Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan through Kartarpur Corridor.
I just finished my trip to Kartarpur Sahib, Pakistan. It was an amazing once in a life time experience!
Below I have written a few of my observations and thoughts.
To start, getting to Dera Baba Nanak (the last village on Indian side before border) from Amritsar is easy. It only took one hour by car. The road is not bad although some patches are bumpy and congested.
But once you arrive at the Kartarpur Corridor, things really slow down. It took me almost another hour to clear multiple rounds of checks of immigration, customs, stamps, etc on both Indian and Pakistani side. People were polite but the checks very numerous and repetitive. I felt they were unnecessary.
Not to mention mandatory polio drops administered at the Indian gate! Mine were manufactured by BIBCOL located in Bulandshahr, the same company that had a polio virus contamination scare! And oh everyone was asking “Sardarji, tussi kalle hi aiho? Family ni ai?” But that’s life.
Pakistan charges USD20 to every pilgrim going to Kartarpur Sahib and they only accept US dollars! This is not mentioned on any of the forms I had to fill or in the website maintained by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Govt of India. Luckily I had the foresight and carried dollars with me.
The good news is once you finish the formalities things get much better! The Kartarpur Corridor actually is about 4.5 Km long. It is a clean and newly constructed road (opened only late 2019). They have modern (Chinese made) buses to take pilgrims back and forth. There are also electric golf carts for the shorter distances between the immigration centers. But I decided to walk. And I was the only walker.
The walk was worth it because you can actually experience the Kartarpur Corridor much better that way. I had the entire road to myself! There was no one else. Along the way you see Pakistani rangers in a distance, some of them riding horses who politely smile and say “Sardarji, ki hal chal ae”.
The surrounding fields were green, lush but desolate. I did not see a single farmer working in the fields except a few Pakistanis near the River Ravi doing some stone and rock work. They too greeted me and asked how I was.
And yes by the way, mid way on the Corridor you do cross the Ravi. That crossing is unique in itself. The Ravi is a majestic, very tranquil and serene river.
It took me about 45 mins to cross the corridor. Once I arrived at Kartarpur Sahib, I finally realized how massive this complex it although I could already see from a distance how big it is. The present structure was built in the 1930s by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala and typical of him, he built it like a palace! It is huge!!
The gurudwara complex has an entrance (darshan deori), massive labyrinth halls, a sarovar sahib thay looks like a swimming pool in a 5 star hotel, angeetha sahib, Langar hall, a gargantuan mehman khana, a study diwan, Khoo Sahib the well from which Guru Nanak irrigated his fields and of course the main gurudwara. Also adjoining the complex is Kheti sahib, where Guru Nanak used to farm.
The main gurudwara itself is quite small though it looks big from outside. What’s unique about it is that the actual diwan is on the 1st floor. The ground floor is part of the Gurudwara building and is fully constructed but is largely empty except for Guru Nanak’s samadhi where his flowers are buried.
Upstairs they have a small area for people to sit and listen to path and kirtan. It’s slightly bigger that the inner sanctum at Darbar Sahib in Amritsar. What immediately struck me when I sat down to listen to kirtan is the lack of Sikhs and therefore proper Granthis in Pakistan. The kirtan jatha has two Mona Singh’s and nobody in the group could sign or play musical instruments properly. They were all be-sura!
Outside inner gurudwara there were two Bhais serving parshad. One of them was Mona. I noticed this was my chance to get Pakistan currency. So I told the bhai I want to buy Rs. 50 worth parshad and could I take change in Pakistani money? He said yes. And that’s how ingot hold of the single Pakistani currency I own! Everywhere I went was mobbed by Pakistanis for selfies. This included old men, middle aged men, boys and girls. People just walked up, said “Sat Sri Akal Sardarji” and wold pose to for selfies. One group of Pakistanis spoke in chaste Punjabi, took a bunch of selfies and then told me they were Christians! They were all very polite and always asked permission first.
The first selfie request happened in the Corridor, just as I was crossing the Ravi during my approach. A young man driving a tractor was coming from the opposite side. We were the only two civilians on that road. He waved at me and just as reached me, he stopped his tractor, jumped out and came running at me. Asking for a selfie. We took one in the banks of the river Ravi. I asked his name. He said Naveed.
I ate langar after a long time partly because I was hungry and there is nothing around at all. In langar they served dal, roti and saffron rice cooked with kabuli chana and whole black mirch. Afterwards they served tea. The langar hall was massive. When I ate it was only 1/3rd full.
After langar I visited Kheti Sahib where Guru Nanak farmed. I saw radishes and sagmal grown in the fields. It was quite and peaceful on the fields. I did not see any farm workers. Not many tourist bothered visiting Kheti Sahib.
Kheti Sahib was also where a Pakistani sewadar (they are all Muslims by the way) asking for money! I politely declined. The second occasion was when I went to collect my shoes at the Joda Ghar! This was perhaps the only negative to my otherwise extremely positive experience. I have never had sewadars ask for money!
Overall, I noticed about 100-150 Sikh or Hindu pilgrims from India. The rest 200-300 were Pakistanis mostly from Lahore. I know this because of the selfie crowd. They told me where they were from.
The Indian pilgrims treated the site as a sacred pilgrimage. For the Pakistanis it was a tourist site. Most were busy taking selfies, videos and pictures. The boys were posing in their best poses and the girls putting on the best pout for selfies. Outside the gurudwara they had a bin full of green plastic hats for pilgrims to cover their heads. The hats and the bin were made in India! You can see it in the selfies.
On my walk back I saw the big Indian flag which only seemed a small distance away. I realized the actual border separation between the two countries is very small. I can imagine before partition how Kartarpur Sahib would have been viewed as just down the road. Alas, not anymore!
I found people on the Pakistani side warmer and friendlier. They all smiled, interacted cheerfully and asked how I was doing. On the Indian they were aloof and cold. I told this to the Major who was commanding the Indian post. And he didn’t like it at all.
But then again, that’s the message of Guru Nanak. There is no Hindu or Muslim or Indian or Pakistan . We are all One. Children of God.
The Pakistani translation of Waheguru is “God is Wondrous”!!!!