On a cold Friday afternoon, we traced our way back from Amritsar towards the Wagah border to witness the famous Beating the Retreat ceremony. After a sumptuous meal followed by a tall glass of thick lassi at one of the roadside dhabas, we left the holy city at 3 pm to be present for the five o’ clock flag lowering ceremony of both India and Pakistan.
Crossing lush mustard fields and traversing over 30 kilometres in the still, cold, March evening, we reached the Attari Border and visited the almost empty and surprisingly clean International Railway station.
We even witnessed the arrival of a goods train from Pakistan that was loaded with sugar, fruits, vegetables and other items while another Indian train fully loaded with every kind of trading item, was still in the yard and preparing to move.
We made our way to see the integrated check post on the Grand Trunk Road at Attari that is pretty modern, massive and swanky and enables traders from Pakistan to unload their goods directly at this facility instead of at the border point.
However, local traders said that no such facility has been provided for Indian traders by the Pakistani authorities and unloading of goods was still a big problem.
Encountering checks at innumerable points to the last post, we crossed many hurdles and walked a bit till we reached the gates bearing the Indian flag.
The entire atmosphere at the Wagah Border was unbelievable with loudspeakers blaring patriotic songs and the tall soldiers of the Border Security Force walking with haughty long strides.
On the Indian side, the open sitting arena was completely packed with people from every corner of the country, occupying every available chair and eagerly awaiting the ceremony. However, my eyes were on the other side where the Pakistani rangers dressed grimly in their greens were being cheered by a few youngsters sitting on the side walk.
The khaki-red combination of the BSF stands out while the Pakistani rangers merge into the dull background. The security cordon is very thick and amid the joyful rendering of Saare Jahan Se Achcha, the parade begins and the soldiers walk as if still at war. Both sides make gestures that are very aggressive as well as comical, displaying one upmanship.
The taller the soldier, the more strident strides he takes, but this is basically an effort to impress the people. The massive gates are opened ceremoniously while the flags are lowered slowly even as the dusk sets at Wagah.
Finally, the flags are folded with six soldiers on the Indian side marching with it across the sitting arena in the highly volatile, patriotic atmosphere and the lone soldier from each side shaking hands very brusquely. The gates are closed once again with the crowds jostling and joining in to sing the national anthem in all patriotic fervour.