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.
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!
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).
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!
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?).
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.
Read all about my travels to India
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Have you heard of this celebration? Is this something you would attend?