Wagah border. You must have heard this name before. Wagah is the border town in Pakistan near Amritsar in Punjab. The “retreat ceremony” at Wagah border is a ceremony worth going for.
It was August, 2014. We had planned to go for a trek in Kashmir. The great lakes trek in Kashmir Himalayas in India is a visual treat. It had rained big time in Kashmir in the previous weeks. A group before us had got stranded in their tents for 48 hours doing nothing. The weather forecast for our week was encouraging when we landed in Srinagar. It was a bright afternoon with few clouds hanging in the sky.
Our driver, Mustafa was waiting to receive us. After a quick cup of Kashmiri chai at the taxi stand, we headed straight to Sonmarg where we were to join others in the group. When we reached Sonmarg, it started raining heavily. There was a discussion with organisers as to what needs to be done. They checked from their contacts in the mountains and after brief discussion, we agreed not to take a chance and dropped out. Few brave hearts, ventured to continue in the rains.
We had almost ten days to spare and we quickly rejigged the itinerary with few days in Srinagar, Dharamshala, Vaishnodevi and Amritsar. After excellent time in Srinagar and Dharamshala, we headed to Amritsar. We reached Amritsar by late afternoon – blame it on few stretches of bad roads – and after a cup of chai, headed straight to Wagah border.
Every Indian has heard about the exciting stories of retreat ceremony at Wagah border and we were no different. Poorna had visually been describing about it having seen it when he was posted nearby during his army days. We were excited to watch it. Thanks to Poorna’s army contacts we were able to get a pass from local army authorities which allowed us to take our car closer to the gallery. We reached early and were able to get a vantage point very close to the gate.
The place where the ceremony is held is an interesting place. A huge gate – one on either side – stands as as mute testimony to the divided nation. A large open air gallery – like the ones we see in sports stadiums – is built on either side of the road which is part of the historical Grand Trunk road built by Sher Shah Suri from Dhaka to Lahore. People are allowed to sit on the gallery to watch the ceremony. By the time we reached, the galleries were packed and patriotic songs were blaring from the loud speakers. The atmosphere was festive and patriotic. People waving Indian flags. Nicely dressed BSF soldiers controlling the crowd and obliging pictures with them. The commentator on the public address system cajoling the crowd to get more patriotic by shouting “Bharat Mata ki Jai” “Vande Mataram” with crowd repeating it after him. Men, women and children coming on to the road to dance to the beats of the patriotic songs blaring on the PA system. Young girls and boys with tricolour running from the Gandhi arch to the gate and back.
It is all a charged up atmosphere. Please click on pictures to see them in larger size.
An announcement is made and two soldiers start marching past. They enter from he guard-house. Straight like ramrod, these guys march with amazing swing of hands and charge up the atmosphere. We look at the other side of the gate on the Pakistan side. Two rangers in uniform with colourful headgear are impeccably marching towards the gate. Both contingents stop in front of the gate. Turn around and return back to the guard-house.
A second pair emerges. This time it is two women officers from India! They show they are second to none and march as elegantly as their male colleagues. They march up to the gate meet the rangers from the other side, shake hands and take positions. A batch of 8 guards emerge from the guard-house. They all take position in front of the guard-house. One guard start marching towards the gate, stops, do some manoeuvres with high raised legs, meet the Pakistani ranger eye to eye, some chest thumping on both sides and take his position. This will continue with few more guards. In the mean time the patriotic songs are blaring on both sides and cries of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” reverberates.
Please take a look at the pictures below and click on them to see in larger size.
A moment of silence ensues. Retreat is sounded. The flags are brought down slowly. They are then folded properly and brought back ceremoniously.
Suddenly, a bus comes in. This is the “Dosti bus” which plies between Delhi and Lahore. People start waving at the passengers. We can see passengers behind the glass windows of the air-conditioned bus. The bus is allowed to pass through and a loud cheer erupts.
The gate is closed once the bus passes through the Wagah border. The guards retreat to their barracks and the ceremony ends.
The patriotic songs continue. People start dispersing.
The ceremony is all pomp and splendour with lot of patriotic fervour. We also felt that the way the whole things is handled, it definitely breed jingoistic culture. Whether we need to tone down these ceremonies to make it more humane and friendly is an other debate we don’t want to venture into.
But the two hours we were there was definitely something we will remember for long time.
All pictures in this post is courtesy Matteo Stroscio. His lovely album on Wagah Border ceremony can be seen here – https://www.flickr.com/photos/matteostroscio/sets/72157637439964366
Please watch this nice video of the ceremony on You Tube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fbrH7XOuLY
- Make Amritsar as the base to visit the Wagah border.
- It is better to hire a taxi to go the place.
- Check out the timings which is available on the BSF website.
- If you have any connection with Army/BSF or any other government authorities, try to obtain a pass which will help you to take the car inside the restricted area close to gallery.
- Make sure you are there at the gate early so that you can get vantage position.
- There is no discipline and no queue is formed before the gate. It may get chaotic sometimes as people jostle as soon as gates are opened and start running towards the gallery. Before being allowed into the gallery there is a stringent security heck. Make sure you do not take any prohibited items.
- Smoking is not allowed on the galleries.
- We thought the mobile phones were not allowed and kept them in the car. But they are allowed. Please check for the latest guidelines as they keep changing.
- Enjoy the fervour and atmosphere. Keep looking at the action on the other side of the border as well which is as elegant and jingoistic as on India side.
- Summer evenings in this place will be very hot. Please carry water, good hat to cover.
- There are many eating joints at this place before the gate. You can eat some snacks after the ceremony is over.
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