In the Autumn of 2019 I travelled to two incredible countries. Two neighbouring countries in Asia with very different ways of life. One a predominately Muslim country and one predominantly Hindu. Everyday at the border between these two countries there is a bizarre but passionate ceremony to mark the closing of the border. In this post I describe all you need to know about visiting the Wagah border ceremony.
If you haven’t guessed by now the two countries I am referring to are India and Pakistan. Prior to partition in 1947 these two countries were under the rule of the British Raj. When Britain agreed to leave India, Ghandi had hoped for India to remain united as one country but this was not to be. Jinnah failed to believe that Muslims, as a minority, would be fully represented in India and eventually the separate nation of Pakistan was born.
The partition museum in Amritsar tells the story of how the physical border came to be where it is now. The task of defining the border in this region was given to two officers in the British Indian army. One Muslim and one Hindu. They were friends who were soon to reside in separate countries. They met on a baron piece of land and simply drew a line in the ground. One side would become India and the other Pakistan. It was as simple as that!
Today this place is known as the Wagah-Attari border. Since 1959 military forces on both sides have practiced a daily ceremony to lower the flags and close the border. In this ceremony border forces, dressed in their respective uniforms, perform drills characterised by furiously paced marching and high leg kicking. Moves that might be more at home in a Monty Python sketch – think Ministry of funny walks!
The ceremony has grown so much in popularity that the border now has custom made stadiums to house all the spectators that come to watch. Although the drills are performed on both sides, the Indian stadium is much bigger and boasts more of a party atmosphere.
I read an article by someone who didn’t want to recommend visiting the ceremony, as they believed it promoted animosity between the two nations. However I disagree. On the surface it appears that one side is trying to better the other with their respective chants and performances but it is exactly that – just a performance. These two countries certainly have their differences but this ceremony is all very tongue in cheek and at the end of the day all spectators leave with a smile on their face.
Between the hours of 10am and 4pm the border is open and functions as a regular, albeit quiet border between India and Pakistan. The largest cities either side of the borer are Lahore in Pakistan and Amritsar in India. Visitors can view the ceremony on either side. If planning to cross the border it is best to cross before 3pm.
You are able to cross the border and then stay to watch the ceremony, however bags are not permitted inside the stadiums. These have to be stored in lockers outside the border complex (50 INR). Lighters, cigarettes and anything that might be perceived as a weapon are not allowed at the Wagah border ceremony. Cameras and cellphones are permitted.
As a foreigner you are not required to show your passport to view the ceremony but it is best to bring it just in case.
The best option to see the Wagah border ceremony is as a day trip from either Lahore or Amritsar.
Your hotel can arrange a private taxi to the border. We were offered one for 2000 PKR. However we spoke to a local travel agent who arranged an Uber for 600 PKR.
A private return taxi to the ceremony can cost as little as 1000 INR. Taxi touts will hassle any foreigners walking around the pedestrian area in Amritsar so just be prepared to haggle.
The cheapest option for visiting the Wagah border ceremony is by shared minibus. The minivans can hold up to 15 people and it costs 100 INR. Tickets can be bought be the same taxi touts that hover around.
To visit the Wagah border ceremony, we opted to take the open top bus. This cost less than 300 INR each for a return trip. The bus departed at 2:30pm and returned by 8:00pm. We enjoyed joining locals on the bus and getting into the party mood!
Times for the Wagah border ceremony will change in the winter, so just check with your hotel.
From the Indian side, after clearing the security screening you begin the long walk towards the stadium. As a foreigner you are ushered towards the designated seating area which has prime view of the border gates.
At around 4pm the party really begins to wind up. A border official/PA guru starts to get the crowd suitably excited with chants of Hindustan, which is matched by chants of Pakistan on the opposing side. Then the crowd have chance to get involved as they are invited to run along the parade area carrying the Indian flag. As the Bollywood music breaks out, ladies are then invited to demonstrate their best dance moves.
After yet more chanting, countless selfies and excessively loud music the ceremony finally begins. Border officials dressed in elaborate outfits march along the parade area towards the border gate. At the end of their comical fast legged march, the officials throw some impressively high kicks and finish with a challenging pose.
This is repeated several times by both sides and finally the guards come together to lower the flags and slam the gates shut for the night. A completely bemusing but highly entertaining tourist attraction!
We stayed at a beautiful boutique hotel close to the Golden Temple called Hotel Krishnas by Urban Galaxy. The family were really sweet and helpful. No breakfast was included but the rooms were clean and reasonably priced.
Amritsar’s most famous dish is the Amritsari kulcha. A sort of Paratha stuffed with cottage cheese or potato. Kulcha Land, which has been operational since before partition, is the best place to try this local delicacy. For more information on local Amritsar cuisine take a look at this site.
The Golden Temple is a must for any visit to Amritsar. This beautiful Sikh temple is open to visitors from all religions and is free to enter. Include a visit to the kitchen which provides free food to any who need it. Visit at dawn or dusk (times vary depending on the time of year so check with your hotel) to see the holy book being carried into and out of the temple.
This museum is great for providing some context before a trip to the Wagah border ceremony. It was the world’s first museum dedicated to partition. The museum, which is based in the town hall, contains videos, original artefacts donated by refugees, photographs and government documents. 250 INR entry fee.
A historic garden housing a museum, gallery and several memorial structures dedicated to one of the darkest days in British army history. On April 13th 1919, British Indian Army soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians who were celebrating a Sikh festival. Without warning, soldiers were ordered to fire on anyone present and to keep firing until their ammunition ran out. Brigadier General Dyer wanted to punish Indians for not obeying a notice that banned all meetings in public places. It became known as the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre.
Have you attended the Wagah Border Ceremony? I’d love to hear what you thought of it!
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