At sunset each day there is a rather extravagant ceremony to close the border between India and Pakistan at Wagah. The village of Wagah was divided in 1947 when India was split into two countries. Gerrit Reinhardus, his wife Barbara (who was working in Pakistan at the time) and two of her colleagues caught a ride in a tuk tuk to check it out.
The ceremony is really a 45 minute, flag waving occasion when the soldiers from each country symbolize their country’s pride with a choreographed show. It is performed to great fanfare with a big crowd of spectators on both sides of the border trying to outdo the other by their show of support for their flag.
We were on the Pakistani side and the women and men are seated separately. It was a great opportunity for me to watch the reactions of the usually demure Pakistani women.
The women spectators certainly outnumbered the men!
This is not a regular lowering of the flags because it is between two very nationalistic nations that share a difficult history. The ceremony starts with a parade of soldiers on both sides of the border and the lowering of their flags as the sun sets. Each flag is folded and the ceremony ends with the soldiers shaking hands. This is all performed with a great deal of drama.
Both sides have a ‘Director of Enthusiasm” to get the crowds worked up. The one on our side certainly succeeded for a rather restrained Pakistani audience was soon jumping up and down and cheering for their soldiers. My wife’s female colleague, who is a very elegant woman, seemed to have lost her mind with all her screaming. She is from North West Frontier Province in Pakistan where many of the soldiers are also from, so perhaps she was displaying both Pakistan and NWFP pride.
You could just feel the excitement that was building up on the other side of the wall for the Indian crowd was much larger than the one cheering on the Pakistani side.
The soldiers are trained to look fierce and their movements are exaggerated—from their goose stepping, thumping of boots, quick marching and eyeball-to-eyeball exchanges.
The tension builds up as the flags are lowered and folded. When the soldiers from both sides meet to shake hands, it is so tense that you feel they will throttle one another. Finally the two sides do an about face and the gate to the border is slammed shut.
Being from the military myself, I sensed the soldiers were proud of their performance. It was high drama and professional at the same time. That was the nice part about it for me.
What is most important, of course, is that the gate opens again the next morning!
Photo credits: Barbara and Gerrit Reinhardus
© Riding the buses 2011