A Celebration At The India/Pakistan Border

with 28 Comments

 

I didn’t even know this existed but as soon as I marveled (and consequentially practiced my high kicks) in front of the television at the raucous celebration I knew I had to see it in person! The timing was just right – we were leaving for India in a few weeks.

I never thought such an event could possibly happen at a place as formal and regulated as an official border. But it does. Every evening before sunset (get there about 2 hours before), hundreds of visitors rush to fill up the bleachers to witness a fervent exchange of dancing military personnel (BSF – Border Security Force on the Indian side) which takes place at the Wagah border separating India and Pakistan. Dressed in their official buttoned-up uniforms adorned in a variety of accoutrements, ruby-red plumed hats and carrying their very real weapons, soldiers on both sides have a dance off. Well, technically it’s not a dance-off; it’s actually the official ceremony of the lowering of the flags between the two (friendly) rival countries that’s been taking place since 1959.

 

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Rushing to secure a spot in the bleachers

 

The dance-off (trust me it really is!) is a friendly exchange of acrobatic high-kicks, swift pirouettes, arms outstretched and live music blasting (the drummer was a girl – yay!). The well-executed choreography has soldiers aggressively and defiantly showing off their most elaborate dance moves each trying to outdo the soldiers on the other side. The very animated theatrical spectacle incites visitors from both countries to yell, roar and whistle in encouragement to then be replaced by loud booing when the opposing side took the stage (so to speak). The enthusiastic cheering and non-stop clapping were infectious!

 

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Drummer girl rockin’ it!

 

It was so much fun! I felt like I was at a rock concert (the soldiers did kind of have that persona)! Excitement filled the air with the crowds on both sides of the border singing their national anthems (I think) trying to drown their opponents. With possibly quadruple (this is just my guesstimate) the amount of attendees, the Indian side always prevailed (sorry Pakistan).

 

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Lowering of the flags

 

After almost an hour of theatrics and impressive dance moves revving up the crowds, it was time for each side to lower their respective flags and close the border gates. The crowds were suddenly silent showing their respect for this very solemn (and serious) act of patriotism. Once both flags were completely lowered, everyone rushed from the bleachers down to where the soldiers were. People queued up to have their pictures taken with the soldiers like they were celebrities! The soldiers were very friendly and forth-coming; smiling for the cameras and shaking hands with everyone. It was so strange and incredible at the same time. Where am I??

Of course, I had to have my 5 seconds of rubbing shoulders with a local “celebrity” caught on camera!

 

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The crowd waiting patiently to meet the guards

 

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It’s important to mention there was a suicide bombing in November 2014 (just a few weeks before we went) on the Pakistani side killing more than 50 people and injuring hundreds. I don’t know how it’s organized on the Pakistani side (I’m assuming security is also very high) but I can confirm that on the Indian side security is at its highest level with frequent check points operated by armed soldiers, several metal detectors and manual pat downs (done by women for women).

The guards were so vigilant they even took away our friend’s lighter (to be returned afterwards). Bags are thoroughly checked or forbidden if they’re a certain size. The parking lot is about 2 km from the actual border preventing any sort of unauthorized vehicle from entering the premises; everyone must make their way by foot to attend the ceremony. I felt uneasy at first (the thought of a threat did linger in the back of my mind) but as the crowds roared and the music blasted, I was more excited than anything else. I actually felt a bit of exhilaration knowing I was so close to Pakistan (is that strange?).

 

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This might seem like an unusual (it is!) activity to add to your to-do list but if ever you’re in Amritsar (in the state of Punjab) don’t hesitate to hire a collective taxi to take you to the India/Pakistan border to partake in the most fascinating official border ceremony there is.

I had the best time ever (I would even say it was a highlight)! I had to stop several times to look around and take in the whole experience – it was just so surreal. I had seen this on television and had wanted to go and there I was (cheering and singing along) – funny how sometimes things turn out just the way we plan.

 

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Can you tell how happy I am?

 

 

Read all about my travels to India

 

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Have you heard of this celebration? Is this something you would attend? 

