Bollywood Meets Beefeater at the India/Pakistan Border
At the border with India and Pakistan.
Story and photos by Kristin Rust
Americans today may not associate Pakistan with any kind of fun, but fun is to be had at the only India/Pakistan border road crossing, where tourists can experience a madcap event in a tiny corner of the world.
The town of Wagah, split in half between India and Pakistan, is often called the "Berlin Wall of Asia," thanks to a tumultuous history between the two territories. Yet, each evening at sundown the Border Security Force of India and the Pakistan Ranger soldiers come together for a friendly Retreat Ceremony with a lowering of the flags.
The border has been closed to trade for decades and only opened again in 2006, with relations improving since. This patriotic and macho event has proven to be a success with state efforts going to attract more foreign tourists.
Waiting for the meeting at the border.
It is estimated that 10,000 Indians travel to the border each night, with the Pakistan side shamefully thin with roughly 4,000 revelers. Arrive a couple hours early to find hundreds of enthusiastic kids hawking postcards, fresh popcorn and bottled water, while doling out advice in perfect English. Thousands of Indians queue up behind a cement roadblock, men on the right, women on the left, waiting for the 4pm opening.
The roadblock is removed and the masses race forward. Foreigners can skip the lengthy lines, but it's a full sprint when hitting the open road towards the border. Men clutch flags while women draped in saris tightly grip children as they hightail it for the bleacher seats. VIP seating, one section closer to the border gates, is open to the foreigners with visitors from Austria, Italy and South Korea. Locals are literally crammed into two sections, gender segregated, sternly dictated by whistles from the unusually tall Indian guards. Across the way, Pakistanis slowly trickle in.
Suddenly, music roars, an impromptu dance party materializes to "Jai Ho!" and the festivities begin. A hand-me-down of English rule, the hour-long ceremony involves wild uniforms, flag running, competing battle cries, and the star of the show – high kicks that would put the Rockettes to shame. It's a constant back and forth rivalry, much like a high school football game, complete with cheerleaders. "Hindustan Zindabad!" everyone yells full of pride – "Long Live India!"
An Indian guard in his finest.
Six Indian guards, donned in khaki uniforms with embellished belts and red and gold fan hats, remain in constant battle with the Pakistani guards, dressed in similar black uniforms and headgear. Each kicks their way to the gate in an attempt to out do the opposing guard. Beefeater meets Bollywood.
With each kick and dare, the sea of color crowd reacts much like Americans would to a touchdown. Both country's flags are eventually lowered simultaneously — and taken back to its respective country's border headquarters with more leg flair.
While it is hard to always decipher what is happening, the meaning is obvious – we are neighbors and friends, yet our borders make us different, and we celebrate that. This is demonstrated by the very quick, yet genuine handshake between border guards while the gates close, as the sun sets.
Where to Stay
Phone: (0183) 2562977
Opp.railway station, Queen's Road, Amritsar
Where to Eat
52 Joshi Colony, Amritsar
Phone: (0183) 2225555
The Brothers Dhaba
Phone: (0183) 6941881
Adjacent to Bhrawan Da Dhaba, Amritsar
How to Get to Wagah
Catch a taxi or autorickshaw from Amritsar for 200-450 Rs (roughly $4 – $9)
Many Amritsar hotels offer transportation services
Roughly 30km from Amristar
Kristin Rust is a Colorado native and spent most of her 15 years in public relations within the ski industry. She has recently taken a career hiatus to explore the field of international service and is currently doing volunteer work in India, working with womens empowerment groups.