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The other side of patriotism at the Wagah-Attari border, Amritsar

Since the partition in 1947, relations between India and Pakistan have been far from cordial. There is overt competitiveness in sports (especially cricket & hockey), and it’s a never-ending flexing of the patriotic muscles over the slightest issues.

The beating of the retreat protocol held daily at the Wagah-Attari border consists of the simultaneous flag  lowering on both sides at the end of the day. The BSF conducts it on the Indian and the Rangers on the Pakistani sides. There is usually a bit of dance and show by the officers on both sides, ending in crisp handshakes at the end of the ceremony. 

It is a beautiful ceremony that signifies laying down all animosities and hostilities as the sunsets on another day. It is attended in droves by citizens on both sides, which results in a massive show of patriotic fervor. A trip to Amritsar is incomplete without a visit to the Wagah border. 

You might want to read about things to do in Amritsar, here

On a recent Amritsar trip, against my better judgment, I signed up for a visit to the border for the ceremony. Trust me when I say this ceremony is sold to the poor unsuspecting tourists like a holy miracle. Every second person in the street besieged me to sign up for the trip with their tour group.

The border is a good one hour away from central Amritsar city, and one is urged to leave as soon as possible to grab a great spot to view the ceremony from. The stadium-like stands with amphitheater-style seating have a capacity of 25,000 people. I went there on a Sunday evening and was appalled at the enormous crowds, which felt suffocating enough to make the place seem small. 

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Once the stands fill in, the ceremony is flagged off at around 5 P.M. by a random show by a contingent of women BSF officers which I found nauseating and offensive. It would have been better to display a show of strength by them rather than make them dance around in uniform. Next, women and children from the audience are requested to come and dance while patriotism-flavored songs are blared out over the loudspeakers. The Indian flag is handed over to 2-3 people, who are then prompted to run up and down the track with it. Why is it important to add such a spectacle to this distinguished protocol is not clear to me?

National slogans are dished out to the public by BSF officers, who encourage them to chant them as loud as they can. And then every section of the stands is prodded to cheer louder as the “other” side needs to hear us roar. This peddling of patriotic fervor was the sickest part of the entire ceremony for me. Our patriotism must be loudly expressed? The excessively nationalism induced songs are pumped out to add fuel to fire and people are encouraged to get as fervent over it as possible. And the message is clear, that side is not as glorious as ours.

Why force-feed patriotism to the crowds while degrading the other country?

Is this what our national pride amounts to?

Why is hate propaganda being sold so insidiously everywhere in India?

Indians, especially the NRI kind, make this trip a highlight of their India visit. Is this what we wish them to take away from this ceremony? With the massive crowds, it is a sure-shot way to instigate a riot, and no one will be able to control it. How is it that the armed forces are not aware of this? How is it that they agree to the degradation of this elite ceremony into a sickening carnival?

This repugnant display of our national pride in an immensely Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde manner is an abomination. There is a clear intention to exploit nationalist sentiments of the crowds which is the core of this ceremony. Most people who come here are unaware of what the ceremony is all about. They are more invested in the song and dance. If asked, many would not be able to tell you which side of the border is Wagah.  I came away disgusted and full of tears of rage, vowing never to step foot here again. If you have ever been here, I would love to know what you thought about this experience.

This post has been written in response to BAR prompt – Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and I hope I have been able to do it justice. Look forward to the critique and feedback on this post please.

Pro Tip:

The ceremony only begins at 5.45 p.m. and lasts 15 minutes or so. One is told to be at Wagah border at 4 p.m. as all the good seats are taken. This is rubbish as the crowds are indisciplined and do not know how to sit in an arena. So everyone is standing wherever they can, blocking the view of the row behind them. I could have reached there by 5.20 p.m. or so and still be able to find a spot to view the short and sweet ceremony, minus all the inconsequential drama. 


