Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Border

We spent the weekend traveling up to the Punjabi town of Amritsar. This small city in the northwestern corner of India is only 30 km from the border of Pakistan. The trip was fun for us because we went with Lesa's sister, Heidi, and traveled for the first time using the Indian train system.

The train ride took about 5 1/2 hours and was really very easy. Tickets are booked and printed out on-line, the train was on-time, fairly clean. We enjoyed some nice meals and had plenty of water and tea. We traveled in an A/C chair car on the express (Shatabdi) train from New Delhi to Amritsar.

The two big attractions for travel to such a hot, northern place are the famous Sikh "Golden Temple" (more on that shortly) and the daily gate closing ceremony at the nearby India-Pakistan border crossing. For obvious reasons, there has been quite a lot of tension between Pak and India recently so we were excited to see this daily cross-border celebration and shouting match.

Crowds from both countries (as well as many foreigners) flood to the ceremony each evening and to view the theatrics. Soldiers on each side shout over loudspeakers to one another, and a caller rouses the crowds like a cheerleader. The crowds on the India side of the board roar :"Hindustan!" Quickly followed by the roar of the crowds across the border yelling, "Pakistan!" This goes on for quite sometime.

It was hot in the summer sun, but the spectacle was fun. The whole circus was accompanied by loud Pak-Indian pop music, flags waving, and enthusiastic, very high-kicking soldiers marching to the border in repeated shows of defiance to their counterparts on the other side of the gate.This all culminated in the meeting of the 2 sides' commanding officers. The formally dressed soldiers strut, shout commands, and finally salute one another as the two nations' flags are jointly lowered to signify the official closing of the border for the day.

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