The Amazing Wagah Border Ceremony

on Thursday, 25 March 2010

We arrived at Amritsar station at about 3:30am, brilliant! We end up getting a rickshaw to a hostel we have found, but they want 1200R, so we give it a miss. We walk through the golden temple complex and there is hundreds of people sleeping around the temple and loads of people going in. We try a few hostels but they want us to pay for the rest of that night and also the next night, which we don’t want to have to. In the end, we are going to just camp out and not bother with a hostel for that night, but then we come across a place that will do us a 24 hour stay for 650R and as we are leaving at 6:30am, this works out perfect, so we get the rest of tonight and the next night for the same price or less than most other places wanted. We get a few hours sleep, but as we are only here for one day and we want to visit the Golden Temple and the Wagah border ceremony, we can’t sleep in too much. First things first we go about organizing our trip to the border crossing. We are given two options, one is to have a taxi take us and also stop at a couple of temples and a water park for 400R each or a shared minibus to the border and back for 75R each. We decide as we haven’t got much time anyway we will just take the shared minibus ride, which I think seems pretty cheap for a 60km round trip.

Next we decide to check out the Golden Temple, this is to Sikhs, what Mecca is to Muslims, and the place is constantly busy. Even better it is free and they also do free meals for everybody, although we didn’t try it. We have to leave our shoes outside and also wear a bandana to cover our hair. I can safely say this is the most impressive thing I have seen on this trip and imagine it will be on par with the Taj Mahal. The Temple is situated in the middle of a large pond with a walkway joining it to the outer square. Apparently the temple is made of 750kg of gold, I’m not sure what the price of gold is at the moment, but that must be a hell of a lot of money in the 10’s of millions of pounds. We take some photos from the outside, and decide not to go inside as the queue is absolutely massive.

We have a couple of hours spare so have a bit of food and use a internet cafe opposite the temple entrance, while we wait for our minibus to the border at 3:30pm.

We go and catch the minibus which is basically a Mitsubishi Supercarry with some seats in the back. We arrive and there are already four Indians in the back, we are told to get in the front. We jump in but I am half sitting on the drivers seat with the gear stick wedged against my leg, I think surely this cannot be right he can’t drive like this, and with space for two people still in the back, Tom is about to get in the back when the bloke turns up with two more passengers, now we have 8 of us to get in. The other two passengers, a couple of Canadians jump in the back and the driver tells me to straddle the gear stick, with my foot almost on the clutch. So for 45 minutes I have to sit in the middle of two seats with my arms in the air and just hoping the bloke doesn’t have to put it in reverse. Now i know why it was only 75R each!

We arrive at the border and there isn’t really any information about where to go, we are convinced to sit down and are told it doesn’t start for an hour and a half, and we don’t need to go straight in. We sit and watch as people start going in and see several tourist going in, so decide to go in ourselves. I have read that there is a part reserved for tourists, but as we walk in there is no signs or guidance by any of the numerous guards, apart from a women's and a men's section, so we end up going with everyone else. We think we have fairly good seats right at the front of the grandstand, shortly after we start seeing the tourists come in and go into their own little section, but we can’t be bothered to get up and move, so stay where we are. The Indian side fills up very quickly and gets unbelievably cramped and our view is soon made a lot worse with people standing in front of us, not to mention we are sitting on concrete and it is absolutely sweltering. We are sitting there over an hour before the ceremony begins, with just loud music, people dancing in the middle of the border area and school children charging up and down towards the Pakistani side with Indian flags. Eventually the ceremony starts and the man with the microphone starts some chants going and jeering up the crowd. By which time there is more people on the Pakistani side and they have their own music and chanting going on. Once the crowd are all worked up the guards come out and the ceremony starts with each of the guards being given the microphone and just giving the longest shout possible, after which they look like they are about to pass out and then they march really quickly up towards the border gate.

They continue with the shouting and then starts the high kicking and generally trying to intimidate each other on each side of the border. We can’t really see the Pakistani side, but it seems they are doing the same sort of thing. This continues for about half an hour, with the gate opening and closing several times and finally finishes with both sides hoisting and lowering their flags together. This really is a weird ceremony, but so far one of the highlights of the trip for me, a definite must see if you are in the area. They perform the ceremony every day at about 6pm, and it is free to watch, just make sure you get in the tourist section if you want a good view, or in the Indian section for the atmosphere. With the ceremony over, everybody rushes out and it turns into a huge stampede, we push through and quickly get back to our minibus, luckily we are first and get in the back for the return trip.

We get back to Amritsar and decide we will have another visit to the Golden Temple and see if we can have a look inside. We get in and it is almost as busy as it was in the middle of the day, we decide we will queue anyway. A lot of the people stop and kneel at the entrance and kiss it for, in some cases quite along time. Inside there is constant chanting, almost the complete inside is covered in gold, with a huge chandelier in the middle. We have a quick look around and then leave, getting an early night for our train at 6:30am to Delhi and then transfer to another train to Agra, a total journey of about 13 hours and this time during the day in seats, not beds. Can’t wait!


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