The tuk tuk driver had no choice but to stop.
The road ahead was blocked, the six-lane highway completely flooded with people. I got out and then continued on foot, passing beneath a huge roadsign saying Lahore, Pakistan.
Everyone was here for the same reason — to see the Wagah Border closing ceremony, a unique piece of geopolitical theatre. Everyday at sunset, soldiers from India and Pakistan compete with each other in a show of military one-upmanship. Tourists come from all over India to watch the elaborate manoeuvres and choreography that the soldiers perform.
And I was one of them. My passport was scrutinised by a guard, while another inspected my camera. The India-Pakistan border is one of the most controversial in the world, with its roots in the 1947 partition of India and the terrible religious cleansing that followed. Fighting continues between the two countries. In 2014, there was a suicide bombing on the Pakistani side of the border. Tension is therefore in the air.
I got the nod and followed the excited crowd towards a stadium. Everyone was dressed in orange, white and green; the colours of the Indian flag. Some had painted their faces, others were wearing caps and cricket shirts. One thing was for certain, nobody was here to support Pakistan.
I entered the stadium along the same road that had linked India with Central Asia for two thousand years. The seats were filling fast, so I took my place in the foreigner-only section (yep). I tried speaking to the guy beside me, but the noise was too loud for us to talk. Music blasted from both sides of the border, “Pakistan, Pakistan” wailed in my ears. The competition had truly begun.
A red carpet was rolled out, and a visiting official walked along it, with a beard I could only dream about. The stadium was almost full by now; the atmosphere like a World Cup final. Everyone’s gaze turned to the soldiers that had gathered in formation, wearing ridiculous hats. The Wagah border closing ceremony was about to begin.
Two of the soldiers started marching towards the gates which marked the Wagah Border. They closed the distance at breakneck speed and did a massive kick, their legs almost parallel to their chests. My hamstrings twinged just watching. The Indian crowd roared. A moment later, cheers erupted from the Pakistani side, their soldiers trying to outdo the Indian’s performance.
The soldiers marched back, replaced by another pair who approached the gates. They kicked skywards so forcefully that I couldn’t believe they’d remained standing, let alone kept their hats on. The soldiers flexed their biceps and punched the air towards Pakistan, an outrageous display of patriotism that the crowd loved. “Hindustan, Hindustan” rang from the Indian side.
A final pair of soldiers approached the gates and slammed them shut, shaking their fists at the Pakistanis. They opened the gates and then slammed them again, like a petulant child trying to get their parent’s attention. The crowd’s noise softened as a trumpet started playing. The flags on both sides of the border lowered in perfect unison, before the rival soldiers briefly shook hands. That was enough for today. Tomorrow, it would happen all over again.
After the Wagah Border closing ceremony I went to Dharamshala to see the Dalai Lama, where I fell down a mountain and ended up in a Tibetan hospital