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Day 28: Lahore to Amritsar

Wagah, Pakistan 
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Pakistanís Punjabi Rangers strut their stuff at the border.
Michael Palin - HimalayaThe Indian guard, in light khaki with red and gold turban plumes and white gaiters, march out to meet them. They try hard to be as theatrically aggressive as their Pakistani counterparts but somehow you don't feel their hearts are really in it.

Nevertheless, the show must go on and both sides, now eyeball to eyeball, contrive to present a quite surreal display of precision nastiness, raising their forearms like weapons, pawing the ground, baring their teeth and snarling at one another like turkey-cocks.

Even the lowering of the flag is conducted with a tight-lipped, carefully choreographed, competitive swagger, the final flourish of which is the controlled slamming of the gates between the two countries.

Applause and cheers follow the two flag parties as they march rabidly back towards their respective arches.

After this the whole thing degenerates into a PR exercise as the men who have terrified us for the last 30 minutes reappear to mingle with the crowd and have their photograph taken with kiddies and members of Parliament.

This pantomime at the border sends out confusing signals. Beyond the arches and the terraces where this carefully calculated piece of theatre has taken place is the reality of the Indo-Pakistan border: a mile-wide strip of no-man's land, guarded and patrolled as far as the eye can see by troops armed with more than high kicks and grimaces. Follow this line north into Kashmir and you will find several hundred thousand heavily armed men facing each other, not for entertainment, but because 56 years after independence, the line of partition remains a deep, unhealed wound.
Wagah, Pakistan 
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With their Indian counterparts, they prepare for competitive flag lowering.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 28: Lahore to Amritsar
  • Country/sea: Pakistan
  • Place: Lahore
  • Book page no: 63

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