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LAHORE: Over 2,500 Sikh pilgrims arrived in Lahore on Friday from India by three trains to participate in religious and cultural rituals to mark the 547th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak Dev Jee.

Later, they left Lahore for Hasanabdal by trains to visit the temple of Panja Sahib under strict security arrangements.

“We respect Pakistan, in general, and Punjab, in particular, as it is the soil of our gurus (spiritual leaders),” group leader Sardar Rumeet Singh told reporters at Wagah railway station.

“Our top spiritual leader Guru Nanak Jee has always given a message to all about humanity, peace and love,” he added. He said since Sikhs and Muslims were close to each other before and after Partition, setting precedents of love and affection.

He paid tributes to the Pakistani government for doing excellent arrangements to help the pilgrims in their 10-day tour.

Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Chairman Siddiqul Farooq also welcomed the pilgrims at Wagah. He said he was happy to see a hike in the number of pilgrims this time.

“It reflects that pilgrims’ satisfaction on our arrangements,” he said, adding that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wanted to have good relations with India.

Later, he told Dawn he was grateful to both the Pakistan high commissioner to India and the Indian high commissioner to Pakistan for ensuring the arrival of a good number of Sikhs this year. “On Thursday, the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi had issued visas to 3,000 pilgrims. Of them 2,500 or so arrived in Pakistan,” he said.

At Wahga and Lahore Railway stations, the pilgrims were given free food (lunger).

“Many of the pilgrims appreciated the Pakistani authorities for facilitating them better than the officials of their own country (India),” the ETPB chairman said.

The pilgrims will stay in Hasan Abdal till Nov 22. The same day they will depart for Nankana Sahib.

“On Nov 24, they will proceed for Farooqabad (Sacha Soda) and will will return to Nankana Sahib,” a spokesman for the ETPB said. On Nov 26 and 27, they will stay in Lahore at the temple of Dera Nawab Sahib. On Nov 28, they will visit Darbar Sahib temple in Narowal. On Nov 29, the Sikhs will return to India.

He said the ETPB also expected pilgrims from other countries too.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2015