While tensions along the Pakistan – Indian border are still as high as ever, the ceremony taking place at the Wagah border makes it seem like a game.
The most ridiculous border crossing ever!
I’m sitting inside Alexine at the border of Pakistan – India while the army and tall man in beautiful uniforms stand in front of us. An ugly voice screams through the speakers while more and more people gather at the crossing.
Again stuck at the border
We are late, too late. Apparently the border closes at 15:30 and it’s 16:16 now. We were here at 15.20 but due to all the police stops before the border we ran a bit late. Oh the story is even more fun. We were here at 14:00 but Yuri forgot the carnet de passage in the hotel in Lahore so we had to go back to the hotel to pick it up, thus we are late.
But, the Pakistani people are – as always – incredibly nice and helpful and they do their best to make us go through. But the more we are sitting here, the more people arrive, the less the chance that India lets us through. In Pakistan we arranged everything, even got a free extension because our visas were expired. Yep, that’s allowed for two weeks. It’s honestly hard to beat the Pakistani friendliness and helpfulness.
But all kindness is in vain. India doesn’t let us through. People are coming in to watch the flag ceremony and it looks like we will watch it from the Pakistan side. One more night in Pakistan it is. It’s a bit annoying but I guess that’s it. Again, we made a mistake and we have to pay. Entering Pakistan and exiting. Hopefully it’s not a harbinger for the rest of the trip. Although, this is our last border crossing for a while. We will be travelling through India for a bit more than a month and around half October fly back to the Netherlands while Alexine takes the boat.
But before that, it’s time to enjoy as much as we can from India. Our idea is to mainly explore the regions of Kashmir and Ladakh. We might say hi to the Dalai Lama, take a dive in the Ganges and see some amazing forts in Radjestan. We will of course visit the Taj Mahal and hopefully see some tigers. That’s a lot for just a month but we’ll try to squeeze everything in and make our last month of travel a memorable one.
erritorial disputes over the Kashmir region sparked two of the three major Indo-Pakistani wars in 1947 and 1965, and a limited war in 1999. Although both countries have maintained a fragile cease-fire since 2003, they regularly exchange fire across the contested border, known as the Line of Control.
Both sides accuse the other of violating the cease-fire and claim to be shooting in response to attacks.
Defending the borders
For now we just wait in the immigration office of Pakistan. We will sleep here tonight, watch the special flag ceremony – today extra special because it’s the defence day of Pakistan, and I might read a book before falling asleep.
Defence day is celebrated in Pakistan as national day to commemorate the sacrifices made by Pakistani soldiers in defending its borders. The date of 6 September marks the day in 1965 when Indian troops crossed the international border to launch an attack on Pakistani Punjab, in a riposte to Pakistan’s Operation Grand Slam targeting Jammu.
So apparently it’s a very special day. Maybe in the end it isn’t so bad to experience this nationalistic behaviour from the Pakistan site. It’s almost time so we get ourselves to the border. I get some kind of flag thing on my head and we carry the Pakistani flag. A lot of noise, music and many people. Shouting, cheering, waving flags. Such nationalistic behaviour. On the Indian side the people go crazy when they see people waving a flag in front of them. The Pakistani site is a lot more down to earth. A proud nation that doesn’t have to show off too much. I think I’m on the right side.
This whole ceremony is based on hostilities. Two nations that once were one are now fighting since they separated. Some cheerleaders on the Indian side make the whole situation look like a football – or cricket for that matter – match. I read the words “India’s first line of defence”, and that’s the problem. Defence against what? The people that at some point of history was part of the country as much as the inhabitants living there are now? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Pakistan Zindabad coming from speakers that are so loud I’m sure I won’t be able to hear anything anymore for the coming days. The difference between Pakistan and India might not be so big but here at the border it’s quite clear. Indians are a lot more nationalistic and incredibly loud than Pakistanis are. The stands on the Indian side are also a lot bigger than the Pakistani side. It’s one big show off who’s better, bigger, stronger. Ridiculous in my opinion. I wonder how it looked like if this was the Dutch / German border. The Dutch dressed in orange, singing or horrible anthem, waving our ugly flag. And the Germans in their football jerseys, drinking a beer and maybe – hopefully – listening to some good old Rammstein ‘Deutschland Uber alles’. It would be one big joke. At the border with Belgium it would be fun. We would drink beers together, eat fries and make bad jokes about each other. Or it would all go nuts. To be honest I can’t imagine how it would be and I’m very happy that I can’t. This whole border thing is idiotic, let alone a ceremony about whose feet can rise higher. Because that’s what they are doing. The national volleyball team of both India and Pakistan has been invited, haven’t seen any tall Pakistanis until now. To top it they carry wavers on their heads and are dressed in clothes that are certainly not made for this weather. I wonder if height was one of the things they had to cross off when applying for this job.
