A visit to Wagah Border
Thanks to television and internet reaching out to nooks and corners of India most Indians know about the foot stamping ceremony also called “beating the retreat” conducted by members of Indian and Pakistan armed forces at border post in the Wagah village. Everyone want to visit the place because a picture is formed in their minds about the soldiers in the most aggressive moods.
The village was divided between India and Pakistan during the bloody partition of India with Eastern part of it going to India and western part to the Pakistan. The place is about 22 kilometres from Lahore and about 32 kilometres from Amritsar. The border post is on the Grand Trunk Road constructed at the time of Sher Shah Suri’s regime and many subsequent rulers. It runs from Peshawar to Kolkata covering almost whole of Northern India.
So every visitor to Golden temple makes it a point to visit the border and witness the ceremony. Even as you come out of the temple, cab drivers almost mob you for going there.
I also visited the place sometimes back along with my wife and our friend and his wife. After visiting the golden temple, we made the programme to visit the place. Ceremony takes place in the evening for about an hour. Even on the days when it is not holiday, there is a big crowd.
We hired a taxi which was arranged by the hotel where we were lodged. Amritsar is a city which is very ancient with narrow lanes which are brimming with crowds and vehicles of all kinds. It is miracle of drivers how they navigate through lanes. Much time is wasted in the city.
Drivers are generally very clever type. Although money was paid for air conditioning, he would not switch it on unless you press him. As the vehicle neared Wagah, it was almost traffic jammed. There were trucks which were taking goods from India to Pakistan which were waiting endlessly for clearance blocking one side of the road entirely.
We reached about one and half hour before the gate will open forgoing inside. Already there were crowds in the queues. There were separate lines for men and women. It is an open area with no shelter from sun and rain. There are boys selling water bottles and pouches pestering the crowds no ends. Small kids are a harassed lot from heat and thirst. Wait seems endless. Meanwhile we saw many people coming up to the closed main gate presenting recommendation letters or passes and entering the gate without any time limit.
At last, the gate opened for ladies first and almost 20 minutes later for men after all women had crossed. You have to walk another kilometres to reach the action theatre. People who are shouting patriotic slogans race pushing one another to reach the place so that they get a seat to sit. The seats are like stadium rows with men and women in separated areas. People seems hysterical and hoarse. It is overcrowded. The songs blare from both indian and Pakistan side outdoing each other. School children do the dancing and run with the flag. When the ceremony begins, soldiers from two countries charge at one another, throwing one leg in the air so high that their legs form almost 180 degrees angle. They stare at each other. The gates are slammed mercilessly while opening and closing. As this happens, people sitting away stand up and cheer their soldiers making it impossible for the elderly people to watch by sitting. If all sit again it is possible you will lose your sitting place to someone.
This was so much that I was waiting for it to be over. When it was over, you will find yourself floating with crowds as now everyone is in great hurry to go out and return to the city. People are spilled on every inch of space. There are two three shops including the one run by the army selling tea and water bottles and snacks.
On a summer evening you are exhausted to walk another kilometre to the main gate. The driver was waiting although I suspected that he might have deserted us. But it was not over. Because there was a big traffic snarl and a good half an hour spent to cross the area and come on the main road. There was evening crowds as we neared the hotel. At last, we reached the hotel fully exhausted.