Wagah Border Ceremony – India & Pakistan United (18.12.14)
The India and Pakistan border ceremony takes place at sunset every evening at the Wagah border post in the heart of the Punjab. A fabulously theatrical, ritualistic and enjoyable ‘pantomime of peace’, it is enjoyed by thousands of spectators on each side of the border.
Having recently attended with my family, I was enthralled – as so many of Nomadic Thoughts’ clients have been over the years. In an atmosphere as much akin to a football crowd as a prestigious military parade, we found the whole scene particularly exciting, as well as poignant, when thinking of the struggles between the two countries over the years.
It is flamboyant and fun, with displays of grandstand-marching, saluting and ceremonial sabre-rattling from both countries’ goose-stepping border guards. Played out to a rising crescendo of excitement, as court jesters on each side of the border go through their routines, the ceremony takes place to the backdrop of enthusiastic clapping, chanting and cheering crowds. And all in the spirit of competitive friendship and peace.
So when six weeks ago (2 November) a Pakistani suicide bomb killed over fifty people and injured many more during the ceremony, we were as appalled and saddened as the rest of the world.
It was another example of one of our favourite holiday destinations being directly affected by shocking violence. Over the years we have almost become used to sharing the story of such events with many of our travel industry colleagues. From Australia and Africa to Asia and America.
Whether the tragedy comes about as a result of violent tribalism, terrorism or even a natural disaster (such as the 2004 tsunami), it never ceases to amaze me how resilient the spirit of human nature is. Across all five continents we have seen peoples and destinations – devastated by such events – bounce back with an undimmed resolve to carry on despite experiencing such atrocities.
I believe lessons can be learned from the brave, yet respectful, decision by the Indian and Pakistan authorities to immediately continue with the Wagah Border Ceremony as an act of both defiance and hope. As with the London 7/7 bombings, the sense of collective unification can be very healing indeed.
So strongly did both the Indian and Pakistan communities wish to honour those caught up in the terrorist incident that they agreed to continue the ceremony as an act of kinship ‘against terrorism’. To prove, in the words of Lt-Gen Naveed Zaman (Punjab army corps commander) that ‘terrorists can’t break the morale and zeal of the nation’. The point being made was that as the ceremony had not been called off since the two countries were at war in 1971, things were not about to change for a terrorist attack.
The Indian and Pakistan authorities’ reaction makes me wonder if the dreadful events of the past few days can also elicit a positive reaction. We can only hope that this week’s Taliban terrorist attack on a Peshawar school killing 141 people – mostly children – and the deadly Sydney café siege twenty-four hours earlier, can also summon up that powerful weapon-of-peace, the human spirit, as a means of healing.
And in our own way, as members of the international tourism industry, we can enhance the spirit of friendship and support so woefully under-displayed at events such as yesterday’s anti-Islam march in Dresden, Germany.
So while our condolences, as well as our nomadic thoughts, go out to all our friends and travel industry colleagues in Australia and Pakistan, we (while continuing to watch the FCO Travel Advice), are enthusiastically still arranging trips to the Wagah border ceremony.