Incredible India

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Rivers and crossing the border into Pakistan. Well, almost.

Lindsay Houts Modified: October 24, 2013 at 9:20 am •  Published: February 12, 2013

Day 13:

Clean(ish) water? It exists in India? Yep.

We visited the 5th largest wetland in Asia, Harike, where two of the five rivers of Punjab, the Beas and the Sutlej, meet. Punjab, I learned, means “five rivers.”

I can’t say that it was terribly beautiful, but it was the cleanest and quietest place I’ve seen outdoors in India. The silence did us all some good.

After the river cruise, we took off for the India-Pakistan border, or the “Indo-Pak” border. Before leaving for our trip, I thought the closest we’d get to Pakistan was within about 10 miles, in one of the cities that we’re staying in. Wrong. Try a foot or two.

I’ve officially been an inch away from Pakistan. The Indo-Pak border retreat happens daily at sunset, and the ceremony is a must-see if you ever visit northern India. We walked up to a full amphitheater (late, as we always are), and before we could see anything, heard the roars of the Indian and Pakistani crowds.

This space is divided down the middle, Indians on one side, Pakistanis on the other. The border closes each day with this decades-old intense and perfectly choreographed ceremony. I have never had an army boot so close to my face, nor have I ever seen a man high kick quite so high.

The pomp and circumstance, the aggression in the soldiers’ eyes, the raw patriotism on each side. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve seen in my life.

We had front-row seats, and our timing was interesting. One day earlier, Afzal Guru, a man from Kashmir who on Saturday, February 9th, the day before our visit, had been hung in an Indian jail for a 2001 attack on Indian parliament.

We were supposed to go horseback riding before the border retreat, but the horses had all been sent to the border for extra patrol – concerns over retaliatory attacks. Delhi, where he was hung, was under tighter security than normal, and from what I’ve read, information about the hanging has been made scarce in the Pakistan-occupied region of Kashmir, where newspapers have been under a gag order and aren’t printing.

India won.
India won.

We knew that the Rotarians wouldn’t put us in any kind of danger, but it was certainly in the back of our minds. We were definitely yelled at and pointed out, and one of our hosts joked that the Pakistanis who were there must have been angry to see a group of Americans sitting on the Indian side, cheering for the Indian soldiers. The news insisted all was normal at the border.

This isn’t my video, but watch it to get an idea of what this experience is like:

No stone faces here. I accentually bumped the soldier behind me, turned around to apologize, then realized just who I'd hit, so I apologized even more. Somehow I managed to bump him AGAIN, which lead to further apology. He just laughed at me.
No stone faces here. I accentually bumped the soldier behind me, turned around to apologize, then realized just who I'd hit, so I apologized even more. Somehow I managed to bump him AGAIN, which lead to further apology. He just laughed at me.

We all joked about putting a foot into Pakistan, but even getting my hand close to the dividing line earned me a sharp yank back by the wife of one of the Rotarians. No jokes about going into Pakistan, and definitely no putting a hand into Pakistan. (I would’ve settled for a stamp in my passport, but no.)

Megan did get this text from Verizon, though, and I was a little jealous.

Our drive back to our hosts’ town for dinner left us all pretty tired, but more than that, it was the two-weeks-in-a-brand-new-country-without-a-day-off that had left us all run down, and at least one of us pretty sick.

Our dinner hosts asked us if we’d like to rest, and before we could politely refuse, someone agreed it was best for us to take a nap. Kate, the lucky teammate, got her own bed, while the other four of us collapsed on a bed in another room. One of us snores, one of us does yoga breathing in our sleep, and one of us drools. If you know any of us, I’ll let you try to work that puzzle out. It was completely ridiculous, but that nap may end up as one of my favorite team memories from the trip.

Extra highlights: 

At a temple in the morning, we passed by this bride and her new husband. Her stone-face was for her photographer, and a tiny smile turned up on her face when she saw the fascinated Americans. The money being dropped into her lap by friends and family was new to me, but Indian weddings have so many ceremonies that it didn’t totally surprise me, either. (Looks like less work than a money dance, so sign me up, I say.)

Also, buckling shoes is hard work:

I’ve got to tell you about our Monday Funday (we finally got a break). We arrived in Moga today (Tuesday) and we’ll be here for three days. So happy to have the internet again!

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