LAHORE, Nov 21: At least 4,082 Sikh pilgrims arrived here via rail and air routes to attend the 535th birth anniversary of the founder of their religion, Baba Guru Nanak.
Officials of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) told Dawnthat a total of 5,000 Sikhs around the world were expected to attend the anniversary at the Guru's place of birth in the Nankana Sahib.
Of the three special trains run by both Pakistan and India to facilitate the event, two arrived at Wagah border on Sunday, carrying 3,600 Sikh pilgrims, including women and children, and the third one is scheduled to roll into Pakistan on Monday (today).
First of the trains brought 1,200 of the pilgrims and the second had 2,400 on board when they entered Pakistan with an interval of four hours at the Wagah railway station.
Excited and enthusiasts, the pilgrims sung songs and shouted slogans in favour of their spiritual leader, and lauded the efforts of both Pakistan and Indian governments for the ongoing peace process.
"People of this region need peace. It (the peace) is a must for the development of the people of both the countries," Sardar Kabul Singh, who heads the first group of 1,200 Sikhs, told reporters at Wagah.
"Our people are poor. We need to contribute towards ending poverty from this region. And furthering peace process could be the maximum of our contributions," he said, and thanked both Indian and Pakistan governments for facilitating Sikhs to attend their biggest religious festival. The second train arrived in the evening.
Another batch of around 482 pilgrims arrived by air at Lahore airport from the other parts of the world, mainly the UK, and they will be joining the other pilgrims at Hasan Abdal, Rawalpindi.
"We welcome the beginning of the troops withdrawal from held Kashmir," Jasbeer Kaur, 40, a mother of two, a resident of held Kashmir, said. She said the troops withdrawal had injected a new life into the people of held Kashmir, and it would help both the countries to further the peace process. Kashmir is a heaven and it should be opened to the world, she added.
The officials said that the two trains headed towards Hasanabdal where the pilgrims were scheduled to spend three days for their religious festivities at the Gurdawara Panja Sahib before reaching the Nankana Sahib on Nov 25.
A large number of Sikhs will also attend the festivities starting from Nov 21-30. The three-day main festival is scheduled to begin on Nov 24 at the Gurdawara Janam Asthan in the Nankana Sahib. The Sikh pilgrims will bring out the Palki and Granth Sahib on Nov 26, the last day of the three-day festivities.
The Palki will also be carried through the other seven adjacent Gurdawaras -- Paiti Sahib, Palia Sahib, Tambu Sahib, Panjhvin Padshahi, Chehnvin Padshahi, Salji Sahib and Giyara Sahib -- with police escort.
During their 10-stay, the Sikh pilgrims will also visit Gurdawara Dera Sahib in Lahore, Gurdawara Succha Soda in Farooqabad, Gurdawara Rohri Sahib in Aimanabad, Gurdawara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal. They will leave for their home on Nov 30.
An official, Izharul Hasan, said that the government of Pakistan had taken special measurers to facilitate the pilgrims this time because such a large number of pilgrims had arrived here after several years.
Mr Hasan said that special security arrangements had also been made for the pilgrims, and the police and other law enforcement agencies would be guarding the trains, and all the places scheduled to be visited by them. The Sikhs' visit to their religious places remained almost suspended in the last some years due to the tension between Pakistan and India.