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Wagah border, the performance of the eternal conflict between Pakistan and India

With all the borders that I have crossed in the last years, and especially in the last months, I am still surprised with what my eyes saw few days ago, because for the first time in my life, I went to a border not to cross it but to witness a ceremony that is a kind of struggle for honor among soldiers from two different countries, while the whole crowd cheers and applauds them every step they take. Surreal, right? Well this happens every evening when they close the only border that is open daily between Pakistan and India.

 

    When conflict arises?

That India and Pakistan do not have too much affection for each other was something I started to understand when issuing the Indian visa, since they asked me several times if I had family ties or something in Pakistan.

The conflict between these two South Asian countries begins with the independence of British India when these new countries are created, one with Hindu majority and one with a Muslim majority. The separation was painful, because some states were split into different sides of the border, like the state of Punjab and in particular the town of Wagah. This situation lead to increase hostility between the two ethnic groups and to few wars between those already formed new countries, and even more since both want the state of Kashmir, so it is in dispute, not only between the two countries but also with China.

Due to that ‘Grand Trunk Road’ route historically pass by Wagah on the way to Afghanistan, they opened this crossing in the split up town of Wagah and back in 1959, both governments reached an agreement to make this closing ceremony every day, as a sign of mutual respect, but over time became more aggressive becoming what it is today.

 

    The show

While I was not sure what to call this part, as they often call it ceremony, but nothing defines it better as I have done, ‘the show’.

As if it would be the final of a World Cup where you find two semicircles, cut in the middle with the border in question, crowded on each side with their respective countries flags painted on their faces or waving in the wind. In the middle, a showman who encourages the public and cheer together his soldiers, while slogans of victory keep on being repeated and they unite their voices in national songs to give courage their own, and intimidate opponents.

The first soldiers appear on stage.

 

The show starts at 4.15 PM but you have to arrive early or you will find it all full, especially if it’s a holiday or weekend. The grandstand is divided into 4 parts: The VIP area in front of all, followed by the foreigners zone, the area of women and children, and finally, the general area where all local barons are.

 

On the left, the last fence between the two countries. On the right, the middle hemicycle full of locals waiting that it starts.

 

With all the places full already and a very hot atmosphere, the soldiers come into play with their gala dresses, flaunting fighting spirit and courage facing each other. This is done with deafening shoutings, aggressive walks, dirty looks and even some flying kick. In the end, and after much show on both sides, the border is opened and two officers from each side will give each other a strong and sudden handshake and they will begin to lower both flags. When finished, they fold them, close the border and proudly the troops return to their country each forming triumphant with their flag.

 

    How to get there

In order to get to the border to see this ceremony, you may want to take a taxi or a rickshaw that will cost you around 150-200 rupees, and you can arrange it directly at the hotel or hostel where you are staying, or down the street speaking with any taxi driver. But if you are traveling low budget, you can take a local bus from the main bus station spending only 60 rupees, both ways.

Actually this local bus will not leave you exactly in the border but in Attari, the last Indian town before it. From there you can decide to walk easily the 3km left, that will take you 30 minutes more or less, or take a ride with the rickshaw for only 10 rupees.

Remember that you are in India and buses really take their time so, even if the distance from Amritsar to the border is just 36km, take the bus with time between 1 PM and 2 PM, and for sure not later than 2.30 PM!

 

    What to bring

Last topic, and not at all less important, is about what to bring there.

We should not forget that we are not going to a theater but a border, so you have to carry the passport mandatorily. Besides, you can not enter with any covered package, including women handbags or simple waist packs. To pass the control, at most you can carry a camera, mobile phone and a bottle of water or a bag of fries to make the wait more pleasant.