Punjab, India, after 10 nights of sleeping in third class trains.
‘Hotel, hotel’, ‘Mister, mister, you want tuktuk?’ The well-known chatter of locals offering their services fills the air. Today our stop is Amritsar. It’s a hot summer afternoon, and we plan to see the daily flag lowering ceremony at Wagah border with Pakistan.
We take a rickshaw from the dozens parked at the station. By now we’re used to sitting like sardines as we zoom through crazy traffic, praying our backpacks will make it too, up on the roof. The driver masterfully zigzags through cows, people and cars. He asks us where we’re from. When he hears we’re Romanians, he smiles broadly, saying: ‘I’ll put on Romanian music’. The old tape player starts blasting old 90's dance hits: ‘I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world/ Life in plastic, is fantastic...’ We smile back and prepare to face the 20 km ride.
Arriving at the border, we stumble upon endless lines of people waiting to get in. A young boy introduces himself as Arnav and tells us that foreigners can go in front. A fair amount of nudges gets us there, we show our passports and pass through. We wait for Arnav, but he can’t go through. We beg the guard to let Arnav pass, but he’s unmoved. We eventually walk away, feeling guilty we’re the privileged ones.
In the main area, we see a flurry of moving patterns from hundreds of colorful saris. We manage to find a place to sit on the ground. Indian soldiers wearing crisp, extravagant uniforms strut up and down, keeping people in lines. Everything is so alive, with Indian music playing loudly, women dancing and people chanting patriotic songs.
Then a peculiar show starts. Women hold huge Indian flags and sprint down to the border gates and back, while the crowd cheers. Before I realize what was going on, a lady comes up to me and hands me the flag. I hear the crowd cheering me on, I’m pretty confused but I start running like crazy. I feel like the hero of a whole nation.
And finally the ceremony begins. Soldiers with big feather hats start several rounds of peculiar moves, with legs kicking up higher than their noses. Well planned steps, unflinching faces, perfect choreography. The Pakistani guards do the same dance, the only difference is their bigger beards. The gates open, Indian and Pakistani guards shake hands, the flags are lowered and the gates close for the night.
The crowd starts dispersing, fading away slowly in the dusk. We follow them, still under the spell of the ceremony, still wishing Arnav had been with us.