Recently, I’ve been going through waves of emotions. Soldier in me has risen again after filming a mini documentary at International border of India-Pakistan for two days which happened to be such a thrilling and overwhelming experience. So I wrote this post to capture those feelings of epicness I felt through my assignment. I just wanted to share that feeling with all of you.
In India, we only have one place where border tourism is actually developed, Wagah Border! We all have seen videos of lowering of the flags ceremony by the soldiers of security forces of India and Pakistan. Now, Gujarat is going to be the second place where civilians will be invited to see the border and retreat ceremony by the soldiers of BSF, India’s first line of defense.
Few days back Gujarat govt had announced ‘Seema darshan’ – a ‘border viewing’ program at Nadabet on Indo-Pak border in North Gujarat. During “Seema Darshan” program, BSF will hold retreat ceremony, weapons display, fusion band performance, camel show and bird watching activity. The initiative has been launched jointly by Border Security Force (BSF) and Gujarat Tourism. They are aiming to bring sense of pride and patriotism among youngsters and civilians.
I was assigned to shoot “Seema darshan” programme launch at zero point of Nadabet border by Chief Minister of Gujarat. Nada Bet is located in Banaskantha district, 239 km away from Ahmedabad. International border with Pakistan is 25 km away from Nada Bet. Inauguration was scheduled on 24th of December. I reached Nadabet on 23rd of december, one day before the launch. As i entered the venue, I saw lot of BSF vehicles parked outside and I knew this is going to be an amazing experience.
I wanted to go to border which was 25 km away from that place but I couldn’t find the car and driver around. Also tried to call him but there was no network at all So I spent my day wandering around the venue of retreat ceremony. As I entered the venue, I saw a group of soldiers playing some music and I was wondering I have seen these faces somewhere! ohhh.. This is the same band that I have shot 2 years back. I started filming because I had nothing better to do.
Some soldiers were rehearsing some dance and parade. I was so lost filming their rehearsal sessions that I couldn’t even realize that I have missed sunset! The moment I realized, but without stopping for a single moment I started chasing the sun, just to capture the last rays of the day but sadly I couldn’t. By the time I reached a place from where I thought I’d be able to shoot, sun already went down beyond the horizon. but I have been able to explore a new place, Helipad!!
Skies were turning dark and I suddenly realized that I was hungry since evening. There was a temple nearby where dinner was being served. So I took a walk. Suddenly something bit my leg and I tried not to freak out because there was soldiers walking by. I was scared because I had heard stories of snakes but I soon realized it’s not snake because I was still alive. On my walk, a guy stopped his car and asked me to join him. I was little tired so I opened the door and sat down inside the car and asked “Where are we headed?” Guy on the driver seat said “Zero Point” and my eyes and smile went so wide.
He introduced himself and I was shocked because he knew who I am and what I am doing here. Small World! before we talk further we were stopped by a checkpoint and I saw BSF soldiers coming towards the car with torch light. “Who is this guy?” BSF soldier asked to the gentleman on the driver seat. Before he ask another question I showed my ID card. They were kind and friendly but they kept looking at me surprisingly probably because of my avatar. Then ensued several minutes of debate and we crossed checkpoint.
It took 30 min from checkpoint to reach zero point. I was excited but I couldn’t explore much because It was night. Looking up at a sky full of stars never fails to put things into perspective and leave me amazed. I went to nearby bunker and started talking with soldiers and we became friends. Then I started collecting their real life stories on my notepad and I could sense a great story to tell. I had to leave because they had this protocol or else I would have stayed there overnight.
Now I am back to where I was. Someone from agency told me we have to go to Radhanpur because they have given us a stay in a hotel in Radhanpur. But I was not ready to leave that place because may be I was touched by the vibes. I thought I would be able to walk around, get dinner and coffee, find a place to sleep and That’s what I did.
I woke up the next morning to a bugle call. It took my back to my school days, I used to play one in the scout band. It was so inspiring! I was so thankful for the blessing of being able to start my day with amazing spirit. Spirit of the brave souls! I felt it was signaling me to get up and equip myself immediately. I quickly grabbed my camera and started marching towards the direction of the sounds of bugle. That was the venue of retreat ceremony where soldiers of the BSF band were rehearsing for the show and there I got some good shots.
