If you have heard enough stories about animosity between India and Pakistan, then I must tell you about a place where they actually see eye-to-eye. Well, when I say this I am putting it quite literally. It is Wagah Border (Indians now call it Attari Border) between the two countries where a retreat ceremony is held every evening. During the ceremony, Indian and Pakistani border guards make some fierce eye-contacts with each other while displaying equally aggressive body language. And screams and shouts filled with patriotism from both sides of the border filling the air!!!
Don’t be amazed if you have to close your ears when somebody sitting near you shouts a slogan in such a high volume that surprises him also. You can feel blood rushing through your vessels and adrenalin level touching new heights. Such is the feel of Wagah Border. If you have been to open borders between various member countries of European Union where crossing into another country is a smooth sailing as if you are roaming in your own backyard, then you will find Wagah Border quite an experience. The western travellers do find it very interesting and refreshing. It is indeed a treat to watch this retreat. So, if you are in Amritsar or anywhere nearby, then you must not miss this place.
We planned to visit Wagah Border when we were in Amritsar. There are VIP rows on the either side of the road near the border gate, and if you have some connections you can make it to one of those rows. But all this is to be done before you reach there. One of my senior editorial colleagues arranged this for us. The name-list for VIP entry of that evening is closed at 12 noon. My colleague had called them at 1.30 pm. It was late, but we were told that he somehow had managed to get our names included in the list through the Brigadier of Border Security Force. And, we were there in the evening to witness those memorable moments.
The border is 32 kms from Amritsar. On the way from Amritsar to Attari, you can see milestones mentioning distance to Lahore in Pakistan. Last one was showing the distance to Lahore as 30 kms. So, Amritsar and Lahore are at almost equal distance on either side from the border. The retreat ceremony starts at 5.30 pm in summers and 5.00 pm in winters, and during this the border gates are opened and national flags are lowered.
We arrived at the parking area of border at 5 pm. There, I came to know that my name was not there in the VIP list. With a bad mood, I parked my vehicle there and called the Brigadier. Usually, you don’t get any mobile network there, but fortunately I got connected to him. He immediately flashed message on wireless to allow me in VIP area. My mood had lightened up now. We started walking towards the border; there are two security-checks on the way. But there was so much rush that it took us about 15 minutes to reach up to the border gate, which was 250 meters from parking area. When you are going there, remember not to carry any bag or lighter, cigarettes etc. And if you are carrying a camera, then better leave its carry-case in your vehicle.
We were a bit late, so could not get the higher seat o the stands. We got the lower front row, but it was good as far as visibility was concerned. The ceremony started in five minutes. As the parade started on both sides of border, people this side started shouting ‘Hindustan Zindabad’. As if it stirred the spectators on the other side, the Pakistanis also started shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ and ‘Jiyo Jiyo Pakistan’. The atmosphere had soon become quite exciting. It had shaken up our patriotic emotions in such a way that we did not know when we ourselves were shouting ‘Hindustan Zindabad’. Even the foreigners sitting around us were no exception. They were equally charged up and screaming slogans. While Indian pavilions were packed to their capacity, Pakistan pavilions were almost empty. I was told that it is a usual sight.
The ceremony itself was full of drama on either side. It seems that the border guys on both sides practise every move together. They were exhibiting the same actions at the same time. Finally, the gates were opened and we could see people on other side very clearly. Pakistanis are the same race as we are, we are the same people; there is no difference. I was wondering if some of them came to this side or some of us went to the other side through open gates, nobody would be able to identify who was their own and who was the neighbour.
After the ceremony is over, one can buy from the souvenir shop, which is on right side of the gate. There is a souvenir shop on Pakistan side also, just at the right side of the gate.
How to Reach Border from Amritsar
The best way is to hire a taxi to go to Wagah Border. There are number of taxi stands at Amritsar. The fare is not fixed and you can bargain. You must hire taxi for a return journey. Also, auto rickshaws ply on Amritsar-Attari road. The rates are more or less fixed and by paying Rs. 50 you can reach Wagah Border.
Why Wagah Border is important
This border route is used to carry vegetables and grains between both countries. Loaded trucks can be seen at the border on both sides of the road. Trucks are unloaded at border, checked and then reloaded in the trucks of other country. The bus service connecting India with Pakistan also passes through this route. There is a village named Attari on Indian side from where train to Pakistan called ‘Samjhauta Express’ departs. Both countries have their customs setup at the border.
Text and Photos by Naveen Choudhary