Two nations officially at war, don’t typically show their superiority through a dance competition, but India and Pakistan seem to resolve their problems through high kicks. We have seen a lot of strange shows on this trip, with North Korea’s Arirang Games and India’s Wagah border being at the top of the list. The choreographed display of nationalism on both the Indian and Pakistan sides of the border were provocative and entertaining. Amritsar has the only road border crossing into Pakistan from India where the Wagah border ceremony is performed with pride despite or arguably because of the difficult relations between the two countries.
The packed stands full of Indians ready to cheer on their high kicking soldiers
Sitting in the grandstands on the Indian side of the border between Pakistan it was hard not to be swept up in the infectious pride for a country I am not even a citizen of. People of all ages, backgrounds and countries ran down the road flying the Indian flag. Everyone was all smiles despite their proximity to a stated arch-nemesis, Pakistan. However, the real spectacle started when the guards came marching down the street and started a high kicking display to rival the Rockettes. All this while the Pakistani’s put their own performance of equal fervor on across the demarcation line.
A little boy takes his turn running the Indian flag in front of the packed stands
For two countries that have a rocky history dating back to the violent partition of British India in 1947 and conflicts as recent as the Mumbai attack in 2008 this carefully choreographed display of derision is a demonstration of patriotism not to be missed. Mind you, keeping a straight face as you take in the concussion-inducing kicks of soldiers wearing, not helmets, but ridiculous colored headgear is tough, while holding a gun nonetheless.
An impressively high kick by an Indian border guard
It’s hard, in between the giggles, to not marvel at this display of either peace or competition between two seemingly contemptuous countries. It is hard to determine if India was taunting Pakistan with their crowds of woman without head coverings and the open acceptance of foreigners from countries all over the world in their stands. I still can’t decide if the Wagah border is a place where two countries play nice or where they battle it out in a strangely non-violent theater-like production. While neither country is extending an olive branch, based on history it’s somewhat amazing that they aren’t causing harm to the spectators on either side.
The Pakistani and Indian flags being officially lowered and the border closing for the night.
While I’m not sure country deserves any awards for peace, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of hope for future relations between India and Pakistan as I left the Wagah border. As the guards lowered the flags from each side and the crowd started cheering I felt a certain sense of equanimity as if now that the flags were not there to divide us we were all just ordinary people unmarked by the labels of our respective countries. At the end of the day realizing that we are all just normal people that want the same basic things, such as a safe home for our families and a better future for our children, we’ll be a lot closer to finding peace.
WHEN YOU GO:
The border closing ceremony happens daily, booking a taxi is easy to do around the Golden Temple area in Amritsar. As always shop around and sharing a car is cheaper than hiring a private driver.
Don’t bring a bag, sometimes the guards are lenient on letting you in with a bag, but it’s easier to just bring your camera and nothing else to avoid hassle
Bring water, the border show takes awhile and the vendors charge a higher price once you’re at the border.
Don’t forget your camera, you can take pictures of all the stunts, so make sure you have a full battery and your camera at the ready.