A man passes offering drinks, another crisps and another flags. Like we’re going to watch some cricket match. Something the Pakistanis have and the Indians don’t is the immersive flag, the biggest I have ever seen. The Indians have lost the toss and we’re only allowed a stand too big for a simple border. But no flag on their side.
While the people are waving their flags I’m getting a headache. It’s warm, the music (can you call it music) is too loud (cause one side shouldn’t hear the other side) and the bandana around my head is a bit too tight. Oh even popcorn!! Wow, this border crossing tops all the others. It’s officially the most ridiculous border crossing we’ve ever been. Celebrating your nation is fine, but small things like this offer space for racism, nationalism and hatred. But maybe sports when national teams play do the same. I don’t know. It probably is. I’m also quite the nationalist when it comes to the Dutch teams playing sports 😁 but I don’t think I would ever attend a border crossing like this in The Netherlands. I’m quite happy that our European borders are open – for people inside them and owning a European passport of course. Everyone else is stopped and pushed back to whatever cost.
Ok, it’s 17:15, time to look around and enjoy this weird spectacle a bit.
So the ceremony starts with who has the longest breath and makes a sound. Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh and Pakistan wakes up. A song where they shout “Allah Akbar” as loud as they can. Passionately they join in. And there the tall men come in. I’m sure they’ve rounded up all the tall men of Pakistan for this job. They are incredibly big! With beautiful moustache and pitch black beards which they certainly have dyed. They wear beautiful black costumes with teints of red. On the Indian side the men are a bit less tall but still taller then me, they were beige uniforms and more colourful headdress. In short: the men walk towards each other in a way that I do when I’m angry. Quick, harsh and faced forwards. The only difference is that they throw their legs in the air half way through. Something I don’t normally do. High high up, I’m sure they do yoga. They make some movements with their hands before they go touch their moustache in a way I’m sure that didn’t evolve since the British empire. A man with a sword waves a bit with it, towards India and they towards Pakistan. It’s all one big circus to be honest. Some clowns are making the people shout and sing while the men in uniform dance, tiptoe and walk angrily towards each other. At the end of the ceremony, which is really just walking towards each other, raising their legs, touching the moustache, there is a firm handshake. The gate closes and the ceremony is over.
But on the Pakistan side we get some extra performance in remembrance and honour of the fallen soldiers. This is more my type of ceremony. Many men in red uniform perform synchronised with their guns. It’s fun. The music changed from this horrible speakers to live on the ground and it’s a whole nicer. In India the people walk away from the scene.
After the whole parade there is a photo session and then it’s over. Well not entirely. People ask US for selfies as well. Not just the men in beautiful uniforms but us!! And as we are in a good mood we say YES to all of them. Meaning we can’t move an inch without a selfie is being taken. But the police is there to help out, they push people back, back and back so that the street soon becomes empty and there is nothing left of the crowded noisy ceremonial border crossing.
We are at the parking of the immigration office. It’s hot and mosquitos appear. It’s dark and it’s quiet. Absolutely quiet. A man if the immigration office comes to us and gives us some cookies (I bet we look as if we’re starving 😉). And there we go, one more night in Pakistan, another night at the border. For the first time we hang up a mosquito net. Not because it wouldn’t have helped us before but because we forgot we had one with us 🤣 We watch a movie and go to sleep. Tomorrow we will cross the border into India! We will stay one night in Amritsar, visit the holy golden temple of the Sikh and then move to the North again where it’s cool, green and a bit more quiet.
Love, Milene & Yuri.
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