ‘Chak de India’.
The ceremony is supervised by a BSF personnel who administers the event and also shouts and yells on his microphone just to get the crowd going with full excitement and vigor. It was kinda sad to see that the Pakistani bleachers had only a few people in them. You can count them on your fingers. A Pakistani man was seen dancing with the flag.
The bomb dogs or spy dogs march along the road which is followed by the Change of guard.
The BSF soldiers are lined up smartly in Khaki uniforms with matching red-fanned turbans- the grandeur instantly demanding respect.
The new guards take their position and march towards the gate in a flash of a second.
While stomping their feet, their legs are raised so high as if they were mocking the Pakistani rangers. The drill is performed in a highly exaggerated fashion with high leg kicks. Needless to say that the crowd goes bonkers seeing this display of aggression.
The patriotism from both sides of the nation is depicted to its true spirit at Wagah. The BSF and Pakistani Rangers has a kind of face-off.
Menacing looks are exchanged, a show of strength displayed.
As the sun sets, the iron gates of the border are opened and the two flags are lowered simultaneously.
The flags are folded and the ceremony ends with a retreat that involves a brusque handshake between soldiers from either side.
The border is closed and the gates are locked. The show has gotten over… and everything is back to how it was.
“There is a little bit of India in every Pakistani and a little bit of Pakistan in every Indian”
– Benazir Bhutto
It is a pleasure to see people of all age groups enjoying the ceremony with lots of passion and not with any kind of hatred for the neighboring countries. Maybe it is ceremonies like these that make us believe we are one, after all.
Wagah Border – Important Points to Keep in Mind Before Heading for the Ceremony
- Seating arrangements
Separate seating arrangements are made for Indian nationals and foreigners. Other than the space for general public, there is also a VIP seating area, the main advantage being able to witness the ceremony clearly from a closer distance.
VIP pass should be taken in advance and is available at Gate No: 3, en route the Wagah Border. It is on the lefthand side of the road and chances are, you’ll not miss this gigantic hoarding. Remember to collect the pass early in the morning, say 10 am because the list of VIP visitors is prepared and sent to the border before the ceremony commences.
If you couldn’t get hold of a VIP pass, fret not. The crowd at the VIP area is less enthusiastic, to say the least. It is better to sit with the general public to enjoy and make the most of the event.
- Wagah Border Ticket Price: Nil
- Wagah Border Ceremony Timings: The ceremony starts at 4.30pm in winters (5.30pm in summers) and is for 45 minutes. But reach the venue by 3, at the least so that you can find a decent seat.
- You’ll have to walk for about a kilometer from the parking area.
- Mobile networks are jammed.
- Leave your backpacks in the car or in your hotel. You are allowed to take the camera alone, that is, without the bag. You can carry an umbrella and/or jackets depending on the weather.
- Snack vendors, people ready to paint your face with the tricolor flag and those selling souvenirs in the form of caps and flags are all along the way.
- Cooperate with the soldiers doing the security check.
- Nearest Airport to Wagah: Amritsar
- Nearest Railway station to Wagah: Attari but Amritsar railway station is well connected from major Indian cities.
Wagah Border – Did You Know?
- The Grand Trunk Road is one of Asia’s oldest and longest road link which connects India with other countries. Established by Chandragupta Maurya and later upgraded by British India, the roads run from Chittagong, Bangladesh to Howrah, West Bengal, crossing Delhi to Amritsar, Punjab and onwards Lahore, Pakistan to Kabul, Afghanistan.
- The Wagah Border Ceremony was temporarily withdrawn during the India-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971.
- The ceremony is a carefully choreographed military exercise, dramatized with the guards displaying vigor by stomping their feet and exchanging killing glares showing hostility between both the countries. This is concluded by handshakes.
- The soldiers are specially selected and groomed for the job. They are put through rigorous training and it takes up to two years to bring a soldier into the required rhythm where he can match the steps and be fit for the drill.
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