Had a happy “Blast” in Pakistan and loved it!!
For many years, our neighbouring country has been a matter of curiosity for me, I must admit that Kartarpur Sahib was always been on my list and couldn’t visit it earlier because it was not possible due to visa regulations. I have some great friends from the neighbouring country who have been educationists, teachers, professors and corporate trainers and I have had the honour of conducting a few training sessions online for them and a client in Pakistan. My curiosity, warmth of my Pakistani friends, and their kind love and affection for me, backed by my faith in Sikhism (though I was born as Jain and have been practising multi-religious and faith philosophy for quite some time, being someone in between free thinker and an atheist) if I could choose my religion, I would want to be a Sikh. Sikhism is a man-made faith based on the principles of humanity. It teaches you tolerance, acceptance, giving, and serving.I have visited Gurudwaras in not just India but also London, Birmingham, San Jose, Paris, Manila Singapore and now Pakistan. Everywhere I felt the same unity and purity.
So this time, since my trekking expedition to Annpoorna Mountains got dropped, thought of trying my luck with Kartarpur Sahib Darshan on my birthday. First headed to Amritsar and then booked a cab to Dera Baba Nanak (around 50 km, an hour’s journey from Amritsar) where the town borders Pakistan and has the Land Transport Authority of India, which has an immigration checkpoint.
I had informed my friends in Pakistan about my visit and three of them were kind to travel all the way from Karachi, Multan and Rawalpindi just to meet me for a couple of hours! Yes, Kartarpur not only allows Indians to freely enter their country and visit the sprawling Gurudwara but also gives people from both sides an opportunity to mingle with each other!
I loved the sound of that and decided to apply for the permit. ( Click on this link for registration).
So let us get down to the basics:
What is required?
– Passport with at least 6 months validity
– Aadhar Card
Just click on the link above and fill in the details. Upload the photos of your passport as well as your Aadhar card to finish the process. Enter the date of intended travel. Once you fill out the form and submit it, do save/print the final form to have a record of your application number.
Your local police station will verify your address and other details and the permit will be issued 3 days before your travel date. They will let you know, one way or another, only three days in advance. So make sure you have made the travel bookings. The trains to Amritsar are almost always full.
Assuming you got the permit, don’t forget to take a printout of your Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA). You will need this document to enter. Without this paper, they will NOT allow you. You will also have to carry your passport.
There are two ways to get there:
– Train/bus/air to Amritsar: As soon as you arrive in Amritsar, you can take a bus/train to Dera Baba Nanak. It takes about 1.5hrs approx. by train and bus. I took the bus so I will share the process from the bus station.
As you get down at the bus station, you can take one of the free shuttles to the immigration center. I was very late and couldn’t find the shuttle so I took a rickshaw that took Rs. 50 to drop me to the border.
– Drive: This would be a better option because after 5 it is almost impossible to find a transportation back. Fortunately, I was travelling by an individual cab.
Once you reach the immigration, the process is fairly simple. You can simply show them your passport and ETA to get the approval slip. There are at least 3-4 checkpoints at the Indian immigration where you have to fill out the customs form and declare the currency you are taking.
The funniest thing that happened was polio drops. They gave me two disgusting drops of polio medication before I left the building. I asked them why I needed this, they told me that Polio has been completely eradicated from India and they don’t want us to bring it back from Pakistan.
Once you are done with the process, you can find a battery rickshaw that will take you to the border. From here you walk into Pakistan on foot.
The first thing you will notice once you enter Pakistan is the big smile with which they greet you. I met a few soldiers who were very happy to see me as I was probably the last one to enter the gates of Pakistan that day at 2:30 PM. People usually come in the morning and leave by the afternoon. I saw another battery-operated rickshaw on that side that took me to Pak immigration.
You have to pay $20 to gain entrance into Kartarpur. It is advisable to take the currency from India because the exchange rates in Pakistan are insane. You pay that outside the immigration center and proceed towards getting an entry slip. They will give you a card with a yellow band. You need to wear it at all times.
Pakistan immigration does not stamp your passport. Instead, they issue you an entry/exit slip that you need to hand over on your way so make sure you keep it safe and handy.
As you get the slip, proceed to exit the building and you can board the waiting bus that will drive you to the temple.
You can also walk the 3.5 km stretch which is a plain road and a beautiful one at that. You would especially enjoy crossing the bridge over River Ravi. The approaching Gurudwara looks incredibly beautiful and peaceful.
Once you reach the Gurudwara, you can walk around the massive complex and marvel at its immaculate construction. This project was completed in all of 11 months from scratch, one of the crowning glories of Pakistan and a world record too! It is really praiseworthy, the complex and its management.
What I enjoyed the most was the free interaction with fellow Pakistanis who are more than happy to meet you and greet you! You will feel so welcomed and enjoy their well-known hospitality.
This temple is important to Sikhs because it was the final resting place of Guru Nanakjii. However, what strikes you the most is the fact that people of all faiths are welcome here. Needless to say, don’t forget to try the langar that is also served with just as much love and care.
Things to remember:
1. The souvenir shops inside the complex are expensive, but you can buy some authentic Pakistani fare. You can exchange your currency here too. Shops are allowed to accept only Pakistani currency. There are good sweets and dry fruits as well as Pakistani Pathani clothes strongly recommended. Get as much of Jal Prasad from Kartarpur Sahib. No restriction on that.
2. You HAVE to be back by 5 PM on the Indian side. They drill that into your head when you are leaving.
3. You have to spend all the Pakistani currency there and exchange it on your way back. No Pakistani currency of any denomination is allowed in India and has a strict 2 years jail sentence.
4. The last bus leaves at 4.30 PM so make sure you hop on to that one.
5. A $20 fee will be charged to give you access to the corridor
6. The polio drops. Yuck. It is mandatory.
7. Do carry your passport and ETA form
8. They do not stamp your passport.
9. It is very safe inside; in case you are worried about security.
10. You will not be able to leave the complex. On your permit, you can only visit up to the temple and back. You cannot go to other cities.
11. You need to apply for the permit at least 10-15 days in advance.
12. Once you travel, you will not be allowed to travel again for one year (an Indian immigration officer told me this). Pakistan, however, has no such restriction.
13. You can take your private cars and park them in the complex.
14. It doesn’t matter if you are not a Sikh. It is open to everyone.
15. Your phone will receive network, at least I did and I use Airtel
I strongly recommend that you experience this peace gesture between the two countries. It is perhaps the first time we have been given the opportunity to interact with our neighbours. It is truly an amazing experience because they will welcome you and make you feel so special. You will also see that hate is just a tool that both countries use to create distractions when it suits them. I loved the people, the beauty of the complex, and of course the smooth process!
So I had a blast in Pakistan and came back happily!! They too were happy to welcome me and have a blast!!