Like in Keylong, Kirsten's request to the management to have simple breakfast available at was to no avail. The dining hall was dark and desolate and only after some of us sat down something stirred and twenty minutes later we got hot water for tea. Tight scheduling is difficult here if it requires any deviation from the 'normal way of things'. Still, after the mini vans had brought us to the bus that was parked near the church, we were on our way to Amritsar shortly after seven.
Leaving Dharamsala the bus was soon besieged by a horde of hungry monkeys, some with their babies clinging to their bellies. Around nine o' clock we stopped for a tea break near a bridge where we all had to get out of the bus and walk across! Seemingly the bridge wasn't build for big tourist busses with 16 Dutchmen.
The owner of the dhaba tried to charge us 25 rupees for a cup of black tea, until someone pointed out to him that the printed menu clearly said it was 15 rupees.
While we left the mountain region and entered the lowlands the temperature started rising dramatically and as soon as the bus slowed down and the cool breeze from the open window died out the interior turned into a mobile sauna. At we had entered the state of Punjab under the scorching sun. At times the road was so dreadfully bad that it seemed the square meters of holes actually outnumbered those with asphalt. The scenery was also often spoiled by big heaps of trash and litter along the road, showing India at its ugliest.
Shortly before three o’ clock we arrived at the Grand Hotel in Amritsar, a nice hotel for a change.
Indian soldiers at Wagan border.
Actually, this hotel is the Lonely Planet's pick and has a nice pub like bar where we ate something after dropping off our stuff in our room. After all, we hadn't stopped for lunch since we did not come across a suitable place. What was even more welcome than the food was the cold draught Kingfisher beer. The temperature outside was 38 degrees Celsius, so an air-conditioned bar with cold beer was the closest thing one could get to heaven.
At we were picked up by a couple of taxis for a visit to the India-Pakistani border at Attari/Wagan. Thirty kilometres west of Amritsar, this is the place where a hilarious border-closing ceremony takes place every day. Having seen it in a documentary by Michael Palin, I wouldn't want to miss it. When you're dropped off one or two kilometres from the actual border you're immediately besieged by kids selling water, popcorn, little Indian plastic flags and DVDs of the ceremony.
Indian side of the border.
If you make it past this first obstacle and walk towards Pakistan you arrive at the VIP stand for tourists, a separate stand next to the two stands for Indian men and women. This VIP stand is closest to the border, beyond which you can see a smaller stand at the Pakistan side.
As mentioned the whole ceremony is hilarious to say the least. Loudspeakers on both sides blare out Indian and Pakistani music, probably with a rather nationalist touch. Indian people are invited to come down from their stand and parade to the Pakistani border and back holding an Indian flag. Then the music changes into more danceable stuff and people are invited to come down and dance, men and women well separated. All of this took about an hour, quite a long time when you're slowly getting drenched by the scorching heat.
Then the actual ceremony began.
Pakistani side of the border.
It's hard to describe in words, you'd have to see it. Imagine that both sides bring out a group of military acrobats that parade up and down the last stretch of their country speed-walking, stomping and throwing their legs up so high that their shins can easily touch their noses. Several people have already described this as something very similar to Monthy Python's Ministry of Silly Walks and I can only agree. While all of this military choreography is going on at both sides there are two 'masters of ceremony' that stir up the crowd to yell nationalist slogans like 'Hindustan Zindabad!' (long live Hindustan/India) only to be answered seconds later by 'Pakistan Zinbabad!' from the other side. The gate of the border is opened and the stomping soldiers of both sides perform something that could easily be mistaken for a mating dance on steroids. The flags of both countries are lowered and taken away, after which the gates are slammed shut and the ritual is over.
Regardless of the silliness, nationalist touch and machismo of it all it is remarkable how well organized and choreographed the whole thing is, with both countries following a tight script and knowing exactly what to do when and who's supposed to do what. The uneasy relationship between the two countries makes such a display of harmony all the more special.
Waving the Indian flag ...
Back at the hotel we quickly freshened up and went down to the hotel's Bottom's Up bar for food and more very, very necessary cold beer. Judith and I both ordered a Chicken Tikka Masala and after washing it down with a couple of cold Kingfishers we went to bed. Tomorrow we would further explore Amritsar.
(...) both sides, now eyeball to eyeball, contrive to present a quite surreal display of precision nastiness, raising their forearms like weapons, pawing the ground, baring their teeth and snarling at one another like turkey-cocks.
... dancing ...
Even the lowering of the flag is conducted with a tight-lipped, carefully choreographed, competitive swagger, the final flourish of which is the controlled slamming of the gates between the two countries.
Applause and cheers follow the two flag parties as they march rabidly back towards their respective arches.