When I first attempted a trip to Amritsar, the relations between India and Pakistan were not good and had taken a turn. All my Indian friends warned me not to even try and visit at that time as my safety would be compromised and there was conflict going on.
I’m not an expert in this field and so won’t try to even attempt to be here, but, if you do a little research you’ll see that the two countries have a long history of hostility from both sides and this still happens today at the borders between the two countries.
A few months later, when everything had died down, I booked my plane ticket and tried for a second attempt. I was constantly looking up safety information in the days running up to it but, luckily, things seem settled and there were no warnings for tourists about visiting.
It had been on my Indian bucket list to witness the changing of the flag ceremony at the India Pakistan Wagah Border and so on Saturday afternoon, I made my way over.
I was a little nervous approaching the border, but I shouldn’t of been. It was an amazing spectacle full of noise, colour and patriotism. It was crazy, chaotic, pompous and over the top but I loved every second of being there!
Here’s a quick guide of what to expect when you visit.
Most likely, you’ll be making the journey to the India Pakistan Wagah Border from Amritsar via cab or rickshaw. The biggest tip I can give you is to leave plenty of time. And I mean, plenty of time. Wagah is around 30 kilometres away from the city and you’ll also have a lot of other tourists making their way there too. This could cause traffic on the highway.
Most hotels advise leaving at 2.30pm from your hotel if you’re making your way by car. If you’re on a budget and making your way by rickshaw, I would leave even earlier as those things take an age!
The ceremony starts at 4.30pm in winter season and 5.30pm in summer.
If you don’t leave enough time, they may shut the gates as early as an hour before the ceremony if they feel the stadium is getting too full. And no, they won’t let you play the foreigner card unfortunately. They’re really strict about it. One of the travellers I met in Amritsar was denied entry for getting there too late!
Before you go in
The security here is strict. They won’t allow you in with a bag of any size so make sure you leave your bag in the car and take your valuables separately with you. They do provide a locker service at the border but, as it’s crowded, you may find there’s a large queue and you won’t find a spare locker available.
I decided to leave my bag in the car and pack all the things I needed in a little clear ziplock back and they were fine with it. Camera’s are allowed in but not in a camera bag, so make sure you carry it around your neck or in your pocket.
If you want to get involved with the local crowd in cheering during the ceremony, there are plenty of hawkers selling ‘I love my India’ hats and Indian flags on the way to the border. This should cost around 50 rupees for a hat and flag. It also makes for a cool souvenir!
If you have an Indian number, it’s most likely not going to work as you will be near Pakistan. I had no service whatsoever and neither did my driver. Make sure you remember where your driver is parked as there are many areas of the car park.
I was told to take a picture of the cafe he was parked near on my phone. This proved to be a pretty good tip as when you leave the ceremony later on, there will be thousands of people around heading back. So, it’s good to have an idea of where you’re headed.
The car park is situated around a kilometre from the border. So, you have around a 20 minute walk ahead of you to the stadium. The problem is that you’ll also need to pass through some pretty stringent security before you reach there.
When I did my research, there was supposed to be a VIP security section available for foreigners (foreigners are automatically deemed VIP’s). I was supposed to simply show my passport and they would escort me to the VIP security.
But as it was a Saturday and absolutely rammed, it didn’t happen like that. It was chaos. I ended up following the crowds of people and ended up at a halt.
They had stopped the general flow of people heading in and there was a large crowd forming at the barricade. I panicked as I thought I was too late. Fortunately, they were letting people in one at a time as it was already getting crowded in the stadium.
Determined I was going to make it, I shoved myself right to the front and squeezed myself through the small gap in the barrier. At this point, I started to almost run to the security queue with all the other women.
Men and women have separate security queues which is common in India. If you’re visiting as a group of girls and boys, make sure you arrange to meet at the other side as not to lose each other!
It was a hot day, I was sweating and it was the typical Indian ‘every women for herself’ queue. Hands were all over me and I was getting shoved forward. It’s safe to say I was not a happy bunny at this point.
I would advise if you get there early enough to ask your tour guide or ask the security where the VIP security gate is to avoid the same experience.
There are two security gates and so when you’ve passed through the second one, you’re finally in and can enjoy the show!
If you’re a foreigner visiting the Wagah Border Ceremony, you will be shown to the VIP section of the stadium. This will be on the opposite side to the local crowd. It does have a great view.
Although, I was sat in this part with all the other tourists – the local side looked like a hell of a lot more fun!
They were playing popular Indian music and everyone was dancing, singing and having a whale of a time. Everyone was wearing the green, white and orange ‘I love my India’ hats and waving their flags.
In preparation for the ceremony, a queue was forming for locals to run with the national flag. When people would run from side to side, the crowd would go wild and cheer! It was so cute watching the little kids do it as well.
The flag ceremony
You know the build up to the ceremony has come to a close when the security start ushering the crowds back to their seats. This is when the real fun begins!
Both sides of the border start a cheering war against each other and everyone is eagerly waiting in anticipation.
The soldiers gather in a line to start it off. I couldn’t see what was happening on the Pakistan side but I presume they were doing the same sort of thing. The crowds will be going wild by this point, watching the soldiers perform their energetic ‘moves’.
It’s pretty hard to describe but it mainly includes raising their legs high above their head and stomping on the floor! The soldiers here are picked for their great height to perform in the beating the retreat display so that they have a more imposing nature.
The Indian soldiers, one at a time, repeatedly go towards the border along with a solder from Pakistan. They will then meet at the border line and perform some more spirited moves.
Eventually, they get ready to lower the flags between the two countries for the evening. When the soldiers lower them, the applause from the audience is deafening at this point!
After that, it’s all over and the crowds start to leave the stadium to head home.
After the show
After the show, a lot of the locals were heading to the gate of the border. I decided I would try my luck and managed to pass by the soldiers to get a closer look at the gate.
A lot of the locals were getting pictures and selfies with the soldiers, but my favourite part was walking to the furthest most point of the border until it was fenced off! There were two soldiers who were standing on either side of the fence. There was literally around an inch between them. I had been advised that if I even put a toe over the line into Pakistan, it would be bad news for me!
What felt really strange for me was seeing the families and tourists from Pakistan on the other side. I had been advised before not to go due to the relations being violent. A lot of the media in India is so biased for one side in this long fight. But, when you’re standing at the border, you just see human beings. Not a ‘side’ or an enemy or scary violence. Just tourists coming to witness a show, smiling and waving to the people on the other side of that cut off point. It was a nice feeling.
Of course, I’m not attempting to be an expert in this field and wouldn’t like to downplay anything that’s gone on in the past. I guess coming from the UK, I can come at this with a neutral point of view. My point is that I shouldn’t have been as scared as the media made me to be. We’re all human at the end of the day.
So, that’s what to expect when attending the India Pakistan Wagah Border ceremony. It was definitely a bucket list tick off for me, not to mention a whole lot of fun! I would highly recommend you attend this if you’re in the state of Punjab or staying in Amritsar.
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Have you attended the India Pakistan Wagah Border Ceremony? Would you like to? Let me know your thoughts – comment below!