Pakistan: bravado and contempt at the Wagah border ceremony

Before starting my round-the-world (RTW) trip, I happened upon Anthony Bourdain’s show Places Unknown. The show explores the unique culture and foods of countries that still contain mystique for North Americans. The first episode I saw was about the North-West of India and I loved the show immediately. The highlight of that episode was the Wagah border ceremony (border between Pakistan and India) but I knew that with my limited time planned for India, I would not be able to see it.

Although I knew my Pakistan trip would take me to Lahore, I didn’t realize until arrival that it was so close to the border crossing. I was so happy to find out that my local friend had already planned to take me! Seeing this event in person was one of the highlights of my RTW trip so far.


Wagah Pakistani border guard

The Wagah border ceremony is a daily ritual where both militaries lower their flags at night to close the border and put on a great show of contempt toward the other in the process. Wagah is the only land border crossing between India and Pakistan and though few people use it to actually cross over, every day large crowds gather on each side to chant and cheer for their respective country. The military guards dress in ceremonial garb and they put on a great show of contempt trying to outdo the other country with a strong march, solid high kicks and chest puffing bravado. Every motion is exaggerated and the crowds love it.


Wagah border flag lowering

The ceremony includes intimidating drumming and a shouting competition between the two groups. There are even cheerleaders to rile up the crowd. The Pakistanis are particularly proud of the fact that their guards tower above the Indians guards in height. Pakistan is known for having some of the tallest men in the world!


Wagah border ceremony cheerleaders

The border line between the two countries was drawn in 1947 amid much controversy and violence and the hour-long ceremony has happened daily since 1959. The ceremonial tradition was recently marred by a suicide bomb attack in November of this year on the Pakistani side. Around 60 attendees died in the blast and over 100 more were injured. A few different terrorist organizations have claimed responsibility for the blast which only served to confuse the issue and public opinion holds that the reason is still unknown. Security has been heavily increased since which gave me peace of mind when I attended. Considering the recency of the blast and the extra hoops security puts the attendees through, its sad but understandable that attendance on the Pakistani side is lower than it used to be. From what I could see, the India side was packed and the Pakistani side was half empty, but I’m told the Pakistani side used to overflow regularly and have consistently greater numbers than the India side.


Wagah border ceremony: Pakistan side

I loved attending this one-of-a-kind ceremony and seeing the crowd riled up with national pride. I would recommend it to all visitors to Lahore.

Would you attend the Wagah border ceremony given the recent attack and heightened security?