Saturday, November 3, 2007

India Pakistan Wagha Attari Border Crossing 2007

The normal empty border crossing between Lahore, Pakistan and Amritsar, India -- world's two of the most populous nations.
Wagha-Atari Pakistan-India Border Crossing
Sachi G. Dastidar
For long time we wished that we would cross the India-Pakistan Atari-Wagha border that divides the Punjab region of the Subcontinent into Muslim Punjab Province of Pakistan and Hindu-Sikh majority Punjab State of India. By drawing this separation line the British Administration initiated a mass killing of millions of innocent people and ethnically cleansing tens of millions of more. (On the east similar killing and cleansing took place when Bengal Province was partitioned to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Bengal State of India.) Yet we heard of people going to visit the place, but not crossing the border. This is the only land border open between the world’s second-most populous nation and its fifth with millions of families divided and/or with ancestral home on the wrong side!
Our plan was to cross the border around 3 PM in the afternoon, then given an hour for customs and immigration, and walking across the dreaded line we would wait at the Indian side to watch the hoopla called Lowering of the Flags and closing of the gates. Our hostess Shakila rejected the idea of hiring a taxi but asked her younger brother Shahid to drive us to the border. After offering our Pranam to Didi, Shakila’s mother and rest of the family, we head off to the border with Shakila and Shahid. It was about an hour’s drive from their home. As soon as we came close to the gate we realized there was something wrong. The guard told us that it was already 3:10 PM and the border crossing is closed to ordinary people, but open to important people. Between 3 and 5 PM only important people are allowed to cross. We panicked as our fight was next day from Amritsar to New York. The guard asked again, “Are you important persons?” In desperation we said, “Yes, of course.” He asked for our work and our passport that he took inside. Soon he returned with grim face, “Planners and professors are not considered important,” he told us, and invited us to stay for the Flag Lowering otherwise in the Subcontinent known as tamasha or hoopla for which we had lost all our interest. On both sides of the border crossing there are ramps that hold hundreds of onlookers who come every day with Pakistani and Indian flags shouting Jai Hind – Glory to India or Pakistan Zindabad – Long Live Pakistan. We could practically see our Indian host, a Sikh doctor, on the other side, but couldn’t touch him. We called him from a public phone telling our sorry state, who in turn called our Pakistani host to confirm that he will return next day early morning. Surprise, surprise! Pakistani secret service visited our Pakistani host as to why someone from India was calling them; as our Indian host was visited by the Indian secret service.
Didi at Lahore was pleased to see us back saying it must be God’s wish that we spend an extra night with them. Next morning we were there before 10 AM opening time. Surprise again! The entire border crossing on both sides, including the walk through no man’s land, in the two most populous nations was given to us only. We were the only travelers! We could stop and take pictures as we liked; talk to guards and officials as we chose without any rush. All officials and army personnel were courteous. We took pictures with legs on each side of the dividing line. We waived our Pakistani host good bye, and entered India where someone said “Welcome to India.”

Wagha-Attari Border; Pakistan Side
Wagha-Attari, Punjab, Pakistan-India Border

Wagha-Attari Border Crossing, Indian Side

The White Line Dividing Partitioned Nations

Pakistan Side of the Border Crossing

At the Indian Side of the Empty Border

At the Pakistan Side of the Border

At the Line of Separation

At the Pakistan Customs and Immigration; an Indian with a Pakistani (r)
At the Pakistani Immigration, two Pakistanis flanking two Indians