28 April 2018: The cry of “Hindustan, Hindustan, Hindustan” gave way to uncontrollable cheering on the Indian side of the border at the Attari-Wagah border closing ceremony. Presumably there was a reciprocal cry of “Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan” but unfortunately from our vantage point on the Indian side, this was drowned out by the frenzied Indian crowd which was about twice the size of the Pakistani crowd.
Even though this ceremony is a daily event, it attracts huge numbers of over enthusiastic visitors (probably over a thousand on the Indian side). From the levels of excitement and the raucous (but very good humoured) atmosphere, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were at some sort of major sporting event – perhaps even something as big as a World Cup final.
The process seems to be that everyone drives up from Amritsar (30km away) in the mid afternoon and then rushes to the border “stadium” to secure a good vantage point while waiting for the ceremony to begin. So we followed the crowd and plonked ourselves down on the concrete “seats” and patiently waited while literally grilling ourselves from both sides, first from the sun’s rays beating down on us (no shade here) and secondly, toasting our backsides too as our concrete seats had soaked up heat from the 42 degree sun all day long and so were a little on the hot side to say the least. Fortunately there were lots of hawkers selling cold drinks to help keep us cool. And if we had felt so inclined, we could also have bought flags, sunshades, baseball caps and other paraphernalia all decorated with the Indian flag and “We love India” etc. mottos just to make it entirely clear whose “team” we were supporting.
I can’t now recall whether it was the Indian side or the Pakistani side that first started blaring out music over the loudspeaker system to entertain their visitors while waiting for the main event to begin. It doesn’t matter really since within 20 seconds of one side turning on their music on full blast, the other side had started theirs equally loudly so as not to be out-done. After all, there’s not a lot of love lost between these 2 nations and today was all about pomp and ceremony and a show of strength.
Perhaps I’m a bit partisan but it did seem that the Indian crowd were having more fun. On the Pakistani side, a solo male dancer was showing off his best whirling dervish type manoeuvres (and was subsequently joined by a one legged dancer who, fair play to him, impressively hopped around) but on the Indian side we had a very enthusiastic MC who was whipping the crowd into an absolute frenzy. There was lots of “Are you having a good time?” to which the crowd would roar, only for the MC to say “I can’t hear you” to elicit yet more noise. (At least I think this was the general gist: to be fair, it was all either in Hindi or Punjabi so I can’t be entirely confident, but it definitely seemed to be along those lines!!)
At one point a new song started blaring out of the loudspeaker. I’m guessing this must have been some huge Bollywood female anthem (perhaps the equivalent of a Beyoncé classic (or Gloria Gaynor)) as this was the trigger for most of the female members of the audience immediately to jump up and charge down to the “stage” area and cut some shapes on the dance floor, all cheered on by the menfolk who were left bopping along in their seats. Go girls. And then just as orderly, after a 5 song or so set, everyone then returned to their seats ready for the big showdown with Pakistan. By this time, everyone was super excited (as well as being somewhat over heated from the sun!)
And so the “show” began. Soldiers from both sides (some sporting some quality moustaches and comical hats) marched forcefully towards the border high stepping and chest beating as they went. The crowd went wild but the soldiers managed to maintain their dignity and composure throughout.
L: on the Indian side; R: on the Pakistani side
Then what followed were pseudo-attacks on each other’s flags as these begin to be lowered to mark the formal closure of the border for the night. After some more strutting around and some even higher fancy kicking manoeuvres, the soldiers disappeared and that was that: the border was closed for the night. It was highly amusing to see this spectacle; it had been in my top 3 on my wish list for this trip to India (alongside a trip on a houseboat in Kerala and staying in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai). And it was well worth the trip: a unique spectacle.
It’s all about the leg kicking!
Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that there is no traffic crossing at the place where the border ceremony takes place. The real border is a few hundred metres down the road and may or may not be open depending on the state of relations between the two nations on any particular day. I guess it would have ruined the spectacle if a lorry full of goods had suddenly driven up half way through all the strutting.