How can a region rise above a deadly turmoil that caused the relocation of millions of people when its border was drawn and pivot such negativity into a mock stand-off that draws two stadiums full of cheering visitors every night? The Attari - Wagah border between India and Pakistan has managed to do precisely this by diffusing tensions with a one-of-a-kind and purely entertaining production.
A military spokesman strode across the road-turned-stage beneath a growing crowd. A few foreigners filled their allotted section while the vast majority of the stadium was full of cheering Indian nationals. The leader clapped his arms, triggering a roar from the crowd. Flags waved. Women and girls ran to the centre to dance while music blared. Only at brief interludes between songs could I tell that the Pakistan side was playing their own music just as loudly, like duelling choruses.
Guards wearing red-crested helmets marched forward to commence the formal border-closing ceremony. Their Pakistani counterparts - wearing their own brilliant military ensemble - met the Indian soldiers at the gate. Two female officers led the next phase with a high-stepping march that ended in kicks to their shoulders and a severe stare at the opposing country before taking their position to the side. Their stares were unanswered as no females took part from Pakistan's side. Next, the male soldiers from each side of the border took turns doing a similar defiant march to the iron gate. Soaring kicks, shaking fists and a fearful downward thumb motion stirred the audiences of both sides.
Ultimately, each country's flags were lowered in unison and the border gate was shut - until the next morning when the process would start all over again.
Michael Palin with BBC Studio's has a far more entertaining video than I could capture. See the link below to watch it for yourself.
Where: Amritsar, in the Punjab state of India
Cost: Free entrance. A taxi from the city of Amritsar to the border crossing cost us 1,500 rupees (approximately US$20).
How to get to Amritsar: Daily flights from Delhi take around an hour. Indigo, Spice Air and Air India are all good airlines based on my experience in October 2018, although Indigo was my personal favourite. Flights cost approximately US$100 per person.
What else is there to see: The Golden Temple or as it is locally known, Sri Harmandir Sahib, must be visited if you are in Amritsar. Wander its sublime walkway around the holy Amrit Sarovar (“Pool of Nectar”) surrounding a temple made from inlaid marble and topped with 750 kilograms of gold. Pilgrims can be found nearly anytime of day or night.
It’s kitchen, the Guru-Ka-Langar, is run by volunteers and serves meals at no charge to anyone who visits. Donations are appreciated as this kitchen churns out tens of thousands of meals every day, which likely explains the lack of beggars on Amritsar’s streets. sgpc.net/sri-harmandir-sahib.
Where to stay: Stay Shaandaar is a modern boutique hotel close to central Amritsar. www.stayshaandaar.com.
Best lassi: Since 1916, Kesar Da Dhaba has served up thick sweet lassis in chilled tin cups and topped with pistachios - pure goodness! Lassis are a yogurt-like drink. The restaurant's thalis are also a delicious and filling lunch or dinner choice. Note, this restaurant is vegetarian only, like many in the state of Punjab. www.kesardadhaba.com
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