Friday, November 01, 2013

Passport-less check-in ‘near Lahore, Pakistan’, Wagah Border

The ultimate and the most-eagerly looked forward to destination of my Amritsar trip was the visit to the Wagah Border for the flag lowering ceremony in the evening. We left our hotel at around 3.30 PM (which we realized later, was quite late) and drove on the straight GT Road (literally, not a single curve and you can cross the border!) to reach Wagah Border by 4.30 PM. Thanks to the previous day’s rain, we were told that the parking area was flooded and the cars will have to be parked on the side of the main road and the rest of the way till the viewing stands would have to be covered by foot. You would not need any kind of guidance to reach the stands. Just follow the crowd. Yes, it is a huge crowd!
 
Heading to the Swarn Jayanti Dwar, Wagah Border, India
As soon as we were standing in the long queue leading up to the security check, we realized two major mistakes we did: One, we hadn’t booked the VIP seats which we could easily have done at Amritsar and two, because we didn’t have seats booked and it was the Dussehra holiday weekend, we should have reached here at least an hour ago so as to get seats in the stands. The place was overcrowded today!

We got done with the frisking at the security check which I felt was very hastily done. Even malls in Delhi have better security checks! We moved towards the Swarn Jayanti Dwar, the gate that we have seen so many times in Hindi movies. The stands on both the sides were overcrowded and people were spilling out on the stairs. I had to make an attempt to see what was happening. Coming to the Border and not being able to see the ceremony- I wasn’t going to accept that! Along with my cousin, I entered the stand on our right, pushing our way through the crowd and ultimately being able to reach a pedestal from where we could see the ceremony quite clearly. As soon as we were settled and waited for the ceremony to begin, a startling reality came to our notice- the Pakistan side gate and everything else was not at all visible from this place, in fact from this entire stand! I was disappointed but in no mood to move out of the stand and risk not being able to see the ceremony at all.

Now allow me to explain the scene I was seeing. Trust me, you want to know this if you haven’t been to Wagah Border! The time was quarter to 5 and the ceremony was to begin in another 45 minutes. About 200 metres in front of me was the Pakistani counterpart of the Swarn Jayanti Dwar. Till the time I hadn’t reached here, I believed these 200 metres were the ‘No Man’s Land’ between the two countries. That’s what we have seen in a few movies. But apparently, there are two more gates right in the centre about 2 metres apart and a white line passes them right in the centre. That is the Radcliffe Line. The India-Pakistan Border. And the two gates are obviously closed. Songs that I have previously only heard on Republic Days and Independence Days at school were on at a loud volume. While Maa Tujhe Salaam played on the Indian side, a similar song could be heard on the Pakistani side. Thousands of people had poured in into the Indian side of the border by now. A clear sight of the Indian over population could be seen here- the Pakistani side stands were nowhere close to full even when the ceremony began while the Indian stands were overcrowded and hundreds of people lined up on the GT Road, waiting anxiously for the ceremony to begin! And just then, the music came to a halt.
 
45 minutes before the ceremony begins; Scene of Wagah Border, India
Indians running with the Tricolour, Wagah Border, India
The BSF Jawans were clearing the crowd from the road and all the necks craned backwards to the Swarn Jayanti Dwar, which on this side had ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’ boldly written on it with the picture of ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ in the centre. And from behind the gate emerged a green bus. This was something unexpected. The bus moved slowly ahead and the words emblazoned on it became clearly visible to me- ‘Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation’. I was surprised. Thousands of people were cheering, clapping and photographing the bus and the few people inside the bus were clicking pictures of India in their final moments of crossing the border into another country. In those few seconds that the bus took to reach the border and the gates were thrown open for the bus to cross the Radcliffe Line and speed into Pakistan (and the gates immediately closed), I was smiling as I knew that just now a new thing had been added to my bucket list!
 
Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation Bus crosses the Wagah Border from Indian side, Wagah Border, India
The crowd watches the bus in awe, Wagah Border, India
The music was back. Meri jaan Tiranga hai… The BSF jawans got huge Indian tricolours and held them out to children, who held the flag and ran till the Border gate and back. What a proud feeling it would be for them, I thought, to hold the tricolor and almost run into the ‘enemy’ territory! This soon followed with more songs. Jai Ho…brought about the hugest claps and cheers and Ye Desh Hai Veer Jawaanon ka brought out all the dancers (bhangra of course!) on the street. Amazing patriotic feeling! You have to see it to believe it!

And then as soon as the clock was about to strike 5.30, the Seema Suraksha Bal title track started playing as the BSF jawans lined up to start the ceremony. Amidst slogans of Hindustan Zindabad, Bharat Mata ki Jai and Vande Mataram, the ceremony began. A competition of sort started with the commanders on both sides of the border. A sound made by them, apparently to see who could make it for the longest time and in a single breath! Hahaha…This was fun! In the 20-30 minutes that followed, the jawans walked in synchronized paths and timings to the border, the gates on both sides were thrown open and the national flags of the two countries were lowered. The march past that the jawans do here is something I had only heard before- that their knees tend to reach their foreheads. Certainly, they do! And the way they come to a halt, it seems they are trying to kick the enemy soldiers away! Although it was a display of courage, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the entire choreography of the ceremony on both sides of the border!
 
Flying the Tricolour high, Wagah Border, India
The Ceremony begins, Wagah Border, India
At the end of the ceremony, people throng the GT Road and get close to the Border Gates, Wagah Border, India
At the end of the ceremony, people on the Indian side flooded the Road. Even I didn’t want to lose this chance to get as close to seeing that ‘white line’ as possible. Amidst hundreds of people, we did manage to reach till about 10 metres away from the Indian gate and got our photographs clicked. The Pakistani side was deserted. The moment felt like a game of dare from the Radcliffe line- ‘You have 30 seconds, look at me as much as you can, and memorize as much of this place as is possible for you, for you won’t be here again anytime soon!
 
The closest I could get to the Border, the Radcliffe Line, Wagah Border, India

And there goes my picture with the Border, Wagah Border, India

This was a very unique moment. A unique feeling. I was looking at a land which was a different country altogether. I was standing at a point where anything could go wrong the very next moment and a war could ensure. I was at a point which movies had shown to me in a completely different light. I was smiling. I was feeling proud. I knew that I have to adhere to this new addition to my bucket list- I have to cross this 10 metre distance, open those two gates and cross the Wagah Border, twice! Yes, twice is an important word here! :D

Giving a final 360 degree look to the entire place, I turned and moved back towards our car, into the depths of my country. A signboard welcomed me into India.
  
The Swarn Jayanti Dwar, as seen from the Border and well, Pakistan; Wagah Border, India
The sign board welcomes me and the many visitors to India everyday; Wagah Border, India

P.S.: Later, I got to know that the check-in I had done on facebook at Wagah Border had somehow marked my location as ‘near Lahore, Pakistan’. True, geographically. Impossible in reality. I do not even have a passport! But yeah, that's why the 'attractive' and 'misleading' title to this post! ;)

In case you missed the previous two posts of my Amritsar trip, here are the links:

2 comments :

  1. Gosh, you took me back in time, to a trip I made there in my childhood! My favourite part was when the Indian and Pakistani guards would compete while saluting, (who could stamp their foot hardest) it was hilarious, and filled me with patriotism at the same time.

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    1. Grt that you liked the post Revati. Thanks for the comment :)

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