Songs blaring on powerful speakers, enthusiastic people wearing patriotism on their sleeves, jingoistic slogan-shouting and the grand finale — the foot-thumping by troopers of the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Pakistan Rangers, the bodily gestures and the glares — all are part of the the Retreat ceremony that marks the lowering of the national flags at sunset and closure of the gates for the night at the Attari-Wagah joint check post on the border between India and Pakistan.
With thousands of spectators converging here on the Indian side of the international border evening at sunset to watch the ceremony, authorities are readying themselves to cater to bigger numbers with much better facilities later this year.
Work on constructing the Visitors’ Gallery — a horseshoe-shaped stadium that seems to complement the one on the Paksitani side — at Attari is now in full swing and some portions have even been handed over to the BSF where visitors coming for the daily ceremony are being accommodated.
“Earlier, the capacity at the visitors’ gallery was just 5,000 while over 10,000 people used to converge on an average. On rush days and holidays, the numbers used to go up to 15,000 and the BSF found it difficult to accommodate all. Most of the times, hundreds of visitors have to be stopped outside as there is no space to accommodate them,” a BSF officer told IANS here.
Looking at the ever-growing number of visitors coming to watch the ceremony from all over the country and even from other countries, the Ministry of Home Affairs sanctioned a Rs 24 crore project to build a new Visitors’ Gallery at Attari. Work on the project, being undertaken through the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), started in May 2015 and is likely to be completed by May-June this year.
“The capacity of the new facility will be 15,000 with chairs. However, 25,000 people can be easily accommodated in the same space without chairs. People coming to watch the ceremony will have a better view of the proceedings,” Baldev Singh, the authorised representative of Satinder Mahajan Construction Company, which is executing the project, told IANS.
The visitors’ gallery goes up to 25 metres (equivalent to a seven-floor building). Once complete, the structure will not only accommodate more people but will also have a BSF Museum (where weapons and other bric-a-brac will be displayed), offices, shops, VIP Rooms and a conference hall where the BSF can hold monthly meetings with its Pakistani counterparts.
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Though the ceremony itself is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many coming from other states and countries, for some, who have been here more than once, nothing is enough.
“I have been here quite a few times. The ceremony builds up huge excitement every time,” Raja Singh, a resident of Amritsar, 30 km from here, told IANS.
Before the actual ceremony begins, women and children can be seen dancing enthusiastically to some foot-tapping Bollywood songs of the patriotic genre.
“It was my first visit to Amritsar and to the Retreat ceremony at Attari. I have never seen anything like this. The atmosphere is electric. It is a must for every Indian to visit the place once,” Kiran Gupta, resident of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, said.