While all the tour operators, guides and taxi services yell out “Wagah Border” to beguile the tourists, few know that Wagah village is on the Pakistani side while the one in India is called Attari.

Getting to Wagah border:

  • One can drive down in their cars to the border, which is 30 km away from Amritsar city.
  • Taxis charge anywhere from 750/- per person to 2500/- for a minivan.
  • HOHO city tour bus charges 350/- per person.

Things to remember:

  1. Only 20% of the non-VIP stands at Wagah border are shaded, and it can get pretty hot there. Carry sunscreen, hats, water, dark glasses, etc. 
  2. The cellphone connectivity drops down to nil while at the border. Ensure everyone stays together and designate a meeting up point if one gets separated.
  3. Amenities like bottled water, chips, popcorn, etc, are available inside but at a hiked-up price. 
  4. There is utter chaos at the parking enclosure. It is advisable to avoid adding to the mess by patiently waiting for one’s turn to exit.  
  5. In case you have any army or Police connections, it is recommended to avail of them and get an entry into the VIP stands which are right next to the border gates.

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A trained Interior designer who loves to travel, photograph and write, I have done some boutique stays in limited budgets and some in extravagant heritage ones too. I specialize in using locally sourced/ made products which would provide support to the local community.

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11 thoughts on “The other side of patriotism at the Wagah-Attari border, Amritsar

  1. This is really so sad! I haven’t been to this place, but have heard a lot about it. In fact, when I viewed the scene on TV once, it felt so good. But from what I read in your post, here, Shalz, this is downright pathetic. Isn’t there enough tension between the two countries already, that they want to add fuel to fire and increase the risk of chaos that may arise?

  2. I have vague memory of ceremony at Wagah border that I once saw on TV. It was quite a spectacle, very respectful and disciplined. I didn’t know there were song and dance shows too. Yes, forced patriotism and slogan shouting don’t sound appropriate to me. Thank you for sharing your experience. It would help me to keep my expectations in check.

    1. I dont think it used to be this bad earlier. Now a days everything in India is so tinged with “patriotism” that its nauseating. The current political climate is all about divide and sadly it’s creeping in everywhere.

  3. Amritsar has been top of my travel wish list but somehow I haven’t been able to get there. Anyone who has gone to watch this ceremony has come back raving about it. I do see though what a highly charged situation this would be. It’s been so many decades now since partition, I think we need to move away from acrimony. Unfortunately jingoism is what sells. It’s a sad situation.

    1. I do hope you get to visit Amritsar soon Tulika. It is a beautiful experience at the Golden Temple and I cannot say that enough. But this Wagah border nonsense is just too much to digest. When we are celebrating 75+ years of independence, it is sad to still see us all mired in this age old conflict and how.

  4. Thanks for sharing this Shalini. I would like to visit the Attari-Wagah border some day. Even a normal restaurant is hyped nowadays, why would they leave this place? Can’t imagine the plight of the officers who danced in uniforms, it must be such a traumatic moment. I bet the officers in the Pakistan border must be happy that by being in the wrong books (like people think) at-least they are not making a fool of themselves.

    1. I guess you are right Jayanthy. Everyday new cases and newer ways of this hatred is finding expression in almost everything in our lives. I am not sure what the other side thought about this display as they are too far to see and one wonders what happens on their side too.

  5. Sad, isn’t it, the way patriotism is being displayed here with no regard to the sentiments of the people on both sides of the border! These days patriotism is shown more to bring down the other side than anything else.
    This is an elaborate piece on the topic, Shalini. I am impressed how effortlessly you connected the prompt to the piece.

  6. Oh, I wasnt aware of this side of the Wagah Border ceremony. This sounds really sad. We have been to Amritsar once, but had the time to visit the Golden Temple and Jalianwala Bagh and missed out on this ceremony.

    1. I think most are not aware or dont notice. I am pretty sensitive to communal divide stuff and was absolutely appalled by this display. But for most people, this is the one very patriotic thing they can experience while in India.

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