Thousands of opposing spectators with hats and flags cheering on their countries, men in uniforms shouting and running around, extreme security measures to finally get to your seat… No it’s not the World Cup final – it’s the daily border closing ceremony at the Wagha Border, the only crossing between India and Pakistan.
Coming from Amritsar, we piled into a mini van usually meant for 6 with 12 other people. The crowded conditions combined with 40+ degree temperatures and no air con made for an extremely uncomfortable journey but we were on our way. We really had no idea what to expect, but the excited looks on the Indian tourists faces around us gave us the impression that it was going to be something memorable.
40 agonising minutes later, we crawled out of the van, several pounds lighter, into a midst of market stalls and thousands of patriotic Indians waving flags and rushing towards the border on foot. As foreigners we got to bypass some of the queues and security searches, but still had to be stopped and searched around 4 times before finally reaching the border. Remember, you will need to bring your passport with you to get through security. We brought photo copy’s, which seemed to get us more scrutiny, but still worked just fine.
Around the gates that surround the physical border between the two countries, stadium seating is set up to accommodate thousands. Even still, many late comers are unable to fit and are made to watch on huge TV screens on the road behind the seating area. Foreigners are all designated seating in the area closest to the action, so getting a seat with a good view is easy, but getting a seat with some shade is a bit harder.
Different music and announcements blast from both sides of the border over the thousands of cheering spectators, turning into an awful headache inducing mashup of Bollywood and traditional Pakistani music. People dance and wave flags, both sides trying to out-do each other. Then the ceremony begins with men from each side in similar, and equally ridiculous uniforms marching down the road towards the gates, each step almost kicking themselves in the face. They march and shout and stamp their feet for several minutes until finally the flags are lowered, they all shake hands and the gates are closed for another day.
As with almost everything in India, the ceremony is loud, chaotic, strange, but also very entertaining and a lot of fun. The fact that so many people visit each day and the effort that is put into something that everywhere else in the word happens with a simple closing of a gate, shows the amazing energetic passion of the country.