Amritsar/Kartarpur – With a hectic schedule ahead, the organizers insisted on an early start at 8 am towards Dera Baba Nanak Assembly Place. As the convoy moved through dusty narrow rural roads, many convoys were racing towards the same destination with sirens blaring and lights flashing.
At the approach road to the venue, the sea of people resembled a tsunami as the convoy inched forward. The damage from heavy rains to the grounds was evident as buses needed to be carefully parked on wet, shifting, muddy fields.
We were escorted to the arena, where Sikh hymns filled the air. As we tiptoed through muddy grounds, we were taken backstage for a photo session with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Within minutes of our arrival there, Modi appeared, wearing a turban and a smile. He exchanged pleasantries with us and posed for a few pictures, and was gone – answering a few questions with a nod and a smile.
Our trek towards the border started again, and the torturous snail-paced minutes to get out of the crowds took its own time. Arriving at the border, we disembarked and proceeded to go through the security check and immigration formalities from the Indian side.
With the formalities completed, all the pilgrims were comfortably seated in the spacious hall where there was a buffet for the hungry and lots of tea and coffee.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh looked frail and greeted everyone with a faint smile. He waited without complaining for hours for Modi to arrive and flag off the first Jatha to Kartarpur. Sunny Deol was his usual self as a fellow traveler quipped, “Bhajee hand pump na ley anna.”
Sidhu was conspicuously the star for the Jatha as people lined up to take pictures with him. Even when he was having lunch, people came, and he would stand up and oblige for a photo or two. Sidhu discussed in detail as the IAT journalist sat next to him. He sounded enthusiastic about peace between the two nuclear-powered neighbors.
Asked to comment on a few subjects, Sidhu told IAT: “No Comments please.”
As we were waiting for the gates to open, the IAT journalist conversed with Manmohan Singh and went down memory lane when he had asked the former prime minister a question in France during a press conference after India-EU Summit. The former prime minister looked very frail and walked at a slow pace.
Once we approached Pakistani immigration, there was an opportunity to exchange money into Pakistani currency. The limit was Indian Rupees 1600 and US$ 20 only.
The people at the immigration counter were very courteous. After we cleared immigration, buses ferried the pilgrims to the holy Kartarpur Corridor, where the crowds were milling around. Still, the spacious corridors and huge open grounds were more than enough for thousands of people.
The program kicked off as usual with speeches where again, Sidhu got a rousing hero’s welcome and gave a passionate speech thanking his friend cricketer Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Khan, on his part, spoke later of the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev as “insaniyat ki baatein kartey hain,” listing a lot of names of Sufi saints and citing former South African leader Nelson Mandela as an apostle of peace and harmony.
Khan expressed happiness that people could come here and hoped this “is a beginning,” adding, “Insha Allah, the relationship with India will improve.”
Tejinder Singh was the Founder and Editor of India America Today, and is the inspiration for Global Strat View.