Kartarpur (Pakistan): The long-awaited Kartarpur corridor is finally open.
Last year, towards the end of November, I had travelled to Kartarpur in Pakistan to get a glimpse of a place that many have spoken about over the years and to witness the ground-breaking ceremony of the corridor.
There, adjacent to paddy fields, lay a very ordinary looking gurdwara in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.
In 2018, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur had two boundary walls and the entry gate to the main temple was a narrow rectangular passage through which only one person could squeeze through. There was a temporary place to keep shoes, and if lost them I would have no other option but to get back to Lahore barefoot.
Near that entry, there used to be taps and a long sink where devotees washed themselves and even their utensils after eating at the langar.
For the langar itself, there was an open area that one could also mistake for a pathway, where people sat and were served food. With bits of dal smashed into the brick and mud floors, it was difficult to walk.
Outside, near the paddy fields, a makeshift parking made its useful for pilgrims from India and elsewhere who came to pay their respects at the gurudwara where Guru Nanak spent his last years. Most of the Indians who managed to make arduous trek in previous years had to travel to Lahore via the Wagah-Attari crossing and then take a bus to cover 160 km to reach the holy spot.
One can now visit the gurudwara and go back to India the very same evening.
With this freshly-minted India-Pakistan corridor now a reality, people no longer have to squeeze through the tiny gate and eat food out in the open. During my first visit, I had wondered how 5,000 pilgrims would be looked after on a daily basis with such poor infrastructure in place.
On November 9, Sunday, when I reached the hallowed area a second time after driving through villages in Pakistan that look almost no different from those on the Indian side of the border, the first glimpse of the complex from between the trees confirmed the complete metamorphosis it had undergone.
No paddy fields were to be seen in the vicinity, instead big gates, fencing and a perimeter wall full of living areas, office complexes, the langar area, washrooms and rest houses for pilgrims could be seen.
The gurudwara complex had actually been expanded almost ten times from four acres to a whopping 42 acres, replete with areas full of marble tiles and mosaic staircases. There are some 20 dormitories to cater to 500 pilgrims in one go and work is on to increase the number of dormitories to cater to more devotees over the coming years. The Pakistan government has spent an estimated $100 million to built the corridor and ready the gurudwara complex.
If one were to compare the images I took of Kartarpur a year apart, they alone stand as testimony as to how much things changed.
Once a neglected structure, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur has come to life .
A family sits on a tiled floor that did not exist a year ago.
A Muslim woman from Lahore with her Sikh neighbours at the complex.
Amarjit, from Southhall in the UK, made his maiden visit.
Amrik Singh (in the blue turban), a Nihang from Amritsar, speaks to people from Pakistan inside the gurudwara complex.
Australian Sikh Sangat member Baljeet Singh has paid three earlier visits but feels this fourth one has been the best and most comfortable.
Devotees on the roof of the gurudwara while a Pakistani security helicopter surveils the area.
Devotees with their families inside the temple complex say they have comfortable arrangements to stay.
Harpreet Singh from Akal Takht arrives with 550 pilgrims via Kartarpur corridor on November 9.
Inside the temple complex on the ground floor.
Joginder Singh came from Amritsar via the corridor and feels that both India and Pakistan should stop their enmity and talk to build better relations for peace and harmony.
Joginder Singh, who is in a wheelchair, is a guru to Rupinder (left), who has come from the UK. They feel now that the pilgrimage is more comfortable, a greater flow of devotees will be seen.
Kirat Pal Singh (in the middle) from Birmingham in the UK came for the inauguration with his family. Visiting after 15 years, he said the change has been dramatic. Photo: Shome Basu
Long racks have provided to store shoes, for which devotees are given tokens.
Many Muslim families came from the nearby district of Sialkot to witness the historic day. Some said they’ve never seen so many people in once place together other than in Mecca.
Visitors from India.
One of the sides of the rectangular areas which hosts rooms offices and washrooms. The corridors are all decked with marble.
People from India who came via the corridor felt happy to be the part of the journey; most feel that the measure would only help in bringing India and Pakistan closer.
Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan at the inaugural ceremony at the Kartarpur Gurudwara Complex.
Pritam Singh and his wife Manjeet Kaur, from New Delhi, were incredibly thankful to Imran Khan and Navjot Singh Sidhu “for all they have done for the Sikh community”. Photo: Shome Basu
Sikh women from Peshawar at the venue who mostly spoke Pashto and could not speak in Punjabi, Urdu or Hindi.
Sikh women from Peshawar at Kartarpur as a part of a religious tour. Photo: Shome Basu
Sikhs from around the world and India in the inner sanctum.
Some 5,000 people came to witness the opening ceremony.
The Darbar Sahib gurudwara in Kartarpur at sunset.
The facility of prasad is now inside the temple complex which wasn’t available last year.
The Granthi or the holy book room has been totally refurbished.
The large shoe storage unit.
The paddy fields can now be seen in the distance from the roof of the gurudwara.
The outer wall and gate facing India from where the corridor has been made for pilgrims to visit.
The sprawling Darbar Sahib complex.
The temple complex from inside.
Vicky Kumar (right) is a Hindu from Karachi.
All pictures by Shome Basu.