A simple flag-lowering exercise at Wagah, the border between India and Pakistan, has been choreographed since 1959 into a belligerent ballet of aggression. It is an act that is mean and menacing yet entertaining and exhilarating. It is also great fun for the spectators. Discover why……..
Ten Interesting Things about Wagah
- Wagah is the border crossing between India and Pakistan. In India it is called Wagah, whereas in Pakistan it is referred to as Wahga. It lies on the famous Grand Trunk Road. It is the only land crossing between the two countries. Sometimes, Indians also call it the Attari border after the village of the same name nearby.
- The closest Indian town on the Indian side of Wagah is Amritsar which is 32 km away. On the Pakistan side, it is the city of Lahore at a distance of 24 km from the border.
- The flag-lowering ceremony conducted every evening at Wagah is called the “Beating Retreat” ceremony. It has been conducted by the Indian Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers since 1959.
- The best description of the flag-lowering ceremony at Wagah has been given by Michael Palin, who after filming the ceremony at Wagah, called it “carefully choreographed contempt”. It has also been described as ‘ornate belligerence” by others. The two sides end up trying to outdo each other with the size of their waxed moustaches, stamping, snorting, staring, kicking and martial cries. The pantomime ‘battle’ can last up to an hour. The act includes puffing up of chests like turkeys and kicking so high in the air that one is in danger of falling or cracking one’s own head. It is ludicrous. It is fun. Fans from both countries egg their soldiers on with cheers, jeers and slogans. A great deal of patriotism is in the air on both sides of Wagah.
- Despite all the intimidation, eyeball- to- eyeball staring and ferocious belligerence, at no point during the 45 minute ceremony is there any physical contact between the two forces. The only physical contact is a terse handshake between both sides at the end of the ceremony when the flags have been drawn down. The border gates are then slammed shut for the night.
- Sweets are normally exchanged between the Indian and Pakistan soldiers on Diwali and Eid. But, when hostilities peak, tradition can always be given a back seat.
- The train that passes through Wagah twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays is called The Samjhauta Express. It links Delhi and Lahore. The word Samjhauta means “agreement” or “accord”.
- Interestingly, the colors of the uniforms worn by porters on both sides of the border are the same color as the uniforms of their cricket teams. Porters on the Indian side wear blue uniforms, whereas porters on the Pakistan side wear green uniforms.
- The “last meal” on the Indian side of the border can be had at Sarhad restaurant. It is just a kilometer from the border and promises to give patrons a ‘taste of Amritsar and Lahore’. In fact, its website proudly proclaims that patrons can ‘enjoy the architectural, cultural and culinary heritage of pre-partition Punjab”.
- Your mobile phones may not work at Wagah. Being a sensitive area, jammers are used to prevent mobiles from working. If they do work, the sound is likely to be unclear and garbled.