LAHORE: Over 2,000 Sikh pilgrims entered Pakistan on Tuesday from the Wagah border to attend the annual Baisakhi festival starting from Wednesday (today).
The main festival ceremony is scheduled to be held at Gurdwara Panja Sahib (Hasanabdal) on Thursday (tomorrow), according to officials.
Led by Sardar Arvinder Singh, the pilgrims first reached Attari on the Indian side from various areas and then entered Pakistan at 11am by crossing the Wagah-Attari border on foot.
Upon arrival, officials of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), led by Additional Secretary (Shrines) Rana Shahid, Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and other departments concerned, warmly received the pilgrims.
Main ceremony to be held at Gurdwara Panja Sahib tomorrow; pilgrims thank Pakistan for facilitating trip
“Whenever we come to Pakistan — the land of our gurus — we feel very happy and relaxed. Therefore, this time too, we have come here with a lot of love for the people of Pakistan,” said Sardar Arvinder Singh, the party leader/Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (India) office-bearer, while talking to the media at the border. He expressed gratitude to Pakistan for issuing visas in great numbers, enabling pilgrims to participate in the Baisakhi festival.
Delhi Gurdwara Management Committee chief Sardar Sukhbeer Singh said both Pakistan and India had the same culture and they (the pilgrims) always felt comfortable in Pakistan.
“The arrangements made by the Pakistan government for us are impressive,” he added.
According to an official source in the ETPB, the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi had issued visas to 2,200 pilgrims out of whom 2,044, including women, crossed into Pakistan via Wagah to attend the festival.
“After exiting India (at Attari) gradually, they (the pilgrims) started entering Pakistan at 11am via Wagah. Till afternoon (3pm) all 2,044 had entered Pakistan,” the official told Dawn.
“After having some food, they were sent to Hasanabdal by special buses and trains escorted by the Railways Police, respective district police and other law enforcement agencies,” he added.
A spokesman for the Pakistan Railways police said the pilgrims were first brought from Wagah border to the railway station and then they were shifted to three trains under tight security of the Railways Police.
“Due to security issues, the pilgrims were not allowed to get off the trains on their way to Hasanabdal. Similarly, they wouldn’t be allowed to get off the trains or other transport (bus, car etc) whenever they are travelling in Pakistan during their trip,” the spokesman made it clear.
“The meal was also provided to them free of cost during the journey from Wagah to Hasanabdal,” he added.
“For women pilgrims, the female cops provided special security. All pilgrims reached Hasanabdal at about 8pm safely,” he said.
Discussing the security plan, he said a total of 400 policemen of the railways had been deployed for the security of the pilgrims. Special commandos and snipers have also been deployed at each railway station especially Wagah, Lahore, Hasanabdal and Nankana Sahib.
Owing to security concerns, none of the Sikh pilgrims is allowed to interact with the general public or to leave their specified area of stay, and they are not allowed to carry inflammable utensils in train. “A control room has also been established at Wagah to pass on timely information about movement of the trains. The intention of a comprehensive plan is to provide safe and peaceful atmosphere to the Sikh pilgrims,” the official said.
Meanwhile, ETPB’s Rana Shahid stated: “Arrangements related to cold water, clean washrooms, trains, sitting arrangements and security have been made available for the Sikh yatrees”.
After attending the main ceremony at the Gurdwara Panja Sahib (Hasanabdal), the pilgrims would also visit Nankana Sahib and other places, he said.
It is pertinent to mention that Baisakhi is an ancient spring harvest festival of India and Pakistan. It became closely associated with Sikhism at the end of the 17th century when Guru Gobind Singh chose the date of the festival. The Sikhs celebrate the event by making pilgrimages to their holy sites.