Across borders

Acrossborders

A military practice, or a tradition, call it what you may. N J Ravi Chander believes the Wagah Border Beating Retreat drill is surely more than just a ceremony

Many of my friends have sung paeans about the spectacular Beating Retreat ceremony that commences before sunset at the Wagah Border, and, therefore, I ticked this destination on my go-to list.

As we landed at the Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee International Airport, our family of four was all ready and eager to get there. Since it was already mid-afternoon, our friendly driver and guide, Kamaljeet Singh alias Hari, suggested that we check-in to the hotel after the conclusion of the ceremony since we need to find the best seats at the stadium. So after a sumptuous Punjabi lunch topped with a tall glass of thick lassi at the famous dhaba, Balle Balle (meaning felicitations) we got back on road to the last frontier. As we drove past fields, a rustic village life greeted us. Kamaljeet played mellifluous Punjabi and Hindi numbers to keep us entertained.

Guards at the gate
Guards at the gate

Excitement galore

As we reached the venue, the excitement was palpable. Touts accosted us with toy flags and caps sporting the Indian tricolour. We purchased the caps and proudly donned them, and so did a hundred others. We followed the multitude after de-boarding at the parking lot and went through a series of security checks — separate for men and women. A few metres from the stadium, the imposing sight of the enormous Indian tricolour measuring 120-foot-long and 80-foot-wide hoisted on a 360 feet high mast greeted the eye. The weight of the flag pole is believed to be 55 tonnes. The flag site is much sought after for taking selfies and photographs, and you need to await your turn patiently.

Towering on the other side is the national flag of Pakistan in dark green with a white bar and sporting a white crescent with a five-pointed star.

The Pakistani rangers in olive green uniforms and India’s khaki-clad Border Security Force (BSF) have met at the India-Pakistan border, near the Pakistani town of Lahore, every evening since the Radcliffe Line was drawn by the British in 1947 following the partition of India. However, the daily lowering of the flags ceremony routine began only in 1959. The stadium accommodates around 15,000 people and around half the seats are reserved for VIPs.

Patriotic fervour

The show kicks off with the playing of patriotic songs like Vande Mataram and Chak De India and remembering our fallen heroes. Soon, the arena reverberated with the chants of Bharat Mata Ki Jai as women of all ages began to run the length of the corridor holding the Indian tricolour aloft. The conductor proved to be a real show-stopper egging on the crowd with his high-pitched rants and setting the adrenaline flowing.

As the soldiers sporting colourful headgear strut their stuff and began their elaborate manoeuvres characterised by raising the legs perpendicularly to the sky, the pitch rose to a crescendo.

Sheer precision

The marches and drills here are performed with military precision and have the packed audience in raptures. The sights, sounds, colours and merriment are to be seen to be believed, and the entire show fills one with a sense of fervour, patriotism and brotherhood. For sheer intensity, the parade is akin to an India-Pakistan cricket match. A giant TV screen, installed at the venue, also provides a ringside view of the proceedings.

As the manoeuvres conclude, the massive gates at the border are flung open, and two soldiers from each side shake hands and begin to lower the flags at the gates simultaneously. The flags are then folded and carried back into the respective camps.

The ceremony ends with soldiers from either side shaking hands briskly, followed by closing the gates and sounding the bugle.

Outside the stadium, one can pick up souvenirs and other memorabilia like T-shirts, toy battle tanks, fighter jets, wristbands, bags and music and video CDs.

The Wagah Border show is a must-visit for anybody looking forward to witnessing some breathtaking military drills.