If anyone would have told me that a flag lowering ceremony involving Pakistan and India would have been one my fondest memories about my trip to Lahore, I would have thought they were crazy. A flag lowering ceremony???? How exciting could it be???
Well the answer is quite exciting. And fun too. Where else can one go and stand at the "zero point" of the two countries? In this picture, the guys on the horses are in India and I am in Pakistan.
This is an event that has been taking place about an hour before sunset on the border of Pakistan and India every day since 1948 (excluding rainy days and times when the two countries were at war, the last time being sometime in the 1990s). The crowds start to gather on both sides of the border about an hour early, eagerly anticipating the evening's festivies. The event is so popular that grandstands have been built to accomodate everyone (in fact, they were building additional seats when I was there).
It should be noted that men and women have to sit apart from each other. Tourists and other outsiders seem to get the best seats (for whatever reason).
The time leading up to the actual flag lowering is filled with bombastic music (I assume they are national anthems and other patriotic songs) and marching soldiers. Chants of "Pakistan zindabad!" (which means "Long Live Pakistan") are shouted to thunderous applause.
The soldiers do their best to help get the crowd whipped into a frenzy. This mainly involves animated marching and exaggerated moves designed to outdo what their counterparts are doing over in India.
By this time, the crowd is electric. Then a bunch of people run the Pakistani flag back in forth in front of the screaming masses to further incite them. It's nice that kids get to be involved in this kind of extreme patriotism.
Finally, an old guy comes out with the Pakistani flag and a matching shirt, screaming "Pakistan zindabad! Pakistan zindabad!" over and over. Apparently he has been doing this every day for years.
The whole atmosphere is one of a major sporting event back in the U.S. The only thing that was missing was "the wave." If they could somehow manage to coordinate that across the border of two countries, it would certainly be a spectacle to behold.
The crowd on the Indian side of the border was much larger than the Pakistani side, which makes sense when you compare the populations of the two countries. I was told by my Pakistani friends that what they lack in crowd size, they make up for in crowd passion.
The actual flag lowering lasts only a few moments. When it is done, the gates are closed and the two head soldiers from each country salute each other and then march their folded flag back to safekeeping admidst huge ovations.
Afterwards, you can hang out and take photos with the soldiers. All of them were more than willing to pose.
I found the whole thing to be fascinating and I felt an overall general sense of patriotism when the ceremony was all over. It is kind of inspiring to see people coming together to celebrate a mutual love for their country. It was very cool to be a part of. Someday, I would like to witness the same ceremony from India's side of the border (just to say I did both).