“Train to Pakistan”, these words can bring alive the horrors of the yesteryear (this refers to the events of 1947 when the India-Pakistan partition took place and several holocaust situations occurred) but my train to Pakistan was a blissful experience of a 10-day pilgrimage to Nankana Sahib the birthplace of Sikhism’s founder, Guru Nanak Dev ji, Panja Sahib, Dera Sahib and historical site like the samadhi of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the founder of Khlasa Dynasty.
The pilgrims numbering about 3000 converged at the Golden Temple Amritsar from all over India. The mesmerizing gurbani kirtan could give us a glimpse of the pilgrimage head. Special buses arranged by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee Amritsar took all of us to the international Atari railway station Amritsar. We were given a very hospitable welcome by the locals residing in that area who had arranged tea and snacks for us.
After many formalities which took several hours, Sikh Pilgrim Special-came the train chugging from Pakistan with robust security arrangements including policemen in black and sniffer dogs. The machines beeped faithfully as the pilgrims passed through it one by one. All clear! The message came and all rushed to board the train to Pakistan. Soon we were waving at our relatives.
The night fell and the lights of Lahore appeared on the horizon, what our destination was Nankana Sahib, 80 kilometres from Lahore, to participate in the religious and cultural rituals to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji.
Past midnight we reached Nankana Sahib. The excitement, joy and devotion of the devotees was remarkable. Many had waited for years to reach here and said that the wait was worth the reward. Evacuee Trust Property Board Members (ETPB) Members and Pakistan Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee members greeted us warmly.
The Gurdwara was decorated like a bride. Some pilgrims got rooms while others stayed in tent houses for the next 3 days. The washrooms were excellent with a provision of hot water 24 hours. There was no compromise on the cleanliness. The lungar included wide range of punjabi dishes, fruits, 5 varieties of sweetened milk, jalebis and snacks. Some Sikhs from Afghanistan were seen distributing dry fruits to the sangat. The three day celebrations concluded with palanquin procession in which thousands of Sikh pilgrims from India, Pakistan and other parts of the world participated with religious zeal and chanting slogans.
Panja Sahib, Hassan Abdal
Next morning, it was time to leave for Panja Sahib 370 kilo metres from Nankana Sahib by train under strict security arrangements. It was a city where we were not allowed to move freely. Ahead of our visit all the shops in the area adjoining the Gurdwara were closed down. The Gurudwara is in the heart of the city and depicts Sikh architecture and stands in the middle of a large handprint Guru Nanak. It is believed the Guru halted the boulder hurled at him by the Wali Qandhari, with his hand and an indelible mark of the Guru’s hand was imprinted on the rock. Continuous gurbani kirtan by the Sikh sangat and sewadars of PSGPC members gave a heavenly experience. SGPC had also sent a group of ragis along with the sangat.
Dera Sahib, Lahore
Now we were heading home words to Lahore to pay respect at Gurdwara Dera Sahib for the next 3 days. This was going to be very exciting as it was to be a religious as well as a sightseeing cum shopping trip. Here too the stay was in tents. The Gurdwara is opposite the Lahore Fort.
This was the place where Guru Arjan Dev Ji was martyred in the river Ravi after enduring most unheard and unseen torturers inflicted by Chandu in 1606 AD. The Gurdwara was built by Maaharaja Ranjit Singh in the memory of the Guru.
The evenings presented mela scene with small time shopkeepers putting up their stalls displaying and selling traditional Pakistani stuff.
Gurudwara Janam Asthan, Guru Ram Das Ji, Chuna Mandi, Lahore
Walking through the Chuna Mandi market of Lahore we reached the birthplace of the Guru to pay our obeisance and partook langar. On our way back we stopped at various shops selling pakistani suits and dupattas and bought a few for our friends and relatives.
Samadhi of Maharaja Ranjit Singh
Adjacent to Dera Sahib was the Samadhi of the great king, built by his son Kharak Singh. A domed marble pavilion contains his funerary urns.
Later we visited Anarkali Bazar and Liberty market for shopping. Lahore was a city where we could roam freely for 3 days without any security. We even saw the Lohore Museum especially the famous manuscript gallery.
Moving across the city, we never felt ourselves alien in Pakistan because of the good treatment by the locals and the Pakistan Government. Many pilgrims appreciated the Pakistan authorities for facilitating us better than the officials of their own country. They also appreciated the members Evacuee Trust Property Board for taking good care of our shrines. PSGPC members were thanked for making the stay comfortable vis-a-vis security, lodging, boarding and travelling. It was a life time experience.