Every evening since 1959 (except for a brief period when they were at war) India and Pakistan have undertaken a nightly border closing ceremony at the Wagah crossing. It has become infamous for being a strange spectacle of overt nationalism, and involving very tall men from the Border Security Force on the Indian side and the Pakistan Rangers on the other, doing some serious goose stepping.
It was wickedly hot as we left the hotel and negotiated with an auto-rickshaw driver to take us on the 50 minutes journey. When we arrived at 3:30pm the queues were massive. Everything we’d read said there are thousands that attend on the India side but only hundreds on the Pakistani side. We’d gone on a Sunday, and this definitely wasn’t the case. We joined the women’s queue and made some new friends. The gates opened 15 minutes later and we started the 2km journey through 3 security checks in the searing heat.
In 2014 60 people were killed and over 110 people were injured in a suicide attack on the Pakistan side right after the ceremony ended. The security checks though are nothing more than lip service, or at least that was our experience of the women’s ones.
When we reached the stadium we were directed through the gate and seated in the proper seats near the front.
The atmosphere was a cross between a sports match and a concert. It had a real buzz of excitement. It starts with music played over a loudspeaker, with each side trying to be louder than the other. Eventually this progresses to a couple of volunteer performers whipping up nationalist fervour (the same occurs on the Indian side, where people often descend from the stands to dance and sing).
The stadium kept filling and filling – men and families/women seated separately – until the stands and seats were full and people were given standing space at the entrance way.
Finally at 6pm the ceremony started and the Pakistani Rangers marched out kicking their legs, stomping their feet and holding up their arms in a comic strongman pose.
It is quite the experience. Words could never explain it. So check out the video clip below.
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