travellers

Crossing The Border

Crossing The Border

Okay, we didn’t cross it, but we did get to see some European and local travellers, loaded up with backpacks and luggage, who were making their way across the border in one direction, or the other.

Let me go back to the beginning so this makes a little more sense.

One of the highlights of the trip to India was our attendance at the Wagah Flag Ceremony, between the India and Pakistan border, at sunset. Even though the ceremony takes place every day, apparently thousands of people cram into the stadium each time to witness the event.

The flags of each country are taken down simultaneously at sunset and secured for the night, but not without a theatrical performance by each army on both sides of the heavily armed, razor-wired fences that divide the two countries. To say the routine was spectacular is a gross understatement. The thousands of spectators on the Indian side shouted their national pride in chants and cheering, egged on by a white-shirted man at the front of the stadium.  The patriotic atmosphere was felt as well as heard. Behind me, a young boy spontaneously led the chant at one point; just a small single voice ringing out the cry, to be followed by thousands.

The roads were choked with traffic as we approached the border. All modes of transport ferried the crowds in: buses, pedal-power, horse-driven carts loaded with families, Indian version tuk-tuks, and tractors. If it was capable of moving, it was fully laden, with bodies packed in it, on it, or behind it.


As guests of the Bishop of the Amritsar Diocese of the Church of North India (CNI), we were very lucky to be given an escort into the parking area closest to the ceremony, and seats in the first few rows,  giving us an ideal opportunity to witness the event up close and personal.

As we sat patiently awaiting the ceremony, the awe of being on one side of the border, watching nationals on the other side just as patiently awaiting the same event, struck hard. We were in India – they were in Pakistan.  The pomp and ceremony began. The Indian soldiers marched quickly across the parade-ground towards the border gate, in pairs and/or individually, at a very fast pace, and finishing with a high-kick that brought their well-heeled boots in danger of collision with their fan-shaped headgear. This was followed by a shake of fists towards the Pakistan Army in a movement reminiscent of the Haka that we are witness to at any international sporting event involving our Kiwi neighbours from across the ditch. The process was replicated on the other side of the fence by the Pakistani’s, in similarly costumed uniforms. The Indian Army wearing red turbans or black berets, and red fan-shaped headwear – the Pakistanis wearing dark blue. The process was drawn out, to the delight of the crowd who cheered uproariously from the Indian side at each step of the way. The spectators on the other side of the fence were a little more constrained in their show of appreciation of their Army, or maybe it was just that there were fewer spectators.

When the moment came for the flags to be brought down from the top of the very tall flagpoles, on opposite sides of the narrow patch of middle ground between the gates that I assume is neutral territory, the show of pride by the Indian spectators was indescribable – you just had to be there. Caught up in the moment was every other nationality privileged enough to witness the amazing event. Something as simple as lowering a flag had flamed the national pride of a nation.

This well-trained dog joins the cast of Military Personnel in the ceremonial presentation and takes a bow towards the stadium.

The flags are finally lowered and respectfully marched into the enclosure for safe keeping until the morning, when they’ll be raised again at sunrise, albeit, without the ceremony of the previous evening.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Amritsar, make the Flag Ceremony a priority on your itinerary, but make sure you book through a reputable tour group. Going solo isn’t a viable option for this event if you want a seat, and trust me, you want a seat. The sun was beating down, the dust was thick and the ceremony was long and drawn out. You will also need a hat and water bottle, although roving vendors provided some relief with the sale of water, soft drinks and ice-creams. A fan might also be a useful addition but there will be no shortage of fans, hats, flags and umbrellas thrust at you by hopeful entrepaneurs as you arrive at the venue in whatever means of transport you choose. There were many deals struck through open windows as our bus made its way through the traffic on the way to the gate.

The Flag Ceremony will remain etched in my memory forever and I owe a huge debt of thanks to Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy and Mohinder Singh for making it happen, and for being there with us.

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Posted by Maureen in Travel, 0 comments
Brisbane to Delhi

Brisbane to Delhi

Travel Day 1
6 am – Wide Awake and ready to start the day and the journey.
Coffee, shower, pack the bathroom items, load the car and ready to go.

Way too early to be at the airport, but plenty of time for a leisurely stroll around DFO, Brisbane Airport style. Another coffee, light lunch, then time to deliver the car to Portside Parking on Curran St Eagle Farm where it will be taken care of until our return in just over two weeks. Park the car, sign the paperwork, and into the waiting mini-van for the trip to Brisbane International Airport. The journey has begun.

Too early to check in, but plenty of time to liaise with the rest of the group who would be my travel buddies through India. Lots of photos taken, helpful travel hints shared, reminders about document requirements (too late now if you don’t have your passport), and then on to check-in. Our group of eleven managed to make it through the queue mostly intact, but somehow some of us ended up at different check-in counters. My utmost praise for Singapore Airlines staff who managed to get us all seated and next to at least one member of the group. The fact that we were scattered throughout the aircraft didn’t really matter; we each had a seat. There were a few funny anecdotes post check-in of two travellers at the same counter, mistakenly taken for ‘a couple’ with the apologetic attendant bending over backwards to try to get them seated together until they explained that they weren’t actually ‘a couple’.

Image from Wikimedia Commons: Credit: Nate Cull

The age of automation has seeped into the travel experience.

Apart from a few attendants ushering travellers to the appropriate line to be in, there is no longer a face in the Customs procedure. No-one stamps your passport with the date and name of the city you are leaving behind in search of foreign shores. Now you wait your turn in a line, proceed to a scanner and place your passport on the slide for self-scanning of the photo page, walk up to a pair of footprints strategically placed on the floor, remove hats and/or glasses, and smile for the camera. The trade-off is a much faster trek through Customs, presumably freeing up our very qualified Customs Officers for the more important task of screening incoming passengers, making sure that our country stays safe and secure. That’s it. Done and dusted. You then exit the Customs area straight into the hands of Duty-Free scalpers who think it’s fair game to ask exorbitant prices for everyday items that can be bought in your local supermarket for a fraction of the cost. Travel isn’t what it used to be.

With check-in safely behind us, the next hurdle to be overcome was Customs.

An hour’s wait – long enough to stock up on snacks for the flight – then boarding at 5 pm. The flight was reasonably full, but boarding was executed quickly and very efficiently. Groups, all six of them, were boarded one group at a time. We were in groups five and six. We seemed to be no sooner settled in our seats than the seatbelt sign illuminated and the plane started pushing back ready for take-off. For an International flight, the departure process seemed incredibly fast.

I’m not sure why, but it seemed to be a very quiet flight. The loud-talkers were missing in action, and even the babies seemed to be reasonably settled, with only the occasional murmur. Perhaps the noisy travellers all turned left on entering the plane (otherwise known as Business Class). The movie selection was reasonable and once the meal was dispensed with, most people kicked back to enjoy their choice of latest release or favourite re-run. It was then time for sleep – for those who find sleep comes naturally at 9.30pm Eastern Standard time in Australia. For the rest of us, there were more movies to watch or blogs to write. The night passed uneventfully.  We landed in the city of the Merlion a little before midnight, Singapore time.

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Posted by Maureen in Travel, 4 comments