Wagah Border: A Connecting Link between Two Nations

By Amandeep July 24 2023

Punjab played a critical role in the independence of India, and it suffered the most too. The state got divided into two, forcing families and dear ones to part their ways. A war of religion resulted in bloodshed and separation.

Though there are occasional tensions even now, India and Pakistan have managed to maintain cordial relations since 1947. One such connection between the two countries is the Attari-Wagah border. Located about 30 kms from the city, the border is one of the top places to visit in Amritsar.

The History

Wagah (also spelled as Wahga) is a village in Pakistan's Wahga Zone, close to the Lahore City District. The place is well-known for the Wagah border ceremony and is located next to the Radcliffe Line. The said line was drawn to divide India and Pakistan by the British India. Through this border crossing, immigrants from India entered Pakistan at the time of the nation's independence in 1947. The distance between the border and the Wagah railway station is 100 metres (330 feet) away to the south.

The train Samjhauta Express (or Friendship Express) began running between India and Pakistan through the Attari-Wagah border back in 1976. It started off as a daily train, however, the frequency was reduced to twice a week in 1994. Its service has been suspended whenever there was friction between the countries, but usually the same was resumed after some time. This was the only train link between the two nations prior to the Thar Express's reopening. However, both trains have not been in service since 2019 due to the increasing tensity between India and Pakistan. 

Since 1959, the security forces of Pakistan (Pakistan Rangers) and India (Boundary Security Force) have jointly performed the ceremonial of lowering the flags at the Attari-Wagah border. This border was the only road connection between these two nations until the Aman Setu in Kashmir opened in 1999. At a global scale, it is known as the Beating Retreat border ceremony.

The Ceremony

Every evening, just before sunset, the 45-minute event begins with a blustering procession of troops from both sides. The Attari-Wagah border ritual takes place at the border gate and an infantryman is stationed at attention on either side of the entrance. The border's iron gates open as dusk falls and the two flags are simultaneously lowered.

The flag ceremony is performed by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) and the Pakistan Rangers; and is followed by a marching ritual where soldiers lift their legs as high as possible during each step. The technique is known as "Goose March”. It serves as both a representation of the competition between the two countries and of their shared comradery.

The ritual, also called the Beating Retreat, concludes with the perfectly timed folding of the flags, a rough handshake between the troops on either side and the closing of the gates once more. Numerous people from both sides of the border as well as tourists from other countries come to see the ceremony. Visiting the border to see this spectacle is one of the top things to do in AmritsarThe ceremony starts at 4:15 pm (during winters) and at 5:15 pm (during summers).

The troops for this occasion undergo specific training and appointment. Additionally, they are compensated extra for their beard and moustache policy.

How to Reach the Border

A few hundred metres separate the customs checkpoint from the Wagah Border's main entrance gate. Taxis and private buses that drop off at the customs post are available from Amritsar. Alternatively, you may choose the shared taxis that are accessible at the southeast entrance of the Golden Temple. there are Various hotel booking sites that can also make arrangements for their guests to reach the border (for the ceremony), hence checking with them is always a good option. You can book the room near amritsar railway station or Golden temple.

It takes about 1 hour to reach the border from the city of Amritsar. The buses that operate to Attari from Amritsar are the cheapest way to get to Wagah Border. But these buses will drop you off at the bus stop, from where you will have to take a cab to reach the customs checkpoint. After the ceremony, few local buses depart from the customs station for Amritsar.

The Present

One can easily get a taxi or a bus to reach the Attari-Wagah border, which is named after the last villages in India and Pakistan respectively. The Wagah border ceremony attracts thousands of visitors every day, including local residents as well as tourists.

The Indian national anthem is chanted, there are waves of clapping and Bollywood-style dancing to Hindi tunes as the crowd gets ready for the event.

Since July 2011, female BSF guards have also participated in this occasion. There are seating options available for those who wish to observe the ceremony. The name "Swarn Jayanti Dwar" is engraved on a large gate that stands on both sides of the boundary. By ascending to the top of this gate, one may have a broad view of Wagah. Visits to the Wagah Border and participation in the Beating Retreat ceremony are incredibly moving and fill you with pride and patriotism.

A truly endearing spectacle is created by the pomp and ceremony of the Beating Retreat and the “Change of Guard” within touching distance of the Indian and Pakistani armies.

Tips for your visit

  1. Since there are no tickets for entry, you get seats on first-come-first-serve-basis. Hence, it is advisable to reach at least 45 minutes prior to start of the ceremony.

  2. There is no option to get a VIP pass online. You need to register at Commissioner’s office at Khasa village (19 kms from the border). You will be issued a pass once your request is approved and your details are sent to authorities at the border.

  3. For security reasons, there is no cellular network available in the area as there are jammers all around the place.

  4. You are not allowed to carry any bags inside, whether big or small. Hence, it is better not to carry one or you will have to keep it in the lockers that are issued at the gate.

Thinking about the history of India and Pakistan, it gives goosebumps to be present at a location from where you can enter the other country in just a few steps (just like that!). That’s the charm of this place. Go get to see it for yourself!!!

There are many other historical places in Amritsar that make the city famous. The list includes Sikh temples, Hindu temples, forts, and museums. The city is also well-known for its food and shopping, so make sure you don’t miss out on these too!

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