Every day, at the border post between Attari and Wagah, there’s a ceremony to lower national flags and formally close the border between India and Pakistan for the night.
To watch what should be a sombre affair, both sides provide seating. The Indian side has a stadium now, with a new tier being built.
As advised, we arrived three hours early to get seats. As it happens, we needn’t have been concerned because there is VIP seating for foreigners and plenty of room. Helpfully, for us, we were identified as foreigners early along the 1km walk to the stadium and put in the fast lane.
As crowds have grown, people have arrived earlier and earlier. In response, probably to stop the crowd becoming restless, the authorities started providing pre-event entertainment in the form of singing and dancing.
Where there is a crowd, in India, there are street vendors, selling everything from Indian flags to bhel puri. The whole occasion has become a daily festival. There are fewer people on the Pakistan side but the Indians love it! Whilst free now, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll have to pay to watch the show.
After the long wait, the ceremony itself started at about 5.30pm.
First, two armed, sunglass-wearing army soldiers strut across the stadium to the Indian side of the border. The crowd start cheering. The soldiers get into position, beside the border gate. Then the more colourful troop appears. The crowd are ecstatic. Alone or in groups, the members of the troop take turns to do the 100m march to the border gate. Each unit has its own marching style, occasionally punctuated by some stomping. Some of the marching is straight out of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks!
The Pakistan border guards are not immune to these theatrics. They are just as histrionic!
Intermittently, soldiers from both sides meet in the middle to rattle their sabres and beat their chests.
Whilst all this is happening, there is an announcer in the middle of the stadium whipping the crowd into a patriotic frenzy.
After this carefully choreographed marching finishes, the flags are lowered and folded; the gates are shut. On the Indian side, the gates are actually slammed shut. And since they are slammed open too, and bounce back off the concrete walls, they are looking the worst for wear!
It’s a mystery how this non-event has been turned into a spectacle and now attended by up to 30,000 people every day!
The whole formal ceremony, which is over in 30 minutes, is comical, over-the-top and utterly bonkers! You must see it 😊