The Wagha border between India and Pakistan is located 30kms from Amritsar, Punjab. Upon partition, Punjab was divided into two, literally dividing neighbours into separate countries. Each afternoon a ceremony is held to mark the closing of the border for the day.
I traveled to the border in the back of an overcrowded jeep with local tourists. Upon arrival, there were about a hundred trucks lined up on the roadside. They didn’t seem to be going anywhere, and neither were we. So it was all out of the jeep and on foot.
There was no obvious process from there, so I followed three local tourists as we meandered our way through a growing crowd. Soon we were in the thick of a heaving throng that was pushing us forward. For someone accustomed to personal space, queuing in India is certainly challenging. The pushing, shoving, and pressing of flesh with no room for air is something I am not sure I will ever get used to. Thankfully, I was alerted to a women’s queue, so my new friend Pushpa and I moved towards the air.
Pushpa could not speak a word of English, and my Hindi is still very sketchy. Somehow, though, we just knew we could not lose each other. So we kept an eye on each other as we walked towards the checkpoint and entered the arena together for the show.
The arena was just a road leading to the border gate with stadium steps built for the masses to sit and watch. There was sex segregation, with men farthest away from the action.
Pushpa looked at me, and with her finger, she directed me to follow her as she ran onto the road towards the border security guards. There, about 20 women were lined up to run towards the Pakistan gate carrying the Indian flag. Shortly thereafter, I was one of them running towards the Pakistani border with the Indian flag whilst 2,000 people cheered me on as I taunted the guards on the other side of the fence.
After a short rest, music started pumping loudly, and the border road was turned into a Bollywood moshpit. Pushpa followed me down to join in the all-female party. We jumped and did our best Bollywood dance moves. It was so much fun. I looked up and felt sorry for the men, who could only watch from the sidelines.
I could not see what was happening on the other side of the gate, but I could hear big cheers and music on the Pakistani side as well.
Only then did I notice a separate section for foreigners even closer to the action. I grabbed Pushpa, and we went towards this section. The guard, however, stopped us. I was allowed, but Pushpa was not. After several minutes of discussion, I finally persuaded the guard to let Pushpa in as a foreigner, and soon she was sitting closer to the action than any other local Indian. She looked at me beaming—we were both having a ball.
Then the real ceremony started.
On one side of the fence, the Indian guards marched along the road to the gate and taunted their neighbours with a high kick marching. The Pakistan guards held a similar ceremony on the other side. This “dance” continued for quite a while, and the crowd lapped it up, cheering, chanting, and waving their flags. It was like being at a rock concert.
Then both gates opened, and for a few minutes, there was nothing between India and Pakistan. The head guards from each side met in the middle, quickly shook hands, and brought down both flags. The gates were shut and the border closed.
All was serious again, and it was time to head home.
It seems to me that these two enemies are not so different after all. I have crossed similar borders in my travels, the last being between Israel and Jordan, and I cannot imagine any such frivolity and joking. Despite the political tensions, India and Pakistan can still take the time to have a joke with each other and enjoy a moment for what it is . . . pure entertainment.
*Please note, this article is not based on a deep and studied understanding of the politics of the relationship between India and Pakistan. This article is based entirely on the author’s observations of the Wagha Border Closing Ceremony.