I am not sure if you know what bugle call is. So, let me describe because this is very interesting stuff. Bugle call is a short tune, originating as a military signal announcing scheduled and certain non-scheduled events on a military installation, battlefield, or ship. Historically, bugles, drums, and other loud musical instruments were used for clear communication in the noise and confusion of a battlefield. Naval bugle calls were also used to command the crew of many warships (signaling between ships being by way of signal flags.) A defining feature of a bugle call is that it consists only of notes from a single overtone series. This is in fact a requirement if it is to be playable on a bugle or equivalently on a trumpet without moving the valves. (If a bandsman plays calls on a trumpet, for example, one particular key may be favored or even prescribed, such as: all calls to be played with the first valve down.) Bugle calls typically indicated the change in daily routines of camp. Every duty around camp had its own bugle call. Bugle calls also relayed commanders’ orders on the battlefield, signaling the troops to Go Forward, To the Left, To the Right, About, Rally on the Chief, Trot, Gallop, Rise up, Lay down, Commence Firing, Cease Firing, Disperse, and other specific actions. It could be sounded without warning at any time of day or night.
Back to story, I was filming rehearsal sessions and someone interrupted. That was a transfer order actually! from Retreat to Zero Point. and We were stopped by the same checkpost. but this time It was a day so I could see things around, shoot things actually!!!
We crossed checkpoint after all the formalities. And wow, I could see we were passing through a barren land. Last night I couldn’t see these beauty because of dark.
This narrow single line road was not safe as per the guy on the driver seat so he took an alternative way which was…..
We were only 4-5km away from the international border and I asked driver if he could drop me off there and let me walk the rest of the way border. I knew this was going to be a tough one but this is a lifetime experience. He was surprised but my argument was so convincing, he couldn’t refuse.
I am not breaking any laws but International Border is a very sensitive region and I knew I would have to be discreet as local authorities probably would not approve of what I was doing. Car just passed and disappeared in less than one minute. Now I am out of all the reach. I had no phone reception. I took a deep breathe and looked around. I couldn’t find any humans in my sight. I peed in the middle of the desert while staring at the open, vast expanse of the sky. What an experience!
As I attempt to walk solo across the desert, I have been almost perpetually out of my comfort zone. I embraced my solitude. The desert is watching me. It is hard to find words for the place. Ancient, vast, timeless, epic, still, spiritual, menacing, consuming, other worldly.. Mars-like?
Soon I realized there are lots animals and insects around me, It’s not just me. That was amazing feeling but I was little scared of getting bitten by something.
I walked through the desert, surrounded by nothing but oddly shaped yellow-orange stone structures. Well, this was not at all part of my assignment, but it was very much part of my own nature. I had been pushing myself beyond my limits and doing the best I could. This also seems to tie in with a book I had recently read, Mindset by Dr Carol Dweck. Dweck’s research shows that effectively focusing our attention on and enjoying our effort and what we are learning through an experience actually leads to far greater benefits than if we focus on results. I’m now even more converted to her theory, as my own experience seems to line up with her research.
After walking for a while, I was very exhausted and feeling down so I sat on a rock for a few minutes and ate some chocolates and wafers. (I bought it because I knew you don’t get anything to eat when you’re at Zero Point!), I listened to a couple of good audiobooks and some of my favorite music while I walked. After a while, I saw a pond that wasn’t a mirage but was made of rain water.
A surreal landscape of water and desert. Overwhelming!
As I crossed water-field, I saw a BSF base camp and realized border is not so far. Finally!!
Seema darshan has been launched. The Chief Minister expressed his commitment to extensively develop adventure tourism and border tourism in Gujarat. It was a historic day for Gujarat because civilians were never allowed before at the border. Now visitors with govt approved photo ID card will be able to enjoy this opportunity every weekend (Saturday/Sunday) at noon time. Those who are interested to visit are requested to contact Gujarat Tourism for more details on weekend border tour.
Documentary film is the production which portrays life of the BSF soldiers who are living in difficult conditions to protect our border. Govt. is trying to develop border tourism in Gujarat and I will continue collecting stories, experience and reality of these brave souls. It was such a thrilling experience to be treasured for a lifetime.