Wagah border post, about 29 km from Amritsar on the Grand Trunk, has become famous for the ceremonial closing of gates and lowering of flags of India and Pakistan. Over 5000 people converge on the Indian side alone to watch the ceremony known as Beating the Retreat. Wagah is about 29 km from Amritsar in Punjab province.
As the Flag Code of India mandates that the national flag shall be flown only from sunrise to sunset, the tricolour is hoisted after sunrise and lowered at sunset. The martial ceremony of lowering the flag has been turned into an entertainment at Wagah. It is a highly stylized patriotic aggression on display that is hard to miss and is carried out with great ceremonial pomp and energy.
The BSF and Pakistan Rangers compete to kick higher, march harder and shout for longer duration in a bid to outdo each other. Guards using their bodies rather than their weapons lay on display carefully choreographed contempt. It is a masterly demonstration of how angry you can get without hitting anyone.
The flag lowering ceremony, traditionally, has been a display of mutual hatred by BSF and Pakistan Rangers. Even though the whole routine is choreographed and agreed to by India and Pakistan, the ceremony has often been a cause of contention between both the countries.
Guards who participate in the drill are carefully chosen on the basis of height, imposing stature, etc., besides their ability to perform the drill to perfection. Even though more aggressive elements of the routine have been toned down, the ostentatious and theatrical hostility is electrifying.
It has become a tradition for people from both sides to converge at the border post to watch the ceremony. The crowd on Indian side is heavy on long weekends and public holidays. India and Pakistan have constructed stands to enable their citizens to watch the spectacle with comfort. With the numbers increasing, Indian government plans to develop Wagah as a tourist destination. The ceremony lasts for around 45 minutes and is over just before the sunset. The time of the flag lowering ceremony changes depending on the season. Generally, it starts at around 4.15 pm during winter and at around 4:45 pm during summer.
Seating arrangements have been made to enable spectators to watch the spectacle comfortably. Seats have been reserved exclusively for women. In the general seating only men are allowed as it tends to get very crowded and congested. VIP seating which is closest to the gates requires special pass.
Beating the Retreat ceremony
BSF and Pakistani Rangers march towards the gates from their respective sides. After the gate is thrown open, the soldiers salute each other and start lowering the flags. The flags are carefully folded and carried back. The ceremony reaches a crescendo with the soldiers return to the border line for the final handshake. Once done, no glance is exchanged and the gates are slammed close. Blowing of the bugle marks the end of the ceremony. As the ceremony climbs to its apogee, cries of Jai Hind and Pakistan Zindabad render in the air.
- There are jammers at Wagah, so no mobile phone services are available.
- Water bottles are not allowed so avoid carrying them. Bottled water can be bought from the stalls near the gate.
- Try to reach the stands by 3:30 pm. Seats tend to get filled on weekends and public holidays.
- No covered bags (including ladies purses and handbags) are allowed inside visitor areas. Cellphones, cameras, men's wallets are allowed.
- There are no tickets to see the event.
The ceremony was started in 1959. The aggression and anger has been toned down by both countries over the years. Any change in the routine necessitates a meeting between officers of BSF and Pakistani Rangers.
Since July 2011, women guards of BSF have also started taking part in the ceremony. However, the women cannot take part in the ceremony as Pakistan Rangers has not enlisted women into the drill. For the time being, the women guards march to the gate before the men and witness the proceedings from the sidelines.
- India and Bangladesh plan to start Beating the Retreat ceremony on their common border. Both the countries have agreed in principle.
Where to stay
Wagah Border is less than 30 km from Amritsar. Since, there is no tourist accommodation available at Wagah; tourists prefer to stay at Amritsar.
Where to eat
Aman Umeed, the official tourist center is nice and clean with comfortable seating. However, food options are very limited inside. Food stalls close to the gate serve food, packaged snacks and soft drinks. You can take these inside when you watch the ceremony.
Best time to visit
The Beating the Retreat ceremony is held daily and visitors can watch the ceremony anytime of the year. However, the best time to visit Wagah is from October to March.