After bitter experience on last two occasions, around 2,400 Sikh devotees left for Pakistan on pilgrimage visa from Attari railway station on Thursday. While 846 of the devotees went through Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC), the rest of them were part of other independent Sikh bodies jathas registered with the Pakistan embassy.
The Pakistan government sent three trains to facilitate the religious tour.
The devotees will first celebrate the birthday of Guru Nanak Dev at Nankana Sahib on November 4 before leaving for the Gurdwara Panja Sahib Hassan Abdal, Gurdwara Dehra Sahib Lahore, Gurdwara Rori Sahib Eminabad and Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib Narowal, before returning on November 11.
Sikh jathas could not travel to Pakistan on the martyrdom day of Guru Arjun Dev and the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in May and June, respectively, following objections by the Indian government.
Sikh jathas go on four official religious tours to visit gurdwaras in Pakistan every year. The Indian government did not allow the jathas to travel to Pakistan via train on the last two occasions citing security reasons.
The SGPC and other independent Sikh bodies plan their jathas for official tours. The SGPC, however, got very low response from Sikh devotees for this tour as it got only 947 applications against the average of 1,600 it gets on the birthday of Guru Nanak Dev. Partap Singh, SGPC manager related with tours, said: “There was a low response for this tour as the last two tours were cancelled by the Indian government. We got only 947 applications this year. Otherwise we receive from 1,600 to 1,800 requests. Around 34 passports have been returned without visa this year.”
It is also a rare occasion when SGPC’s jatha was outnumbered by total Sikh devotees in other jathas. SGPC, which has quota of 1,800 out of total 3,000 visas, always have the biggest jatha.