562 pilgrims visit Kartarpur gurdwara on first day, welcomed by Pak PM Imran Khan
According to the agreement between India and Pakistan, 5,000 pilgrims from India can visit the shrine, the final resting place of Guru Nanak Dev, daily and the number can be increased in future
On the inaugural day, 562 pilgrims crossed over to Pakistan to offer prayers at the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur after the much-awaited corridor was opened, officials said on Saturday.
The four-km-long corridor, which connects the revered gurdwara in Pakistan to Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district of Punjab, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Saying that he felt blessed to be on holy land here, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday thanked his Pakistan counterpart Imran Khan for understanding and respecting India's sentiments on the issue of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor.
"I thank Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. He understood India's feelings on the Kartarpur corridor issue, gave respect and, keeping in view those feelings, worked accordingly," he told a gathering at the BSF camp in Shikhaar Masiahan, about eight kilometres from the Dera Baba Nanak gurdwara.
"I also want to thank the workers of Pakistan who worked at a fast pace to help in building the corridor on their side," Modi added.
The PM inaugurated the corridor and flagged off the first batch of Indian pilgrims. A total of 562 pilgrims were part of the first 'jatha' who visited Gurdwara Darbar Sahib on the first day of the pilgrimage, a Home Ministry official said.
As per the agreement between India and Pakistan, all the pilgrims have returned to India after visiting the gurdwara located in Pakistan's Narowal district.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his wife Gursharan Kaur, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Union ministers Hardeep Puri and Som Prakash were part of the delegation.
Former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, his son and Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal and daughter-in-law and Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal were also part of the delegation led by Akal Takht Jathedar Harpreet Singh.
The gurdwara is the final resting place of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh said the opening of the Kartarpur corridor will "enormously improve" relations between India and Pakistan.
Speaking to Pakistani reporters, the former prime minister termed the opening of the corridor as a "big moment".
Chief Minister Amarinder said the Sikh community had been waiting for a free passage for 70 years, and maintained that it is a good beginning.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee members and all the 117 MLAs and MPs from Punjab including ministers are also part of the first 'jatha'.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan formally inaugurated the historic corridor to facilitate the visa-free entry of Indian Sikh pilgrims.
He welcomed the first batch of the Indian Sikh pilgrims who entered Pakistan through the corridor which links Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, the final resting place of Guru Nanak Dev, to Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Punjab's Gurdaspur.
Khan inaugurated the corridor by removing a curtain that was lifted by hot air balloons in the presence of thousands of Sikhs from across the world including India. A huge 'kirpan' (dagger) was displayed at the inauguration site.
"I am happy we could do this for you," he said, adding: "Believe me, I had no idea of the importance this place holds; I found out a year ago." During his brief address, Khan raked up the Kashmir issue and said it has resulted 70 years of hatred between India and Pakistan.
"The resolution of the Kashmir issue will lead to greater prosperity and mutual development of India and Pakistan," Khan said.
"India must ensure justice to people of Kashmir," he said, referring to the abrogation of the Article 370 and communication blackout in the Valley.
He hoped that one day the relationship between the two neighbours will improve.
Citing the examples of Prophet Muhammad, Nelson Mandela and Sufi saints, Khan said a true leader always brings people together.
Earlier, Khan visited different units of Gurdawara Darbar Sahib.
He welcomed the first batch of the Indian Sikh pilgrims who entered Pakistan through the corridor. Khan shook hand with Manmohan and exchanged pleasantries.
Speaking on the occasion, Navjot Singh Sidhu told Khan, "You have won hearts." In his address, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said:
"If the Berlin Wall can be demolished, if the Kartarpur Corridor can be opened, then the temporary boundary of the Line of Control can also be ended," Qureshi said, raking up the Kashmir issue during his address on the occasion.
Notwithstanding a chill in bilateral ties over Kashmir, India and Pakistan after tough negotiations signed an agreement last month, paving the way for the inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor on November 9.
According to the agreement between Pakistan and India, 5,000 pilgrims from India can visit the shrine daily and the number can be increased in future.
The requirement of passport and the USD 20 service fee have been waived for Saturday and for November 12 by Pakistan.
Separate events have been organised on both the sides of the border to launch the much-awaited corridor ahead of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak's 550th birth anniversary on November 12.
Guru Nanak Dev spent last 18 years of his life at Kartarpur Sahib, which has now become the world's largest Sikh Gurdawara.