Try to guess who I am. I am guarded by hundreds of soldiers, and thousands of people visit me daily. I have been standing here across the Grand Trunk Road for years, silently witnessing some of the most important political activities of the area.
Let me introduce myself. I am the Berlin Wall of South Asia. I am the Wagah Border.
Wagah Border History
I came into being when the Radcliffe Line was drawn in 1947, as part of the Partition of India and India's Independence from British rule.
This separated India and Pakistan, and divided the village of Wagah into eastern and western parts. The eastern part went to India and the western part to the newly born Pakistan.
I am the gate that saw the bloodshed of the Partition and the exodus of millions of people across me. I suddenly gained supreme importance as I served as the international border checkpoint between India and Pakistan.
Wagah Border Flag Ceremony
A flag retreat ceremony happens at my place every day throughout the year at sunset. It attracts more than 1,000 people from both sides of the border.
For the ceremony, you have to arrive well before sunset to get a proper seat in my open air theater. There are separate seats for men, women and foreigners just about 300 feet from me.
If you are coming from Amritsar, I am 19 miles away. The best way to get here is to take a private taxi or a shared Jeep.
Once you arrive, you can sense an aura of celebration with patriotic songs played before the actual ceremony begins.
You can even march on the road toward me with the flag waving in your hands. The procession is marked with loud shouts of patriotism from both sides.
The procession happens with clinical military precision and lasts for about 45 minutes. You can see well-dressed Indian Border Security Force soldiers in khaki and Pakistani Sutlej Rangers dressed in black taking part in the ceremony.
For the flag retreat, the soldiers march toward me, the gate at the border. Their march is extremely energetic and passionate, with the feet of the marching soldiers rising almost to their foreheads.
As the soldiers of both sides reach the gate, it is flung open. The flags of both countries, flying high at the same height, have to be lowered with full respect and brought back. The soldiers salute one another and start the flag lowering.
The strings with the flags attached are of equal lengths, and the lowering of flags is so immaculate that the flags make a symmetrical "X" at the point of crossing. The flags are then carefully folded, and the gates are slammed shut. A loud sound of a trumpet announces the end of the ceremony, and the soldiers march back with their respective flags.
Tips for Visiting the Wagah Border
- The starting time of the ceremony changes depending on the time of year. It commences at 4.30 p.m. in winter and 5.30 p.m. in summer. Arrive at least an hour earlier to proceed through security check and get a good seat.
- Weather-wise, the best time to go is from the end of August up until the middle of March. You can go after this if you don't mind the summer heat. A benefit of doing so is that there will be less people, so it's easier to get better seats.
- Foreigners must show their passport to access the special seating area reserved for foreign tourists near the gates.
- There's a VIP seating area closest to the gates. In order to get a pass, you'll need to know someone in the Indian army, Border Security Force (BSF), customs department, or someone connected to the Indian government at a high level. Reservations need to be made a couple of days in advance of the ceremony at the BSF station on the Amritsar Bypass Road.
- Cellphone signals are blocked in the area to avoid any untoward activities. Be prepared to deal with the lack of communications.
- Leave your bags at your hotel, as they're not allowed in the area. It's okay to bring a camera inside but not a camera bag.
- Pickpockets operate around the Wagah Border, so take extra care with your belongings. In case of theft, report it to the police station at the border.
- There are a few eateries close by where you can get snacks of acceptable but not great quality.
- You can buy a CD/DVD of the entire flag ceremony and procession. Many vendors sell such items, but be careful not to buy poor-quality pirated copies.
- About 1,000 people leave the area at the same time to head back to Amritsar after the flag ceremony has finished. Be prepared to face traffic jams and delays as you would at any heavily attended event.
- If you want to take an inexpensive tour to the Wagah Border ceremony, check out the day trip offered by Jugaadus Eco Hostel.