You want to learn a lesson in crowd control? You think nothing, no matter how crazy, can surprise you? Then you must see the flag ceremony at the Pakistani-Indian border at Wagah, between Amritsar and Lahore! Every evening the flags of the two countries are taken down in a ceremony that has no parallel – a choreography of music, chanting political slogans, trumpets and whistle blowing (the latter to control the crowd) on part of the organizer. Cheering, dancing, clapping, waving the Indian flag is what the approx. 40.000 Indian visitors contribute.
But the real protagonists are the soldiers wearing unique hair dresses. They march absurdly fast, kick their legs high up, stomp, turn, and above all they must look fierce. This incredible spectacle has only one purpose: the huge gates on each side of the border are opened and about eight soldiers of the two nations meet on COMMON ground to take down the Indian and Pakistani flag simultaneously. Sadly on the Pakistani side, only a handful of visitors were present at the equally large stadium.
Not less fascinating is the lead up – the security measures require that the 40.000 people to be penned over quite a distance. Men and women are kept separately for that purpose and it makes sense after what we observed – a stampede at a barrier that was only brought under control by soldiers on horses using their batons. Once you pass all these obstacles without being injured or frightened off, you end up walking single file through a metal detector and afterwards everybody (yes, all 40.000 people…) is patted down. Shortly before we got to the stadium, the few foreign visitors were separated and put in an extra section and so we don’t know what else was in store for our Indian companions.