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Day 134 (2): The Ministry of Silly Walks

Atari Travel Blog

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Funny looking mohawk-turban sporting guard.

For the afternoon I had booked a tour to the Wagah border. Together with a Spanish and a French couple I shared a car to Attari, the site of the only official border crossing between India and Pakistan.
The two countries haven't exactly been close friends since Pakistan split off from India in 1947. The countries have gone to war three times in the past 50 years and to this day they are eyeing each other with a certain level of distrust and contempt. This is translated into an almost preposterous daily ceremony when the border between the two countries closes for the day.

Thousands of people come to the ceremony every day, chanting patriotic slogans and waving flags. I was impressed by the huge turnout. You would think that after fifty years the popularity of this daily ritual would have waned, but no, the stands were packed to the rafters.

The roaring crowd


Because of the Ramadan the Pakistani stands were rather empty. There are separate stands for men and women and while the male stand was about half-full, though the spectators tried hard to be as vocal as possible. The female stand contained less than 20 spectators, all of which seemed rather subdued.
Although Hindustan (India) also segregates men and women to different stands, at least the women here are allowed to participate in the ceremony. Something which has turned into a provocative display as hundreds of women dance in the street to popular Hindi tunes, only pausing to run to the border gates carrying huge Indian flags.
From the Pakistani side women, wearing all-covering burqas, can only stand and watch and marvel at such 'freedoms'.
Over at the Pakistani side not many people showed up because of Ramadan
(If only they know just how free women actually are in Hindustan, but more on that later).

The first hour or so serves as a prelude to the ceremony. Loud Hindi pop blares from the speakers, while hundreds of women dance in the streets. Every once in a while two people (usually children or women) run to the border carrying a huge Indian flag). On the Pakistani side there is no dancing or flag waving, but they are playing Pakistani pop at an equally loud level. In fact, it seems the Pakistani have a better sound system, as their music regularly drowned out the Indian music.

Then a group of soldiers emerged from the office. All wearing well-groomed moustaches and clad in almost preposterous looking khaki uniforms, with a large orange Mohawk on their hats (the Pakistani soldiers wear similar uniforms, only black, and sport even larger moustaches).
Let the howling begin!


An MC takes the mike and starts shouting 'Hindustan Zindabad' (Long live Hindustan) and the crowds quickly join in. The Pakistani do the same from their end (though obviously they chant Pakistan, rather than Hindustan) and for a while it is a contest of just which audience can be the loudest. Again, the Pakistanis have a slight disadvantage due to Ramadan, but they put up a good fight.

Then the microphone is given to one of the soldiers who lets out a loud howl. At the Pakistani side the same is done and it becomes a contest who has the longest breath and can maintain his howl the longest. This is repeated a couple of times before one of the soldiers seemingly has enough of it and goes over to the border to teach the Pakistanis a lesson.

What ensues is best described as a combination of a Maori Haka and Monty Phython's sketch of 'The Ministry of Silly Walks'.
Mr Pudey, the very real problem is one of money. I'm afraid that the Ministry of Silly Walks is no longer getting the kind of support it needs. You see there's Defense, Social Security, Health, Housing, Education, Silly Walks ...
Wide eyed and snorting he stampedes towards the border, kicking his feet so high in the air that he almost hits his own head. The border gates are thrown open (the same happens on the Pakistani side) and the soldier does a series of strange dance movements, stepping dangerously close to the borderline (but never crossing it), all the while eyeing his Pakistani counterpart who does exactly the same thing.

This ritual is repeated about a dozen times as one by one the soldiers do their little dance routine at the border. Then when all the soldiers have faced their Pakistani counterparts, the howlers have done all their howling, the crowds have done their chanting, it is time to lower the flags.
There may be a lot of hostility between Pakistan and India, and this ceremony is mainly focused on infusing patriotism amongst its spectators, amongst the soldiers there seems to be a lot of mutual respect.
The lowering of the flags
As the flags are lowered inch by inch, carefully making sure the flags of the two nations descend simultaneously, trumpet players on both sides of the border play a military song in perfect unison.
A salute, a handshake, and then the border gates close again, the border is closed for the day, only to be opened again the next day for the whole ritual to be repeated again.

Biedjee says:
Thanks! I'll try to upload some of the videos I took as well. Really, it has to be seen to be believed :-)
Posted on: Nov 09, 2010
vances says:
A mystifying ritual...great write up!
Posted on: Nov 09, 2010
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Funny looking mohawk-turban sporti…
Funny looking mohawk-turban sport…
The roaring crowd
The roaring crowd
Over at the Pakistani side not man…
Over at the Pakistani side not ma…
Let the howling begin!
Let the howling begin!
Mr Pudey, the very real problem is…
Mr Pudey, the very real problem i…
The lowering of the flags
The lowering of the flags
The mens stand is even more crowd…
The men's stand is even more crow…
The gates open
The gates open
Pakistani flag
Pakistani flag
Girl running with the Indian flag
Girl running with the Indian flag
Me at the tourist stand
Me at the tourist stand
Indian flag carried around the sta…
Indian flag carried around the st…
Women dancing (and female border g…
Women dancing (and female border …
dancing
dancing
Guards marching towards the border
Guards marching towards the border
walking with preposterous lookin…
"walking" with preposterous looki…
oooh... serious faces...
oooh... serious faces...
Pakistani border guards looking ev…
Pakistani border guards looking e…
Nearly kicking his own head
Nearly kicking his own head
Guard doing his very silly walk
Guard doing his very silly walk
The lowering of the flags
The lowering of the flags
The lowering of the flags
The lowering of the flags
The lowering of the flags
The lowering of the flags
The lowering of the flags
The lowering of the flags
The flag being carried back to the…
The flag being carried back to th…
Kids queueing up for the walk out
Kids queueing up for the walk out
Thousands of people trying to reac…
Thousands of people trying to rea…
Yeah yeah, rub it in...
Yeah yeah, rub it in...
Atari
photo by: Biedjee