One of the most entertaining, but very serious ceremonies that Emma McInnes has ever had the privilege to encounter was experienced on her recent trip to Amritsar in Northern India, travelling on our Highway to the Himalayas tour. The Indian region of Punjab, borders with Pakistan. It is famed for the Sikh faith, the Golden Temple and the wonderful food, considered to be some of the freshest and best in all of India, though there is also an unusual and delightful quirk that I would highly recommend to travellers, and I think it is essential for anyone visiting this region to go along and participate in.
The two neighbouring countries of India and Pakistan have been in disagreement over land dispute for many years, however the endearing, fun, vibrant, and festive ‘Goodnight Ceremony’ known as the Wagah-Attari Border retreat, occurs every single night, and amicably softens the impression, of the disputes of these neighbours. The best way I can describe what happens in layman’s terms – is to imagine strutting peacocks, doing the Kiwi Hukka towards each other whilst approaching the border gates to lower the national flags. In two dimensional text, it’s tough to try and capture the spirit of this daily event, but here is a peek into this fascinating tradition…
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At first the border seems formidable, very impenetrable and a little daunting until you approach and realise that the atmosphere is quite festive and fun and a lot more relaxed. A short walk through this market like environment brings you to the grandstands.
The grandstands are the place to be – the more packed they are, the bigger the competition against the ones on the other side of the border. Some seating is reserved for locals, some reserved for non-locals and some for VIP’s, though really it’s just a first come first served style of seating arrangement. We took our seats and were impressed with the National pride as we tried to take it all in at once.
Children, and adolescents first warmed up the cheering crowds by running in a relay style event with Indian Flags. The chant – Hindustan, Hindustan, Hindustan more and more excited with every relay. The guards on the ground, acted more like ushers, making sure there were enough seats for everyone.
The turnout included the young and old, babies, through to elderly – everyone seemed to delight in coming to see the retreat ceremony – some with painted faces, all with big smiles – it felt more like a football match or great sporting event was about to start.
Now that the crowd was well warmed up, the trumpets announced the arrival of the impressive border guards. The guards wasted no time in marching and falling into parade, and displaying to all of the engrossed people in the stands, how well trained they are.
The ceremony and the style of marching and costumes was quite unbelievable. High kicks, slamming steps, speed and flounce. The more dramatic display of marching, the bigger the cheers of support.
What was happening on the Indian side was being emulated almost exactly, to excited cheering and chanting crowds on the Pakistan side too. The flags being lowered in unison and the border gates were thrown wide open.
It was hard to believe that these two neighbours were troubled after such a well-rehearsed, respectful and emulated show. The flags were carried away safely until they were to be raised again in the morning.