Wagah- Attari border lies between the city of Amritsar in India and Lahore in Pakistan. This is where the lines were drawn in 1947 and our Mother India had to contend with a part of her being stripped away.
The Wagah Border has been mentioned in iconic works like Train to Pakistan, and it was also where Prime Minister Vajpayee made the historic bus journey, trying to establish friendly ties between the two countries.
The change of guard ceremony has garnered a lot of attention, and it was on my dad’s travel bucket list. Seeing the red coats perform the change of guard in London didn’t mean much to him, it seems. He wanted to visit the Wagah border and how. So of course, this was a big factor in planning our trip to Punjab-Himachal.
After a tiring day spent at the Golden Temple, and a humbling morning at Jalianwala Baag, we were looking forward to the border ceremony. Our hired car driver flatly informed us that cars didn’t go beyond a point and there was a 2 km or so walk to the border gates. Obviously, we were not happy to hear this.
Inquiries were made and we found out that a special pass could be procured, and this would take us closer, maybe requiring a half a km walk. Efforts were made and this special pass was in the bag and so we set out.
You have to factor in a lot of things if you want to reach there in time for the ceremony. Driving there takes an hour or so, walking to the actual place along with security procedures took 20-25 minutes. Of course, this was because we went through a special channel.
Needless to say, there is strict security, and our names were checked off the list at more than one place.
Note – on going there we found out that many people had this special pass, maybe 50 or so people.
There are stadium like stands on either side of the border and these were filled with people. The atmosphere was one of fun and friendly rivalry. Now get this – there was music and a DJ! The music was of course desh bhakti songs or patriotic songs from films. There were only 2 or 3 approved slogans that the crowd could use for cheering. The DJ sure knew how to work the crowd. I was totally impressed and dumb struck at the whole concept.
The DJ had the crowd in his hands. They were like putty. He orchestrated the volume of what they said, and when they would rise in a crescendo. The youngsters in the crowd were living it up.
Another awesome spectacle was what I call the ‘flag run’. You were allowed to hold the tricolor in your hands. This wasn’t your tiny paper flag. This was a big and heavy one with a cloth flag that ruffled in the wind. People, young and old, held the flag aloft and ran from one end to the other. I loved watching this more than the actual ceremony itself. People’s faces mirrored a variety of emotions like pride, patriotism and sheer joy at holding the tricolor aloft.
The crowd on the other side of the border was having some similar fun, and either side was trying to out shout the other.
Then the ceremony itself started. These guards were dressed in what seemed to be some type of special dress with spats and all. They also seemed to be quite tall.
I am not sure if I can describe this right. But there is a point where the gates open, and the guards on either side salute each other. Then they come inside and the gates are closed again.
I have been to many places in India and abroad, but this was a one of a kind ceremony. I am really glad I got to witness this. Maybe there will be a day when we have an open border between the two countries? Might sound impossible, but the Berlin Wall did come down, remember?