It’s our birthdays in the Punjab!
I reluctantly click over to 43; Ash is overjoyed at finally being a respectful age for a teen, 15.
All I want is a coffee, so we find a place that serves western café lattes (and chocolate) and we get organised for a day trip this afternoon to the India-Pakistan border to watch the closing ceremony take place.
I’m excited to be doing this…since reading about it in the Lonely Planet India guide, I was mesmerised at the word used in the book to describe the closing ceremony…”a spectacle”. Ash is a little less enthusiastic, but nonetheless happy enough to tag along.
We called and booked our taxi driver from last night, who drove us to and from Spanish Rahul’s wedding. We departed at 2pm thinking we had plenty of time to get there by 4:00pm. But that wasn’t the case.
The distance between Amritsar and Jalandhar was a 90-minute drive. We had done this drive on arriving into the Punjab by plane. Then it was a 20-minute or so drive out to reach the border. But with traffic, getting stuck behind slow trucks, we were in a hurry to make the start time of 4:30pm. My heart sank, but what can you do? Just go with the flow. What will be will be.
Our driver was aware of the tight time too, and he had started putting his pedal to the floor. We got to see some more of the country side of the Punjab State – lots of agriculture. It reminded me a lot of Buldana when I visited there 2 years ago.
We arrived, and the driver told us to get out and, “walk that way”. It was a long stretch of no man’s land between the borders, with plenty of guards and police carrying their weapons. It was crowded too. Buses, cars, taxis, had parked over on a field the size of a football oval, small pop-up food stands were offering popcorn, nuts, burgers. We were not allowed to take any bags, so we left them in the car and proceeded to walk, then run, to the border as we were going to just scrape in on the starting time of 4:30pm.
Through security, bags checked, bodies scanned. We were getting closer to the border as we could hear a roar and the beating of drums. As we entered the border closing ceremony area we realised this was a big thing – the roar was from a patriotic crowd of Indians (this side) and Pakistanis (the other side) as the closing border ceremony was about to commence. It felt like we were entering the arena of Gladiator. The atmosphere was electric. A large concrete semi-circle stand for seating had been built on both sides of this special gateway, and on the Indian side more construction was occurring to make the stadium bigger to hold more people.
The guards were dressed up in their decorative uniforms, and started to march up and down the road towards the border gate. A performance then ensured, with straight and efficient leg kicks up to their noses. The crowd was going wild. Then the same performance would occur on the Pakistani side and their crowd would go wild. It was engaging and entertaining. Photos were allowed, so my long zoom lens was snapped onto my camera, and due to us arriving later than most spectators, we were ushered by guards to the front row. The guards then met each other at the iron gates on the border, and the flags were slowly brought down, folded, and guards carried them back to the Indian side of the border.
Highly recommended for any visitor to the Punjab state. I would take a definitely revisit if I had the chance. In just half an hour the ceremony was over, and the crowds in the stands dispersed down to the main performance area. And although the guards were directing the foot traffic back, no one really listened and made their way up to as close to the border gates as they could get. We did the same. In the midst of the crowd, all I followed was Charlie’s GoPro stick pointing up out from the crowd towards the border gates. I stood there in the field of patriotic Indians and wondered what it felt like to be on the other side – living as a Pakistani national today and how different their life might have been if the country never divided.
We walked slowly back along the main ‘no-man’s land’ path, with welcome to India messages and ice-cream stands and selfie sticks available to purchase. It was a good day today, and I felt so privileged to have been able to experience such a show on a highly secure and controversial border. It also gave the girls a wonderful talking topic on history and politics in the drive there and back.
We stopped off at a pop-up café where Charlie and I enjoyed a chai and the others used the rest room. Then we jumped back into our taxi, and headed our long journey back to Jalandhar. We arrived after 7pm and went straight to a restaurant celled the Brewhouse in Jalandhar to celebrate our birthdays – a lovely night with all of us eating a rage of cuisines from pizza, Thai curry, fried rice. We ordered way too much food, so leftovers were packed in takeaway tubs. We would be able to give these away to beggars in the morning.
In the evening, back at our hotel room, Garry and his brother Money came over to say happy birthday, goodbye and wish us all the best on our 2017 journey. We promised to keep in touch, and thanked them for all they had done for us while we were in Jalandhar, and laughed at the possibility of returning for Money’s wedding next year (after a suitable bride and arranged marriage has been worked out by the family)…but he tells me he’s not ready for that, “maybe 3 to 4 years!”
Goodbye and thank you to our beautiful Punjabi family.