Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wagah border ceremony: When 10.000 people go to see the flag going down

Amritsar is situated right next to the Indian-Pakistani border. After visiting the temple, we headed 18 km to the west to watch the probably most famous border ceremony in the world - the flag ceremony at the Wagah border.

Some of you (including myself) have probably seen one of the countless YouTube videos, where soldiers dressed in colorful uniforms perform a ritual which reminds some rather of a show than a military exercise. However, the reality is much more impressive than the recording.

Once at the border, we passed quite a few control gates - the security measures are quite high. At the main area, there are tribunes for ~5,000 people - with the same setup at the Pakistani side of the gate.

Since the ceremony itself starts at the sunset, the arriving visitors were entertained with Indian patriotic songs. Some also have the Indian flag painted on the cheek and enjoy the attraction.

The tension and the cheer of the crowd rise constantly. Whatever happens at the Indian side, is being repeated by the Pakistanis and vice versa. After a while, you find yourself amongst loud Indian war songs, thousands of people cheering war slogans ("Hindustan zindabad" and "Bharat mana kim jai") and the soldiers preparing for the ceremony.

The commander gives the signal to start, and the squad rushes to the gate, with everyone making the famous move - the stretched leg is being swung up to the head. With the soldiers up to 2 meters tall (the selection criteria seem to be quite tough), this is quite an astonishing exercise. Exactly the same procedure takes place on the other side. Although the soldiers have serious faces, it does look like a show, and is indeed quite entertaining. However, a somebody who lives in Germany and sees thousands of people cheering nationalist slogans, always feels a bit uncomfortable.

The ceremony ends when the flags are being lowered and carried to the base for the night time. We will cross the gate to India again and head back to Ludhiana.

What a day!

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