24th August 2018
WF traveller Peter Heywood visited Wagah on the Karakoram Adventure tour in June 2018.
Security was tight all the way from Lahore to Wagah on the border with India in the wake of 2017’s terrorist attack on visitors to the daily closing ceremony. Over a mile from the site, cars, buses and mini-vans alike were emptied of their drivers and passengers for inspection by soldiers of Pakistan’s border guard. In the car park, soft drink and snack salesmen were doing a roaring trade.
In 2016, I’d arrived on the Indian side of the Wagah border during a visit to Amritsar less than 25 kilometres away. Then, construction was still underway on a Rajput-style stand to house the increasing numbers of visitors to the surreal “Beating the Retreat” ceremony held every day at sunset. Now, from the Pakistan side, I could see that the stand was finished and packed to the rafters with raucous spectators in party mood.
On the Pakistan side, there was less seating but at least the same amount of noise as I remembered from my 2016 visit to the Indian party, twenty yards away. There, the atmosphere had the vibe of a Bollywood dance routine whereas the Pakistani spectators were being treated to an Urdu club disco playlist blasting from the PA system punctuated by bouts of cheer-led chanting of patriotic slogans, “Pakistan Zindabad” (Long Live Pakistan) included.
As the sun went down, the ceremony started with the stylised high-kick marching of both the black-uniformed Pakistan Rangers and their khaki-clad Indian Army equivalents towards the open border gates. A repertoire of marching drills, shouldering of arms, choreographed fist-waving, stamping and posturing followed, each greeted with acclaim and renewed chanting by the relevant sections of the crowd. Finally, the synchronised lowering of the two countries’ national flags and the slamming of the gates signalled the end of the ceremony.
Then, as the crowd was getting to its feet, the disco started up again. Pausing every few yards to have my photograph taken by spectators for posting on their Instagram accounts, I danced towards the car park.