After our last breakfast in Lahore we came back to our hotel accompanied by our local friend Salman. It was almost twelve, time to check out, say goodbye and start our journey towards the Wagah Border, the border between Pakistan and India. Johanna has visited India twice and Seri already three times before. But this was going to be the first time we arrive there overland.
On our way to Wagah Border
The way from Lahore to the Wagah Border is around 24 kilometres. Uber was for us the most convenient and an affordable (550 Pakistani rupees = 3,2 euros) way to get there. The way to the border was smooth as it was Saturday noon and the traffic was calm. Our driver was friendly and quite talkative. At one point he told us how bad and unhygienic the street food is. We felt a bit guilty as we had enjoyed so many treats on the streets.
Arriving to the Wagah Border
After around half an hour we came to the first checkpoint where we had to show our passports. At the second one they wanted to see our backpacks, but we didn’t have to unpack much. It was enough when we explained what was inside.
Our driver had to stop and drop us off at a parking lot a few hundred meters before the border. As soon as we got out of the car, some porters surrounded us offering their services. It was enough to say that we can carry our own bags for them to leave us alone. Then a small “train“ arrived to the parking lot, filled with passengers coming from the border. We were told to board the train and that it‘s free of charge.
After sitting in the train alone for some time, we realised that we might still need to wait long before it would get full and start moving. Johanna went to ask the guards if we could just walk the few hundred meters to the border. They gave us the permission and so we walked. On the way we could exchange our last Pakistani rupees to Indian ones with one of the porters. The rate was bad, of course, but it was only a small amount. For the porters this must be a lucrative business.
Crossing the border to India
There was one more quick passport check before we could enter the migration building. We were the only customers in there. First, we had to show our backpacks, but could once again continue without unpacking. Then we came to the empty migration counter. After some minutes a friendly guard showed up. While he worked on our exit stamps, we had a nice chat with him. In the end he asked if he could add us on Facebook and we are still sometimes in touch.
The guard walked us until the gates of the Indian border. There he assisted us in getting good pictures of the border crossing and we also took some together.
At the huge metal gate, it was time to say goodbye to Pakistan. The armed guards on both sides opened the gate for us and so we crossed to the Indian side.
On the Indian side of the border
We walked a few meters before arriving to the first passport check point. After that we had to board a bus that was going to take us to the immigration office. As the bus was completely empty when we entered, we thought we might need to wait for ages before moving. But to our delight the bus started straight away.
The whole process on the Indian side was also fast and straightforward. We just had to fill the arrival cards and a declaration for the customs. Our luggage was scanned but again we didn‘t have to unpack anything. After 20 minutes we had our Indian entry stamps and walked out of the building. We made it, all the way to India overland!
In our experience, crossing the Wagah Border from Pakistan to India was very easy.
The Wagah border ceremony
Since 1959, a special ceremony has been taking place daily at the Wagah border. The ceremony is performed by the Indian and Pakistani border guards (and even the border dogs come on stage). Both perform their strictly planned choreographies, consisting of fast manoeuvres and raising legs as high as possible, on their respective sides of the border. This all is supported by yelling crowds in a soccer-stadium-like atmosphere.
As the ceremony takes place after the border has closed, we had a little break, sitting at the taxi stand, before heading back to see the spectacle.
The Wagah Border ceremony is a very popular attraction for the tourists in the area and most come to see it without even crossing the border. For persons crossing the border before seeing the ceremony, it’s quite inconvenient with the luggage. Because of security reasons, it’s very limited what one can take in. Phone, camera, wallet, snacks and water are fine, but only when carried in something like a plastic bag. Otherwise bags are not allowed in at all.
Before we re-entered the border area, the guards told us we could deposit our backpacks at a food shack by the road. As we had all our belongings in the backpacks, it didn’t feel too good to leave them at some random food stall, but this seemed to be the only option if we wanted to see the ceremony. At least they told us to take our wallets and important documents with us before we left, which was not the worst sign.
As we moved towards the “stadium“ at the border, it got really crowded. There were thousands of Indians waiting to get in. In Pakistan we, as foreigners, always had to pay up to ten times the normal entrance fee when visiting sights. This time we were privileged. There was another, almost non-existent, queue for foreigners and for people with reserved tickets, so we could just walk through, and the entrance was for free.
At the seating area we were stored at the foreigners’ block with many other tourists. As we haven’t seen many westerners in the last weeks in Pakistan, it felt a bit weird.
As the parade started, things got even weirder. On our side of the border, there were nationalist choirs yelling (“Hindustan, zindabad!“) and children running around the stadium, waving Indian flags in ecstatic state. On the other side things seemed a bit more peaceful but we also could hear their own equivalent of the nationalist yelling, “Pakistan, zindabad!“
Then the border personnel entered. Finally, the soldiers with big moustaches were marching in, raising their legs as high as they could (and oh, they could!). With their special hats with big feathers they reminded us of peacocks. Almost the same stuff was happening simultaneously on the Pakistani side.
While the whole happening was quite nationalist and showing the dispute between the two countries, at the same time it was connecting and showing the similarities of the nations on both sides of the border. The spectacle ends with lowering the nations’ flags and with handshakes between an Indian and Pakistani soldier.
Leaving towards Amritsar
As the border ceremony was about to end, everyone got up and started moving towards the gates. It felt like trying to get out of a festival after the last concert of the evening. After a while we made it back to the food stall and luckily got our backpacks back (intact) against a small deposit.
We only had 150 Indian rupees (1,8 euros) left, so we tried to find an ATM in the chaos. Finally, we found one but it didn’t work with any of our four banking cards. Finding a shared ride to Amritsar wasn’t easy with that amount of money but luckily one rickshaw driver agreed to bring us to our guesthouse. We jumped on the back of the fully packed rickshaw. We felt happy, sitting there, our legs hanging halfway out of the vehicle, in the warm evening in the middle of the Indian traffic. The way was longer than thought but after 40 minutes we reached our guesthouse. After greeting our nice hosts, they told us they had some bad news…