The city of Amritsar is famous for Golden Temple and its delicious food besides many other places. One of very interesting event that happens every evening at Indo –Pak Border is flag de-hoisting ceremony. The ceremony involves lowering of each country’s flags and closing of the gates for the day. The ceremony is performed by Border Security Force (BSF) on Indian side and Pakistan Rangers on Pakistan Side. The ceremony is referred to as “Retreat Ceremony” by the forces. The ceremony is a unique duel of its own kind happening at Wagah border. It is characterized by show of Power, Pride and valour. While we were in Amritsar we decided to experience the same.
While inquiring about the ceremony we came to know that there are separate seating areas. One is for the general public in the pavilion and the other one is VIP seating. The advantage with the VIP seating is that you get seating near the international gate and visibility of the entire parade is very clear as the crowd is less. For VIP seating you have to get a VIP pass in advance. For general entry no pass is required and you have to find a place in the pavilion which is further away from the Main Gate on International Border. Coming from family of Army personnel and a Georgian from Military School, getting a VIP pass was not that difficult. (VIP culture will never die in India)
As soon as you exit the city and move about 5-6 kms, you have to collect VIP pass from “Gate Number 3” on the left hand side of the road. BSF have a counter specially for this purpose only. You will not be given VIP entry at the border if you do not have the pass. You have to tell your name and car number to collect it. The list of VIP visitors is prepared beforehand and is also send to border. I remember showing the pass and getting the same verified in the list at about 4 check points.
The road is marvelous…. The only problem is in Amritsar…. There is a diversion just after Crystal Chowk, a flyover is coming up…. And then the market area. After crossing the same the stretch is smooth. There is a Toll gate few kms ahead (Last Toll gate of India on this route). The return ticket costs Rs. 55. You have to take return ticket if you do not plan to go to Lahore and have a night stay there….
There are total 6 check points now…. Before the 2nd November, 2014 Blast on the border on Pakistan side, there was only one. But now the security has been tightened. The first check point is about 1 km before the general parking area and here vehicle is checked by the SWAT team. Though I could not see any local Auto being checked.
People who do not have VIP pass have to park their vehicle about 500 mtr before the arena and then walk all the way. The parking charges are Rs. 50. The VIP Pass Holders are allowed to move ahead. The road from here is divided. Cars of VIP pass holders move on the right lane and left lane is reserved for General visitors so that they can walk. Here again pass is checked and then queue is formed. One by one vehicle is called and checked. The driver has to get down. You have to open your bonnet, boot space. They check the car completely using eyes and bomb detector and a Labrador assists them. After clearing the checking you move to the VIP car parking, which is adjacent to the First gate on the border and it’s free for VIPs. Park your car and then again form a queue. This queue is only for VIPs and foreign Nationals. Again your name is checked in the list and you are allowed to move to the arena. While entering the arena once again the pass is checked and here it is kept by the BSF (not returned to you). VIPs go to the left side and General public on the right side for stadium, and you are seated. We took the first row seat on the chairs placed on Grand Trunk Road…..
While we were in the queue after parking the car, we saw Delhi – Lahore bus passing by. The same now does not go to Lahore, but only up to the immigration office on Pakistan Side and then returns. After warning by Taliban that they will blow away the bus, Pakistan Army showed their inability to offer protection all the way till Lahore, and then a decision was taken to restrict it to border only.
The gates on both sides are normally open and they are closed before start of the Ceremony. You can travel to Pakistan side on foot and take an auto or bus to Lahore after clearing immigration of both sides. Till the time gates are open you are not allowed to move in front of the gate. Photography on the gate is allowed after they are closed for the parade. The gates are closed around 5 pm.
Sitting bang on Sher Shah Suri Marg… or Grand Trunk Road or NH1 was a feeling in itself…… You could see Pakistan side easily…. People coming, moving….. Seating…. Shouting…. The main gate was hardly 10 mtr away from us.
Once the gates are closed the photography session starts. There are two photographers hired by BSF, who can be seen around the Gate. You can get yourself photographed by them and they will sent you photographs at your address. You have to enter your details in their diary. The rates for the photographs is fixed by BSF and you can complain if they charge extra.
The show starts with some Dance Masti. People are invited from the crowd to come forward and dance to the tunes of Patriotic Songs. People are also given opportunity to run with flag right till the international gate. The mood of the audience and the entire atmosphere is mesmerizing. A BSF personnel acts as cheer leader and regulates the whole show…..
After the initial show the actual ceremony starts. So the mood all set…. People screaming to the top of their voice…… and the actual parade starts with the two commandos….. Smart, serious and deadly….
They march up to the Gate and take their position…..
And then comes these girls of BSF….. Beautiful….Smart….Confident….marching smartly and taking their position around the gate…..
The show of strength continues between the two countries. The flags of both the countries are lowered simultaneously. Once the flags are lowered and brought back with respect the gates are closed for the day. After the closure of the gates you can move up to the gate and click pictures with BSF personnel.
After the show was over we requested BSF to allow us to see the Border Post 102, which was behind the main office building.
History of the Event
The Retreat Ceremony was started in the year 1959. The ceremony was result of mutual discussion between BSF and Pakistan Rangers. Earlier this border post was managed by Punjab Police, but it was taken over by BSF. The ceremony has become a huge crowd puller and is now one of the main attractions while traveling to Amritsar.
Some facts about the ceremony:
- The ceremony was started in 1959
- It is performed jointly by Border Security Force (BSF) and Pakistan Rangers
- It is flag lowering ceremony performed every evening
- The actual ceremony lasts for approx.. 45 minutes starting around 5.45 pm
- In July, 2010, for the first time women were made part of the Retreat Ceremony by India
- It is the only ceremony in the whole world where flags of two countries are lowered simultaneously
- Patriotic Songs are played before start of Retreat Ceremony, public is invited to dance and run with flag till the international gate
- Wagah Border was the only road link between India and Pakistan before opening of Aman Setu at LOC linking Kashmir with POK in 1999.
- The Road on which the border is situated and ceremony is held is Old Sher Shah Suri Marg…. Known as Grand Trunk Road
- Wagah is a village on the border. It was part of Attari Village formed by Sardar Shyam Singh Attari, a General in the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh
- The Gates are closed for the day after the Ceremony