Attari is a small town about thirty minutes outside of Amritsar. It draws a lot of tourists (both foreign and domestic), for only one reason: it sits right on the border with Pakistan and every afternoon hosts a border closing ceremony that is definitely a must-see for anyone in the area. To get there we took a shared van from Amritsar and then joined the stream of people walking towards the border. People seemed excited and there was a feeling of anticipation in the air; it reminded us of going to football game back home. Security was tight and we were lucky that the day bag we were carrying was small and nearly empty, because we were informed that no bags were allowed and there was nowhere to leave it. I managed to stuff the bag and its contents into my cargo pockets; in the open the bag was contraband, in my pocket the guards said it was OK.
The ceremony takes place right on the border, at dusk. Both the Indian and Pakistan sides participate, and both have
huge grandstands set up to accommodate the thousands of people who come to watch. There were a lot more people on the Indian side when we were there, and patriotism was running high. The Indian spectators were going nuts, chanting, singing, dancing and flag waving, all before the ceremony had even started. The stars of the show were the eight or so soldiers milling about, waiting to begin. These guys were some of the tallest Indians we’ve seen on our trip, each about a head higher than anyone else around them. Their bizarre hats made them look even taller. Foreigners sit in the VIP area up front, so we had a prime view of all the action when it finally got started.
First the guards had the difficult task of getting everyone to take their seats, and throughout the evening they had to keep yelling at people to sit down. Spectators towards the front kept getting so overcome with excitement that they’d jump to their feet, and the people behind them then had to stand up to see, and so on. The show began with one or two soldiers at a time breaking off from the line they’d been standing in, giving a fiercely violent high kick like an angry Rochette, and marching angrily towards Pakistan. Each soldier had a counterpart on the other side of the border who was doing approximately the same thing: trying to act as tough and intimidating as possible, marching around for a while, and then meeting up with his doppelganger at the borderline for a handshake that somehow looked like a violent act. India and Pakistan don’t get along very well.
After a bunch of high kicking, angry marching, handshake-fighting, strutting, all accompanied by cheering and chanting from the crowd, the two country’s flags were finally lowered. The border was closed, and Pakistan and India had each displayed their patriotism. It was an impressive and entertaining show of fierce diplomacy. We filed out and caught the van back to Amritsar.