 

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  • Sheena Leong

    I attended the ceremony at Wagah on my trip to India 2 years & loved it too – it was so much fun! I lost all my photos though (robbed on night train) so this brought back a lot of great memories. You describe it well, it’s like I was there again & I hope to be again one day 🙂

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      We were there two years ago as well – maybe we were in the same crowd! 😉

  • Gel

    this looked totally fun! And the dance-off the you mentioned seemed to be something worthwhile to observe and participate too.

  • Stephanie Frias

    I’ve never heard of anything like this, I would definitely hang around to witness this display if the timing was right. It’s obvious from the grin on your face that you got a real kick out of this! The photos are neat and I only wish that you had a video, so I could fully experience it with you. Thanks for sharing!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I’m pretty sure we have a video but I can’t find it! Will definitely post it if I do. 🙂

  • That looks pretty intense with the rivalry. What a crazy event to do every day. It seems like it would be kind of intimidating to attend as an outsider.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      It wasn’t intimidating at all! We would usually be the center of attraction in India simply because we were Westerners but at this event all the excitement went towards the celebration and the guards so we felt like part of the crowd!

  • Colleen

    What a thrilling experience!!! How cool to see a ceremony (errr dance off) from the 1950s! I really loved this post and can’t wait to read more of your adventures in India! Safe travels

  • Latitude Unknown

    Awesome! I didn’t even know this was a thing (military dance-offs), but it looks amazing!! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Pack Your Baguios

    This sounds like the kind of random event that I love to attend. I would definitely make the trip to see this nightly dance-off!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I’m sure you would enjoy it! 🙂

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    There’s no winner (or loser for that matter) as it’s mostly to outdo the other side with their theatrics but it was so much fun!!

  • This is so cool! I cant believe we missed it even though we were right there. Had to google it to see a video! Thanks for sharing

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I’m pretty sure I have a video but couldn’t find it. Will definitely add it to the post if I do. 🙂

  • I had seen a video of this as well somewhere. Thanks for sharing this, it looks and sounds like a very unique experience! 🙂

  • Lauren West

    I’ve never heard of this ceremony, but it definitely looks like something I’d like to attend! I could almost feel the energy there from reading your post. It must be awesome to experience it in person!

  • This event is so interesting. With all the tense relations between those countries, its very encouraging to them share in a fun, peaceful daily ritual. Thanks for bringing this cool, strange event to our attention.

  • I can tell that you did really enjoy the “performance” 😀 I think I saw the video about this somewhere online before and I agree that it is fun and interesting! Seems like have to put this into my bucket list already. 🙂

  • Khansa Bint AJ

    I have never heard of this before. This happens everyday you mean? That is so interesting and something different for sure.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Hi Khansa! Yes every day at sunset the lowering of the flags and closing of the borders takes place. 🙂

  • Jet Set Brunette

    Dancing military personnel? That is serious amazing! I’ve never heard of this, so thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      My pleasure! It was so much fun!!

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    I don’t know if the officials would appreciate me calling it a “dance-off” but the atmosphere was just so lively and entertaining, I couldn’t word it any other way!

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    So glad you were inspired by this post! It was such a surreal experience! I’m assuming security was increased immensely after the bombing. It was very strange knowing the “tension” between those two countries and yet allowing such a “celebration” to take place. The contradictions in India never ceased to amaze me!

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    Hi Juliette! I’m pretty sure my boyfriend filmed part of it but I’ve been looking for the video without success. 🙁

  • Sasha

    YES! Isn’t it the funnest experience. I was dancing in the street with all the locals, it is such a great memory from my time in India. Were you treated like a celebrity? I have a hilarious video of hunders of people wanting to shake my hand, it was more intense there then anywhere else in India I think, probably because there were so many people in one place. I don’t remember having to have security checks in 2012, though my memory could just be bad! Awesome post, glad you got to see it for yourself!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      So happy to hear the opinion of someone who’s been and enjoyed it! I actually didn’t feel like a celebrity there (maybe people were more interested in the celebration) but I did feel like one all over India (and it got to be overwhelming).

  • Awesome post! I didn’t know they did this! When I first started reading I was thinking, what about terrorists? And as I read on, I realized how strict the security measures are. That is reassuring and when I go to India, I will certainly try to fit this in my to-do-list too! Thanks for sharing!