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Wagah – the daily afternoon “war” between India and Pakistan

5 September 2012 India, Pakistan, travel stories 1 comment

Lowering the flag ceremony in Wagah border point

One of the most famous, yet also bloodiest conflicts on the map of the world takes place between India and Pakistan. The painful Partition from 1948, when hundreds of thousands of people have died (some claim even a million), the 1965 and 1971 wars, the transformation of the two nations in nuclear nations, the bombings in both countries and the battle taking place on the Himalaya glaciers at over 5000 meters brought these two countries often on the headlines of the newspapers from all around the world. Thank God that the rivalry between the two nations is also transferred to more peaceful levels, like in cricket but the real show also takes place every night on the largest (and until recently the only) road border crossing point between India and Pakistan – in Wagah!

When India and Pakistan split, the fertile and wealthy province of Punjab was divided in two. The two biggest metropolis of the Punjab region were divided fairly – Lahore and its Taj Mahal like palaces became Paki and Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikh became a part of India. In the middle of the road between the two major cities of Punjab border lines were traced. Through the village named Wagah.

Border crossing points with customs officers, border guards have been formed, flags were raised. And after the good old British tradition every night, at the closing of the crossing point (customs are only open during day time, at night one can not cross from one country to the other- at least not legally) the ceremonial lowering of the flag takes place…At first, some children from the neighboring villages came to watch. Then some adults came along, peasants from this region. Night after night. Hearing about the show, with nothing better to do, some local officials might have come – a mayor of some sort. And because the Indian or Paki officials are far too noble to mingle with the ordinary people, somebody probably came up with the idea to bring them a chair. The ones from the other side of the border probably brought some armchairs. The other ones came with a bench, and their counterparts brought two benches. Some began to bring uninterested watchers from further away than the next village and even more benches. Then, the other ones started organizing school tours. Finally the Indians built a stadium stand on the side of the road with VIP boxes. The Pakis built a stand as well, but to top that, they added a lawn. Toilets were built and food stands as well, daily tours are organized, the visiting of the Wagah border point became mandatory for every eminent school kid or even for an ordinary one. And so, night after night, a whole army of buses, rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles, bullock carts head out from Amritsar and Lahore towards the border crossing point.

And among all these people, how could I have not attended the show, while being in this area – in December 2003 in Amritsar. I had to use all my negotiation skills hardly trained across Asia and Middle East with a rickshaw driver, but eventually I received an extremely good price (I think the driver himself wanted to see the Wagah ceremony) and then we hit the road. Fatal mistake – in December it’s extremely cold in Punjab, the plastics on the rickshaw didn’t help much in stopping the cold wind and the buses that pass us by coughing out lots of bad diesel gases weren’t a pleasant experience… But, for what it was worth, we were on our way to the famous, the incredible Wagah ceremony. Together with thousands of other Indians. There are 28 km between Wagah and Amritsar, but with a rickshaw it was going to be more than an hour long trip…

I’m finally there. Thousands of people, thousands of rickshaws, tens of buses, thousands of motorcycles. And the tallest people in India, dressed in their solemn military outfits, parade costumes with a helmet on their heads. We cram through some narrow corridors and we are finally there…the street looks like a stadium and it is full of people…firstly, I am guided to a sector that’s full of sahibs, but I quickly escape…the show is much more fun in the middle of the supporters…

I take a look around. The stands are full here and in the Pakistan area as well. I miss the sellers from all around India…Anyway, something’s definitely being sold…everything. I take a look on the other side… in Pakistan. The stands are really full of people…Unlike in India where the sparkling saris of the women mix with the semi-white men shirts, in Pakistan the veils are on one side and the guys on the other.

I look at the soldiers. The most handsome and tall soldiers of their countries are on one side and the other. The uniforms are identical, only the colors differ – the Indians wear red, the Pakis wear green, the color of the Prophet. Flags flutter in the wind at the same height. The horn calls…the stands are boiling with excitement…we all receive Indian flags…the supporters vibrate – Hindustan! Hindustan! When they pause for air to yell louder afterwards, from the other side of the fence you can hear – Pakistan! Pakistan! If anybody in this stand curses at the enemy, the police comes and hits him a couple of times. You aren’t allowed to curse your competition, just to ignore it.

