Border-Closing Ceremony

Punjab (India)

Every afternoon Indian and Pakistani border guards meet at the border post between Attari and Wagah to engage in a 30-minute display of military showmanship that verges on pure theatre. Officially, the purpose of the ceremony is to lower the national flag and formally close the border for the night, but what actually occurs is a bizarre mix of pseudo-formal and competitive marching, flag-folding, chest beating, forceful stomping and almost comical high-stepping. Bring your passport.

While the participants treat the ceremony with absolute seriousness, the crowds who gather to watch from the grandstands on either side of the border come for the carnival mood. During the build-up to the ceremony, spontaneous anthem chanting, rapturous rounds of applause and Bollywood-style dancing in the street are de rigueur. Then a roar goes up from the crowd as the first soldier from each side marches furiously towards the border, to begin the first round of who-can-high-step-the-highest. It’s all highly nationalistic, but considering the tense relations between the two countries, remarkably good-natured. The oiled moustaches and over-the-top dress uniforms (with fanlike flourishes atop each turban) only add to the theatrical mood.

Not everyone gets in, so try to arrive at least one hour before the ceremony begins. It’s a mad scrum at the main entrance gate (women must queue on the right; men on the left) as people are let through in sudden bursts, but once you’re through, things calm down, and you are channelled into the appropriate stands (foreign tourists are allowed to sit in the second-best seats, just behind the VIPs).

Note, you must drop off all bags (even handbags) at lockers (₹50) in the tourist reception centre by the entrance, although you are allowed to carry things (water bottle, phone, camera etc) in your hands.