Channeling Monty Python: “The border between India and Pakistan is closed for the day”

September 7, 2011

BBC map showing location of Wagah and Punjab

BBC map showing location of Wagah and Punjab, divided between Pakistan and India, south of Kashmir

Written accounts cannot possibly do justice to the ceremonies that mark the daily close of business at the border between India and Pakistan.  I had understood it was quite a good show, rivaling the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

But, you don’t expect Monty Python to break out at these affairs, do you? Here’s a video of the ceremony as it was conducted prior to July 2010, I believe, which I found at  It’s a video clip from BBC Worldwide, narrated by comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

(If that one doesn’t work, try this one — a bit lower quality video):

(Or, here’s a shorter, YouTube version of Baskar’s film.)

Where in the world is this?  It’s in a town and area called Wagah, in Punjab, divided between India and Pakistan since the 1947 independence of those nations (links to Wikipedia left in for your convenience).

Wagah (Punjabi: ਵਾਘਾ, Hindi: वाघा, Urdu: واہگہ) is the only road border crossing between India and Pakistan[1], and lies on the Grand Trunk Road between the cities of Amritsar, India and Lahore, Pakistan. Wagah itself is a village through which the controversial Radcliffe Line was drawn. The village was divided by independence in 1947. Today, the eastern half of the village remains in the Republic of India while the western half is in Pakistan.

While both nations and local residents fully recognize the silliness, it also stands as a symbol of the deep divisions between the two nations.

The Wagah border, often called the “Berlin wall of Asia”,[2] is a ceremonial border on the India–Pakistan Border where each evening there is a retreat ceremony called ‘lowering of the flags’,[3] which has been held since 1959.[4] At that time there is an energetic parade by the Border Security Force (B.S.F) of India and the Pakistan Rangers soldiers. It may appear slightly aggressive and even hostile to foreigners but in fact the paraders are imitating the pride and anger of a Cockerel.[1][5][6] Troops of each country put on a show in their uniforms with their colorful turbans.[7] Border officials from the two countries sometimes walk over to the offices on the other side for day to day affairs. The happenings at this border post have been a barometer of the India-Pakistan relations over the years.[1]

Did someone say “Pythonesque?”

Here’s Michael Palin narrating another view of the ceremony for one of his BBC enterprises, Himalaya with Michael Palin:

Would you be surprised to hear that local people refer to this as “the dance of the roosters?”

Events at this crossing reflect some minor easing of tension between the two nations in the last decade, and in 2010 both nations announced they would tone down the retreat ceremonies. Surely some scholar has analyzed this retreat ceremony and its history, to determine whether it helped ease the tension, or increased the conflict between the two nations.  Could soldiers who participate in such goings-on actually shoot at each other?

Has anyone got a more recent viewing of the ceremony?

How will you explain this to your sophomore world history class?  Is there anything sillier than humans in conflict?

Video via VodPod.

An astonished tip of the old scrub brush to Judith Shields.


Then and now: Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah – 1869 and 2006

March 18, 2011

Photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan toured the western territories — not yet states — for either the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the U.S. Geological Survey, around 1868 and 1869.  Color photography hadn’t been perfected.  His plates were black and white only.

He had been one of the photographers who captured parts of the Civil War on film, with particularly poignant photos of the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, within hours after the battle ended on July 4, 1863.

O’Sullivan’s photos appear in the collection at the Library of Congress, and at the George Eastman House (Eastman was the founder of Kodak, as you know).

O’Sullivan’s photos show the mineral and mining operations of Nevada, Utah and Idaho, and Arizona and New Mexico, so far that I’ve found.  Particularly in the mountains, the places he photographed can be tracked down today.

In this post we compare O’Sullivan’s photo up what he called “Great Cottonwood Canon of the Wahsatch,” what is today one of the beautiful canyons leading out of Salt Lake City, Big Cottonwood, in the Wasatch Front.  O’Sullivan took a shot up the canyon, then very much unroaded, at an enormous block of granite that came to be known as Storm Mountain.

In 1869:

"Great Cottonwood Canyon, Wahsatch Mountains," 1869 photo by Timothy H. O'Sullivan - USGS photo from Eastman collection

"Great Cottonwood Canyon, Wahsatch Mountains," 1869 photo by Timothy H. O'Sullivan - USGS photo from Eastman collection

Rich Legg of Salt Lake City captured the same mountain in 2006, and graciously consented to let us use it here for comparison.  This is Storm Mountain, now:

From LeggNet:

Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, 2006 - photo by Rich Legg, copyright and rights reserved

Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, 2006 - photo by Rich Legg, copyright and rights reserved; image here by express permission

Note from LeggNet blog: This recent capture was made in Big Cottonwood Canyon just outside of Salt Lake City. The striking shadows along with the jagged ridges create a dramatic lighting effect.

Legg’s camera and film allowed a quicker shot, I’ll wager (if he used film at all — it may be an electronic image).

The granite didn’t change much.  Storm Mountain is literally a fraction of a mile outside the city limits of Salt Lake City.  A photo the other way would show dramatic change.  A photo of Storm Mountain, which consists chiefly of naked granite, appears almost unchanged in over a century.  It’s difficult even to find places where the vegetation has changed.

In the past 20 years we have seen comparisons of America’s and the world’s glaciers, from photos through the late 19th and 20th centuries, compared to photos of today.  The archives of landscape photos held by groups like the George Eastman House offer opportunities for historians and land managers and policy makers to compare American lands from more than a century ago, to those same lands today.  Much of those older photo archives are available on line, at least for searching.  Will scholars make methodical use of these resources?

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