Saturday, September 03, 2011

How Bizzare! How Bizzare!

Some of you might, perhaps, have an interest in international border crossings. But, even if you haven't the slightest, the nightly shenanigans at the India-Pakistan near Amritsar border are quite entertaining.

Its no secret that India and Pakistan are not best buddies. I'm not sure this fact has much to do with the performance staged on the countries' boundary lines, at the closing of each day, but it sure fuels the fire. I could never have imagined this, if I hadn't seen it first hand for myself. And, oh my, is it entertaining. I'm not even being disrespectful. Its supposed to be entertaining. They've built stands on either side of the border for the comfort of the spectators. Seriously. They have an M.C.

This is how it goes down. Every night. It all happens in Wagha, the border point on the Indian side is about 30km from the city of Amritsar. Tourists take taxis and Indians arrive in droves. We were lucky enough to come with our new friends, Vikramjit, Raj, their kids and cousin. It was like arriving at a carnival. On Canada Day. (But, Indian day -actually called Independence Day here, but anyways). Today was just a regular day. Vendors selling cold drinks, chips, cotton candy, coconut and snacks line the streets. Kids run around selling little plastic Indian flags and teens parade through waving huge flags. Upbeat dance music is blaring. Being foreigners made us 'VIPs'. Or that's what they called it anyways. Huge, tall, stern looking uniformed officers scrutinized our passports and refused to let us sit with our Indian friends. 'Foreigners in this section, Indians in that one.' There was no arguing.

The crowd was huge and it was blazing hot. The stands were packed. Like we were at a huge concert of someone really famous. People danced in the street. Others were given huge orange, green and white Indian flags and they ran up and down the stands, riling up the crowd, proudly swinging their flags. People cheered, hooted and hollered. An MC with a loud microphone shouted out into the Indian crowd and they responded resoundingly loud. The best however, were the officers. Their uniforms were a dark sandy khaki colour. Their boots were black, shiny and huge. On their heads were peacock type red headdresses that stood straight up. They all must have been seven feet tall. No joke. Either there are heels in those shiny boots, or they only hire abnormally tall people to guard their borders.

As the sun drops lower the real festivities begin. The officers move the street dancers and flag runners to their seats. Something similar is happening on the Pakistani side of the border, only with far fewer people (on this particular day, anyway). The officers and their red peacock hats line up in front of the building. The MC riles up the crowd again and then yells out a long, looong, command, holding the last note for an unnaturally long period of time. When he finally gasps for breath a pair of officers take off simultaneously in a crazy half run, half walk, taking huge, quick strides down the main street, determined and cold stone serious, to the Pakistan gate. They are met there with Pakistani officers, dressed similarily, only with black uniforms and black peacock headdresses. There is a stern-faced, unsmiling stareoff and the crowd goes wild. The MC again calls out his abnormially loooong command and more officers take off, stomping loudly down the street. Only these ones add a 'kick' to their step. An actual kick. Higher than their heads. Seriously, they are acrobats. I don't know a single male that could be capable of actually kicking this high. (Or maybe I do, and just don't know it). Either way, its absolutely crazy. How do they do it? Once they reach the gate, they puff out their ginormous chests and kick at their Pakistani counterparts (not actually kicking them, of course, just kicking in their direction. Point taken) and then Pakistan kicks back, and again, the crowd goes wild. Like insane. Being 'VIP' foreigners, we don't know where to look. The barrel chested, kicking, peacock-head officers are pretty fantastic, but the boisterous crowd is pretty distracting in themselves. The country gates are slammed closed, the flags are lowered simultaneously and another day at the border comes to a close. Its all over... until tomorrow. These people were fellow countryfolk a few decades ago and now, here we are, in a bravado showdown where everyone is trying to out-puff, out kick, and out stomp the other. Every night.

Then there's all our very own officers, right in front of us, having the tedious task babysitting us 'VIPs.' I don't envy them. Tourists are pretty annoying. All the poor officer wants us to do, is sit down and just sit there and enjoy our front row VIP seating. But no. This tourist needs to stand up so they can get the absolute best pic of the action, because, of course, they are the most important tourist and their photos/videos are all that matter. So the person behind them, in turn, stands up because they can't see anymore, then of course, everyone stands, and then everyone gets yelled at. (again.) And then, the front row isn't good enough for that tourist. They need to sit on the curb, or the median, or on someone's head. I lost count of how many times this impressively patient border officer had to tell this one British guy to just sit down. Its embarrassing. For me. The British guy didn't seem to care. As long as he got his 5 million pictures of the same thing with the same DSLR that most travellers seem to need to have now for their trips (Bigger cameras don't fix bad photographers, people), which he is, no doubt, going to blow up (all of them) and have an entire room in his house dedicated to 'that one day at the India-Pakistan border.' The room in which he will also likely play the video that he was painstakingly filming with his other hand- on repeat. Because this experience was that important to him. Sorry fellow Niagara Falls-ians -turns out, no matter which far corner of the globe you try to escape to- there are stupid tourists there too.

Although, as far as I remember, in Niagara, the Canada Border Services Officers don't put on a nightly show of this caliber, stomping and kicking at the US Officers in the middle of the bridge. That I know of. Yet. I would certainly support such a spectacle if it were to allow those hard-working, dedicated officers to close up shop every night before dinner and be home for sunset. Oh, sorry, Ohio, Canada is closed until tomorrow morning at nine, or nine-fifteen, depending on the line at Tim Hortons. And, yes, they turn off the Falls and roll up the sidewalks at.... Hey, one can dream, right?


Parentals said...

CBSA just announced new SOP's for mid Bridge Festitivities starting Jan.1! Maybe you could transfer Kristen and Jon can take the Pics!

Gina said...

I didn't get a chance to comment before, but I just loved this post! I'm happy you're experiencing all these fun and crazy things so that I can read about them :)

sarah adie towle said...

Awesome recount of this story. I wish all you border guards/ immigration officers offered such a nightly (or at least weekly) spectacle for us to muse at. I can see you high kicking, Pomebot. High-kicking with some sort of fancy headress on, perhaps made of chicken??? Not sure. Anyway, neat experience.

PS, I take offence to your comment of bigger cameras not equalling better pictures - I personally hope that is true, for my own sad, sad picture taking abilities. :)