Amritsar

Yesterday we experienced something we won’t forget and feel so fortunate to have witnessed. It is called “Beating Retreat Ceremony” and it is a joint Pakistan Rangers and BSF-Border Security Forces border-closing ceremony that has been held daily since 1959 between the Pakistan border crossing of Wagah and the Indian crossing of Attari. Crowds of 20,000 plus per side are not unusual and the pomp and ceremony is an energy filled electrifying experience that spans 45 minutes. The crowds on both sides compete with deafening sound levels of music and cheers trying to out do each others show of patriotism. The well-trained and practiced soldiers, decked out in their flamboyant uniforms march towards each other’s border gates, stilt walking, high kicking and then muscle flexing in front of the gates that separate the two countries. Armed soldiers stand facing each other, steely eyed and motionless as the ceremony unfolds behind them. Finally, after great fanfare, cheering and ear blasting horns, chants and cheering, the gates are swung open and a soldier from each side confront and face each other and then give a very large swinging handshake. They turn and both proceed to their respective countries flag poles which are side by side, and proceed to lower their flags, the Pakistanis lowering the Indian flag and vice versa in an X of flag rope. Once lowered, a salute and the border gates are slammed shut. This part of the border is now closed until morning and then at 4:30 the next afternoon the whole affair will repeat with thousands more spectators showing up to experience this show of patriotism. Unfortunately, and always on our minds while we travel in countries where stability is fragile there was a serious incident here in 2014 when a suicide bomber on the Pakistan side killed 60 people and injured 110. There have been smaller and not fatal  incidents at the border but you never know when, where or how the next hit will come. Pakistan and India are not the best of  friends and we read about cross border gunfire and attacks on a regular basis. The issue here unfortunately is religion as far as we can tell. We could see and practically taste the difference between the crowds on the Pakistani side versus the Indian side. There was a very palatable difference in the way each side behaved with the Indian side inviting the girls from the crowd to dance to Bollywood music in the border area. The Indian side was full of people wearing  baseball caps emblazoned with “I love my India” while the other side wore burka, hijab and niqabs and seating was separated by male only, female only and  family sections. Both sides waved their countries flags.

After watching this border extravaganza our driver, Jespal Singh drove us back to our hotel where we bid our farewells. We spent 13 days with “Paul” and we enjoyed every moment. He is a great guy and we’ll miss him.

Thanks Paul for keeping us safe through all the crazy mountain roads we travelled.

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