The Retreat Ceremony at Wagah Border
[Once done, we could hear the announcements and the cheering inside the stadium.]
It had started !
Without bothering about anything in the world. The whole of half a kilometer. Without stopping.
The stadium was jam packed; there was no space even to go up the stairs. I pushed, squeezed and slowly made my way up there.
There I was. Every single obstacle that we crossed was worth the moment. The ceremony had just begun.
This was after the ceremony
Have you ever watched a live cricket or hockey match between India and Pakistan in a stadium ?
The whole aura of hooting, shouting, jumping and pumping, passion & patriotism running at all time high is nothing compared to what I had experienced the day I was at Wagah border, just a few meters away from Pak territory.
It was well-known neighbour rivalry like Israel-Palestine, Australia-New Zealand and of course India-Pakistan at its best but in a healthy manner.
I never knew the magnitude of this place in terms of popularity. I was imagining myself going there like a film star and chatting and dancing with Indian soldiers the way they show on TV channels. And if they allow me, I would go and shake hands with Paki soldiers as well.
But no, I was so very wrong. Instead of a few gun toting, hawk-eyed soldiers guarding a deserted gate on India Pakistan international border, what I found was truck loads of alert but friendly army men guiding a strong 10,000 crowd to the stadium packed to beyond its full capacity !!
When the sun decides to say goodbye to a peaceful day its time for the reunion, which transcends the boundaries, that man has laid. A long white line, borne with partition of Indian empire, defines the border between the neighbours and two heavy gates, about two meters apart, stand across either side.
The retreat ceremony is performed in a perfectly coordinated daily ritual for almost 60 years. It takes place with the Border Security Force (B.S.F.) on the Indian side and the Sutlej Rangers on the Pakistan side putting up a well co-ordinated and spectacular display which can be compared with the changing of royal guards in London.
It starts with the sound from the bugles blown together from both sides, the thump of heavy boots, glowering looks, aggressive snorts, chanting of “Bharat mata ki jai” and “Vande Matram” provoking an equally patriotic response from Pakistani crowd in the form of “Pakistan Zindabad” across the border.
The Indians play war music, the Pakistanis play religious music. The Indian crowd of around 10000 sings and dances irrespective of age, caste, creed, status or gender. Pakistanis, much less in no. stay in their seats, men on one side and women on the other. The gate separating them is called Baab-e-Azadi (Gate of Freedom).
At the far end is the Pakistani gate and beyond that the Pakistani crowd
The rituals are performed with utmost duty.
Then silence falls.
Only the clacking of boots and the snorts of the soldiers can be heard. Carefully folded, the national flags are carried away by marching soldiers.
The gates are slammed shut and on both sides, a trumpet announces the end of the spectacle. Both officers return to the white border line and a final martial handshake without exchanging a single glance is watched by thousands each evening. They show their anger and their determination, but it always stays formal.
The silence was killing. We didn’t know what to do. Many of the people had come there more than once and so they gestured, started moving.
We followed with heavy heart. Why do we have wars ? Why do we have boundaries ?
P.S.– We had shot more than 80 snaps inside the stadium but ‘force’ of the crowd was such that most of them have blurred effect. But I promise to post some of them in one of the posts.
Note:-1. The duration of ceremony is 45 minutes.
2. Best time to reach the stadium is around 2 to 3 PM, well before the ceremony starts. You’ll get a good seat for a better view.
3. Avoid taking valuables with you, you can not take them in.
4. Since you can not carry your cell phones, try to be together with your dear ones. Once lost in that crowd it is difficult to find one another. No amount of shouting can help you. In our case, we knew what we’d do in case we lose contact.