The exercises begin. Firstly the Indians, then the Pakis repeat them. They are perfect. They lift their legs up to their heads. A nation of yogis. The Pakis aren’t bad either. They repeat the same moves to perfection. Not simultaneously…one after the other, first the red. The stands vibrate – Hindustan! Hindustan! Then the greens – Pakistan! Pakistan! Every soldier heads with incredibly huge steps toward the goal – border, like he would want to kick the enemy. He stops at one millimeter from the border. The Pakistan follows, like he would want to punch the Indian in his mouth. He stops at one millimeter. And the next one, and then again the next one. The flag is then lowered at half the distance….the stands are on fire… Next comes up the new number in the program – the Delhi – Lahore bus comes full of triumph. The stands yell – Hindustan, Hindustan. The policeman comes marching in and receives the passports of the travelers. The bus is full, baggage on the bus roof, typical for the subcontinent. After not even a minute the Indian soldier salutes and hands back the passports. Hardly to believe that the passport check and the baggage check lasted one minute…who knows for how long this bus was staying in the customs. The stands yell in Hindi – “Good bye! Fare well! ” . Cracking , snapping, hurling at the audience, the bus crosses the border. There’s silence in India now. In Pakistan the stands boil with excitement and yell in Urdu – “Welcome, welcome!” The Pakistan soldier hurries towards the bus in marching steps as if to take it by assault. He doesn’t. He takes the passports and in one minute time lets it through. It will probably remain behind the stands another 5 hours for a good check up.

The climax has been reached. The Delhi – Lahore bus just restarted its voyages for a short while, as it didn’t work for some decades. It is a sign of normality. I hope it lasts. I hope the train will soon pass on the railways, where no train passed on since 1948. And back in those days the wagons were full of cadavers. With sudden moves the flags are lowered, neatly tucked and placed in a safe place. Hindustan! Hindustan! Pakistan! Pakistan! A Paki officer shakes hands with the Indian officer. They look like twin brothers. They have the same height, the same moustache, they look cloned, one in green, the other in red. The huge gate, big as the Vatican gate, closes. People are cheering…There goes one more show. Today again our team was perfect and the other one…doesn’t even matter.

I’m leaving. It’s already dark and cold outside. Thousands of people head towards the transportation means that were abandoned a kilometer away. There are thousands of rickshaws. Which one’s mine, damn it? No problem, I don’t have to find my driver, he would find me even blind folded. “Great, isn’t it?” Yes, I agree. “Ours are better”. Always! We leave for Amritsar. If you ever saw how cars go from the block starts at the Formula 1 races, well, those guys are just playing around…You should see the simultaneous start up of tens of buses, hundreds of rickshaws and thousands of motorcycles. From satellite view one probably wouldn’t see anything because of the smoke. So it’s always better to be in the middle of the race in order to feel the adrenaline of thousands of horse power… tired horses, but still neighing out of all tailpipes. After one hour of the infernal race, the amazing race stumbles down towards Amritsar. I’m telling the driver to drop me off at a restaurant. I hope to see you again…tries the driver. “Tomorrow I go back to Delhi and then I’ll take the long road of Nepal”. Ok, next time…or maybe in the next life, who knows?

How to get to Wagah

From Delhi the fastest way is to take a train to Amritsar (couple of hours), preferably by train. From Amritsar you may find a boy with a cab…or, well, with a rickshaw, but I warned you.

When to go

Avoid winter – because it’s really cold and the summer – it’s really hot. February – April and October – November are perfect months.

Where to stay

You need to sleep in Amritsar, as in Wagah you will not find any accommodation except the case the custom officers arrest you. In Amritsar, I stayed in probably the worst hotel I ever slept, so I will not recommend it. Probably, it does not exist anymore or it got reincarnated. There are plenty of hotels, especially in the area of the Golden Temple. The cheapest is to sleep next to the pilgrims from the Golden Temple. There is a free all- inclusive – sleeping on the floor, food at the Sikh canteen , but it’s free!

Pictures of Wagah ceremony:

Soldiers at Wagah ceremony

Indian side of Wagah

Please go to you seats!

Pictures of Wagah border point : the Stands

Ready for the show in Wagah

Hindustan ! Hindustan ! Hindustan !

Wagah: Pakistan Fans

Pakistan Fans

Pakistan - India border: Delhi - Lahore bus

Delhi – Lahore Tour – the stars of the show

India - Pakistan border in Wagah: Grand Entrance to India

Grand Entrance to India

Până acum există "1 comentariu" la acest articol:

  1. Cassie Seen says:

    Nice preview! Can’t wait to read the whole experience :)

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