A visit to Amritsar is not complete if one does not visit Wagah to witness daily beating retreat ceremony at Joint Check post at Wagah which is about 25 Kms from Amritsar on Amritsar Lahore Road linking two major towns of Punjab. After Partition lakhs of people had trekked this road in those dark days following division of India.
The retreat ceremony attracts thousands of tourists from both sides. Indian tourists commute in buses or taxis. Tourists are made to alight about 1 km from the border and only persons with special permits are allowed to enter close to the venue. Border Security Force(BSF) controls the area. India has built stands parallel to road which can accommodate more than 1000 people. The stand is located some 200 meters from the iron gates where ceremony takes places. Special permit holders get seats on the kerb on both sides of the road.
People start arriving around 4 PM and take vantage positions. Late comers take seats on the road. BSF Jawans encourage young children to run down the road with national flag. Public address systems play patriotic songs with slogans like ?Bharat Mata ki Jai? and announcements from time to time advising people not to use unparliamentary language against Pakistan. Simultaneously one can hear slogans from Pakistan side ?Pakistan Zindabad? though not very clear due to distance.
The ceremony is performed as a perfectly coordinated daily ritual. The ceremony starts 30 minutes before sunset and ends with, the flags of both countries pulled down and folded. BSF Jawans all 6 feet tall with handlebar moustaches and starched ceremonial uniform march pounding the ground with long strides, towards the gate. One Jawan stands attention at the gate. As sun sets, couple of Jawans seek permission from commanding officer to lower the flag. Iron Gate is opened with a bang and two jawans slowly lower the flag. Simultaneously Pakistan Rangers in synchronized move lower the Pakistan flag. The whole exercise is done with military precision. After lowering the flag, two Jawans respectfully fold it and march backwards. Third Jawan gently closes the door. With ceremony over the crowd in batches is allowed to come closer to gate.
BSF has constructed a nice lounge where guests are offered tea and snacks. While returning, visitors can also see a border pillar close to the fence. On the day of our visit, an NGO from Patiala had brought a group of girls to witness the ceremony. At the end of the ceremony these girls lit the candles and wished peace between two countries.
Ramesh Lalwani, New Delhi
Author: Ramesh Lalwani- New Delhi