India pilgrims in historic visit to Pakistan temple
KARTARPUR, Nov 9: Hundreds of Indian Sikhs made a historic pilgrimage to Pakistan on Saturday, crossing through a white gate to reach one of their religion's holiest sites, after a landmark deal between the two countries separated by the 1947 partition of the subcontinent.
Cheering Sikhs walked joyfully along the road from Dera Baba Nanak in India towards the new immigration hall that would allow them to pass through a secure land corridor into Pakistan, in a rare example of cooperation between the nuclear-armed countries divided by decades of enmity. Some fathers ran, carrying their children on their shoulders.
Buses were waiting on the Pakistani side to carry them along the corridor to the shrine to Sikhism's founder Guru Nanak, which lies in Kartarpur, a small town just four kilometres (2.5 miles) inside Pakistan where he is believed to have died.
"Generally people say that God is everywhere. But this walk feels like I'm going to directly seek blessings from Guru Nanak," Surjit Singh Bajwa told AFP as he walked towards the corridor, crying as he spoke.
At 78, he is older than India and Pakistan, who have fought three wars already and nearly ignited a fourth earlier this year.
For up to 30 million Sikhs around the world, the white-domed shrine is one of their holiest sites.
However for Indian Sikhs, it has remained tantalisingly close -- so close they could stand at the border and gaze at its four cupolas -- but out-of-reach for decades.
When Pakistan was carved out of colonial India at the end of British colonial rule in 1947, Kartarpur ended up on the western side of the border, while most of the region's Sikhs remained on the other side.
Since then, the perennial state of enmity between India and Pakistan has been a constant barrier to those wanting to visit the temple, known in Sikhism as a gurdwara.
Pilgrims on both sides of the border echoed the hope that the corridor might herald a thawing in the relationship between India and Pakistan.
"When it comes to government-to-government relations, it is all hate and when it comes to people-to-people ties, it's all love," one of the Sikh pilgrims, who did not give his name, told Pakistani state TV as he crossed. -AFP