Amritsar Today we travelled by train to Amritsar in a luxury executive chair cabin so the five and a half hour journey flew by. Amritsar is situated 30kms from the Attari-Wagah border with Pakistan. This border was one of the reasons why we were here even though the tensions between the two countries are high and generally you don’t want to be anywhere near the border. This border is where the two countries have a pissing contest as to who can high step the highest while taking down their respective flags at the border at the end of the day. Sounds ridiculous but I am serious.
So we dropped off our bags at our hostel and headed out to find a rickshaw to take us there. We were told to get there at least an hour early as they won’t let you in otherwise. Tim’s sister had been and we were told it was crazy but still were not prepared for what we were going to witness. As we started to get closer to the border we started seeing army checkpoints and soon arrived at a massive car park that was humming with people. We thought there would be a few hundred people but when we joined the throngs walking the last part to the border we realized there were thousands coming to see the ceremony.
We tried to line up with the rest of the Indians but were taken aside by one army man and once our passports were checked we were put in the special line which meant we got through the security checks in minutes. Tim has been telling me about the massive flag pole India erected on their side of the border and the flag is that big it keeps ripping apart due to the breeze. We saw the flagpole but unfortunately it didn’t have the flag on it. Although large we were pretty skeptical of the 100m high boast of the Indians.
The gate was surrounded by grandstands that could seat thousands and these were being extended as well to almost create a half stadium around the gate. The atmosphere of the place was like a carnival and there were hawkers selling Indian flags, hats and umbrellas in Indian colours. We sat down in the designated foreigners section and proceeded to melt for the next hour waiting for the place to fill up. Luckily there was an icecream man.
Glancing over at the Pakistan border, they also had grandstands but the volume of people wasn’t the same. Soon music was blasting out of the Pakistani speakers which enticed a massive chant from our side. Soon our side was blasting music as well and then a party started. Indian flags were run up and down the Indian side of the border by a string of ladies, a man with a mic came on to pump up the crowd and then a little rave started up with everyone dancing like crazy on the strip.
After a while the space was cleared and the guards came out to a thunderous applause. Their outfits were amazing. The show piece though was their peacock hats. I must mention that India actually had two ladies in the procession as well who went out first but I don’t think Pakistan has progressed that far yet as they didn’t have any opposition on the other side.
After the girls went it was the men’s turn to quickly walk to the gate and then proceed to stamp and high step and gesticulate insulting hand signals to the other side of the fence. All the while receiving the same from the Pakistani side. It was one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen in my entire life. The crowd loved it. I have absolutely no idea when this display started or if it started off as an actual insult to each other and then progressed into a show that is obviously rehearsed by both sides but it was very entertaining.
All this showmanship is for the taking down of the flags which after about half an hour of fanfare actually happened. Then we shuffled out in the crowd which must have been at least 5 thousand back to our waiting rickshaw driver to take us back to Amristar.
By the time we got home it was dark so we headed out for some dinner. Amristar is also famous due to the Sikh’s Golden Temple. It’s their holiest shrine and as we walked towards the temple the streets became clean and wide and the pavement tiled and the road paved. The buildings all seemed to have had a recent facelift with some having a new facade built in front to make them prettier. We both commented that the place had a wonderful vibe to it. More like what we had experienced before we hit the golden triangle. People only asked once if would like a rickshaw or if we wanted to come into their shops. People were welcoming us to India and smiles were shared when we made eye contact. We both breathed a sigh of relief realizing we had hit real India again. S
Waiting for the show with all our India merchandise.
The extended grandstands.
The party before the show.
Notice how high this guy managed to get his foot. I think a fair bit of stretching must go on before the show.
A snippet of the stomping.