Our parents would have killed us if we told them what we had planned when we reached the town of Amristar in northern India. Thirty minutes from town is the India-Pakistan border. In any other case, we would have stayed as far away as possible. If it wasn’t for a friend who had visited a few months prior, we would have no idea what happens at the border as soon as the sun begins to set. Our intrigue got the best of us and we just couldn’t stay away.
Hearing of this special ceremony, we knew we couldn’t miss it. We didn’t dare tell our friends or families that we were going to willingly march ourselves to the Pakistan border. We could already hear the sighs of disapproval and the lectures we would receive. Being the curious travelers that we are, we knew we’d have to tell them all the details long after we returned from our adventure.
We hired a driver to take us the thirty miles to the Attari-Waggah border. Once we arrived we were met with a throng of Indian nationals who were also showing up for the intriguing event. Food was being sold on the roadside along with Indian flags, patriotic Indian visors, and DVDs of the event itself. A few children had fake tattoos of the Indian flag on their faces and were trying to sneakily capture of pictures of Chris, the tall white American.
Like most places in India, there was a foreigner line that separated us from the locals. It was significantly shorter and we were happy to be escorted to some of the best seats in the house. As the sun began to set, we were led to the border gate where the VIP (read:foreigner) seating was. There were grandstands on either side of the road that lead to the gate and they were quickly filling up with Indian spectators. Music began to blare from hidden speakers and the stands began to shake from all the people that started to cheerfully dance to the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack.
None of this hullabaloo was what I expected to see at the Pakistan border. It seemed like we were gearing up for an NFL football game, not an intense showdown between the two countries. As the song “Jai Ho” came to an end, an MC appeared and began to calm down the crowd. Once we were seated, a line of flamboyantly dressed border guards appeared. Looking as stoic as ever, one approached the microphone that was on a pedestal in front of the crowd. He looked like he was about to march off to war. He took one deep, long breath and… well, take a look for yourself
He let out one prolonged yell! He screamed into the microphone for what seemed like ages. What I thought was an echo was actually a border patrol officer from the Pakistan side. They were having a glorified scream off.
If that wasn’t bizarre enough, the immense showcase of bravado that followed was almost unbelievable. High kickin’ border patrolmen hightailed it to the border fence. Once there, they would stare down their Pakistan opponents as they slowly lowered their nation’s flag. A kick would be thrown out here and there over enthusiastic screams and chants from both countries audiences.
The entire ceremony only lasted for about half and hour, but the people watching beforehand made it worth our while to arrive early. If you ever find yourself in Amritsar be sure to check out this unique ceremony between two unique countries. You won’t see anything else like it in the world.