November 23, 2008

The Wagah Border

In 1947 India was partitioned into two sovereign nations by the British. India and Pakistan were born amidst much bloodshed and suffering, and a rivalry has existed ever since. Lahore, the capital of Pakistan, is only around 50 kilometers from Amritsar. The only road border between these two is located near the village of Wagah at the Attari-Wagah joint check post. The border crossing hosts a daily flag lowering ceremony at sundown. Soldiers from both countries shout patriotic slogans, march, and simultaneously lower the flags as onlookers cheer on from both sides.

Following a quick meal in Amritsar, we caught a local bus heading in the general direction of Pakistan. After taking the public bus as far as it would go, Stein and I hopped onto a cycle rickshaw, before walking the final few hundred metres to the border region. There was a festival atmosphere complete with spontaneous outbursts of dancing, tasty treats being sold by vendors, and lots of families with children present. As the time for the ceremony drew near, the soldiers wisely divided the crowd based on gender. A limited amount of stadium seating is available to watch the ceremony, and it is subdivided into sections for men and women. The unruly male segment of the crowd started pushing and climbing over each other in order to get a prime viewing position. It was reminiscent of the grape crushing portion of the wine making process. As the ceremony came to an end, everyone spilled on to the street to take photos with the soldiers, the large gate separating the two countries visible in the background.


"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance."

- Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister on the eve of independence