Posts Tagged ‘India Pakistan border ceremony’

I find it difficult to accept that it’s our penultimate day in Pakistan.  I am pondering the passage of time and lamenting on how three months can pass so quickly. I remember the cheer that erupted in our bus the night we crossed the border with China. Now there is just another 30km to travel before we reach the Indian frontier. Our taxi is old, yellow and rusting but all the windows are working much to my surprise.

Breaking out of Lahore’s choked streets requires scant regard for personal space and a total disregard for safety. Our driver Tahir, despite these prerequisites is an amiable chap. He apologises for his limited English but makes an effort to point out places of historical interest all the same. In order to look after his family he drives long hours, seven days a week. Even during the holidays he has to work. His children often ask him to come home, which saddens him a great deal. But in spite of this he appears a happy man, optimistic and cheerful.

Lahore to Wagha Border

On our way to the Wagha border with India

Our progress is slow and laborious. Tahir creeps forward only inches from the car in front of us. Any gap left is seen as a sign of weakness and filled immediately by another member of the gridlock. We turn onto the legendary Grand Trunk road that runs all the way from Kabul to the Bay of Bengal. Every intersection becomes a tangle of cars, motorbikes, pedestrians and carts all fighting their way forward.

I look out the back window to see a lovely donkey displaying impeccable traffic skills. Head resting on the back of our taxi, his beautiful face looking at me. He seems completely unperturbed by the crush of the traffic around him. He is also keeping a close distance to the rear of our taxi. A truck tries to squeeze in but the donkey is not allowing it and flicks his head. His master seems amused by my interest. If I had a bag of carrots I would gladly get out and give him some. Tahir tells us that donkeys are very strong animals, very good animals, very hard working. I can’t imagine this diligence to labour is proactive or voluntary.

Donkey in traffic

The Tailgating donkey

I roll down the window and try to gage how much longer we might be stuck for. It strikes me how everything looks so different here in the Punjab. The land around us is flat and fertile. It seems incredible to think that a few days ago we were surrounded by mountain vistas and now the only obstructions on the horizon are the chimneys on brick kilns. The women are dressed more liberally and I notice the slipping of the head scarf is not such a concern. They are highly decorated with gold bangles and nose studs, you can see the influence of India in their appearance. I marvel at their ability to sit aside motorbikes while clutching shopping and small babies and how nobody manages to lose a sandal is anybody’s guess! Greg is discussing with Tahir the difference between a mule and a donkey. Tahir keen to improve his English asks him to type mule into his mobile phone. He then spends the next few kilometres pointing out each animal to confirm his understanding.

Tahir our kind taxi man

Tahir our kind taxi man

The Wagha border is pumping with patriotic music when we arrive. Very few words other than Pakistan are in the chorus or indeed the verse. The crowd young and old are waving the national flag and dancing with passion and commitment. It’s all about ensuring that the Indians on the other side of the gate understand who is more loyal to their nation. Pakistanis from all over the country travel to the border to show their support and catch a glimpse of India.

Border ceremony India Pakistan

A drummer and two men of considerable girth dressed in green shirts and white pants whip the crowd into jingoistic jubilation. A young boy urged on by his mother joins them and dances much to the approval of the men in the stands. He looks to have been influenced by Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.

High kick at the India Pakistan border

High kicking at the India Pakistan border

The music subsides, the drums stop. A single bugle heralds the start. The first of the ceremonial guards from the Pakistan Rangers Division emerges like a gladiator into the colosseum. The crowd is pleased by their champion. He pauses to receive their adulation before being followed by another ten. It’s clear they have all been selected for their ability to menace. Standing well over 6 and a half feet, every opportunity has been taken to accentuate their height, including a little extra heel on their boots. The rangers are dressed in dark green tunics with red and white flashes. Their vast chests are adorned with an impressive display of medals. The look exudes total macho. Their counterparts in India wear traditional Khaki uniforms and are much smaller in size. Even the red and gold fans atop their hats cannot compensate. They appear less sinister but ready to do combat.

Pakistan India border ceremony

The ceremony begins with goose stepping and leg kicking that would put a can-can dancer from the Moulin Rouge to shame. The Indians reply with evil stares and pointed thumbs. Each side takes its turn to display contempt for one another. The rangers shake their heads and puff their chests. They march back and forth like large green rosters, stamping the ground with tremendous force.

The crowd on both sides are cheering loudly urging their champions on. A lady sitting next me inquires, where are you from? I tell her Australia. And how you like Pakistan? She asks with a searching look. I tell her that I love Pakistan and this is why I am cheering for her country today. Delighted to hear this she responds… Why not, you are welcome.

India Pakistan Border

A death stare stand off

With every chant I close my eyes and think of all the people who have come into our life over the past three months. From our very first day when we spent 12 hours crossing the Kunjerab Pass to Tahir the taxi driver who took us to the border. Emotion wells up as I think of the great times we had with Habib, Nasir and Amin. The support and friendship of Rehan, Tahereh, Mr Yaqoob and Irfan. The young guy who paid for a taxi once and whose name I can’t recall. I cheer passionately for this country, for what it has given me. Lasting memories of people with nothing but open hearts and generosity. I retrace our journey in my mind. It has taken so much to get here, at this moment I don’t want to leave Pakistan. I’m excited about returning to India, but my heart feels heavy at the thought of crossing through that gate. I know I have to let what has been our life here become a memory. Tomorrow I must let that balloon go and watch it float away, but right now it feels impossible to do so.

I open my eyes to see the man in green waving the Pakistan Flag in front of me. The roar of the crowd lifts my spirits. A part of me shall always be here and I will take a part of Pakistan with me.

I will be back again… Insha Allah

Pakistan Ranger

Come on…smile

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