Shock of border ceremony takes its toll

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The dramatic closing ceremony held every evening at the Wagah border crossing between Pakistan and India is famous around the world.

On the Pakistan side, the tallest, meanest-looking Pakistan Rangers march and stomp with their chins jutting out as crowds of Pakistanis sitting on plastic seats clap and cheer. On the Indian side, the tallest, meanest-looking Indian Border Security Force troops march and stomp, chins similarly jutting out, while crowds of Indians make a similar, flag-waving din. There is no shortage of testosterone in the air.

But the high-stepping and stomping involved in the so-called "retreat" ceremony appears to be taking a toll. The Indian military has revealed that some soldiers have suffered injuries to their feet and backs as a result of all the stamping. To counter this, the authorities are to lay down a new, springier surface for the parade.

"Our [soldiers'] feet receive tremendous shocks during the retreat ceremony," Mohammed Aquil, inspector general of the Border Security Force (BSF) told The Hindustan Times. "This is not only painful for the feet but creates back problems at times. We have decided to lay a special surface on the parade area to give them some comfort."

Thousands of visitors, both local and from overseas, attend the nightly ceremonies that turn into enthusiastic displays of patriotism, especially in the middle of August when both countries celebrate their independence from British rule. Videos and DVDs of the closing ceremony do quick trade at the shops on either side of the border.

In its own way, the border at the village of Wagah is a barometer of the relationship between the two often hostile countries. Several years ago, when relations were warmer, there were plans to boost trade and to ease crossings.

Yet while both a train and a bus regularly make the trip, numbers are not high and travellers complain of the difficulty in obtaining visas. While trucks laden with cement and tomatoes cross over, as militant violence has increased in Pakistan, the numbers of human visitors has fallen.

Mr Aquil said tenders for re-laying the parade area had already been floated. He added: "The new surface will come up shortly. This will lessen the shock and be durable and smarter."