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India: Punjab: Amritsar, Wagah
Wagah, Punjab, India: Beating Retreat
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
The lowering of the flags, or the Beating Retreat ceremony at Wagah border, is a daily military practice that the security forces of India (Border Security Force) and Pakistan (Pakistan Rangers) have jointly followed since 1959. The drill is characterized by elaborate and rapid dance-like maneuvers, which has been described as "colorful". It is alternatively a symbol of the two countries' rivalry, as well as brotherhood and cooperation between the two nations.
This ceremony takes place every evening before sunset at the Wagah border, which was part of the Grand Trunk Road and was the only road link between India & Pakistan before the opening of the Aman Setu in Kashmir in 1999. Today, this is also the route of the Delhi Lahore bus service.
The flag lowering ceremony welcomes tourists on either side of the border. It’s free entrance to all. Stands have been created for viewing. Thanks to the efforts of my cousin Ujwal, who was also with us, we were special guests of the Border Security Force. The privilege offered us prime sitting position, just near the border gates and also saved us the bother of security checks as a BSF guard was accompanying us.
Wagah is about 35 kms. from Amritsar, which usually works as the base town. Hundreds of taxis leave Amritsar for Wagah for the show, especially on holidays and weekends. We had our own car. For security purposes, we had informed our car’s registration number, details of the driver as well as of the 4 of us (Ujwal, his wife Jaya; me and my wife Vrunda).
We were asked to report at Khasa at 2:45 in the afternoon. At Khasa, a BSF guard joined us and we moved towards Wagah border. At about 3:45 we were escorted to our seats. In enclosures, next and in front of us, other visitors started pouring in. By 4 it was all full. Loudspeakers on either side of the border were playing patriotic song with crowds chanting slogans in praise of their respective countries. The atmosphere was truly electric. Females from the audience were invited to carry the Indian flag up to the gate and back… adding to the charge!
At 4:30 the rituals began. Two commandos marched and took their positions at the gates. They were followed by many guards which also included women soldiers. Their marching styles, their order-calls, their facial expressions, their body language was truly mesmerizing. The pictures will tell it all.
The ceremony starts with a blustering parade by the soldiers from both the sides, and ends up in the perfectly coordinated lowering of the two nations' flags. It is called the beating retreat border ceremony on the international level. As the sun sets, the iron gates at the border are opened and the two flags are lowered simultaneously. The flags are folded and the ceremony ends with a retreat that involves a brusque handshake between soldiers from either side, followed by the closing of the gates again. The ceremony lasts for about 30 minutes.
After the ceremony, we were invited into a meeting room (the very place were flag meetings between the forces of the two nations are held) for tea. We were lucky to be introduced to a team of very senior BSF officials. Next we had the opportunity to go near the gates, the international boundary line, the zero stone and interact with forces and take pictures.
To be honest, the entire experience raised our spirits. I must admit that I had my share of goose pimples whilst the actual ceremony was being performed.
By 7 PM we were back in Amritsar… ready to dig in the food that Amritsar is famous for.
Wagah Image Gallery Photo viewer
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