Pakistan has invited Indian Sikhs to attend the 551st birth anniversary celebrations of Sikh faith’s founder, Guru Nanak Dev, an official said on Monday.
The three-day celebrations, known as Guru Nanak Gurpurab, will begin on November 27 at Nankana Sahib.
Every year, a large number of Sikh pilgrims from India and different parts of the world gather at the Gurdwara Janamasthan Nankana Sahib, the birth place of Guru Nanak, in Pakistan’s Punjab province to mark his birth anniversary.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to affect festivities this year.
The Indian pilgrims will be offered a five-day visa to enter the country upon the proof of a mandatory COVID-19 negative test, The Express Tribune reported.
The Abandoned Waqf Property Board and the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) have also sent regular invitations and itineraries to various Sikh societies, including the Shiromani Committee of India, for attending the festivities.
In view of the coronavirus pandemic, the Sikhs from India will be allowed to stay in the country only for a limited period of time, with no extensions.
The special five-day Nankana Sahib Visa will effectively expire on December 2.
“All pilgrims coming to partake in the festivities of Baba Guru Nanak Dev’s birth anniversary will required to observe and abide by all COVID-19 standard operating procedures throughout their stay, even after showing the mandatory negative COVID-19 test,” an official of the country’s Waqf board said.
According to PSGPC Head Sardar Satwant Singh, the schedule of their stay in Pakistan had to be revised in consideration of closed borders and the rising coronavirus tally in India.
“There will be no new restrictions placed on the number of Indian Sikh pilgrims making the journey,” he said.
As per the Pakistan-India bilateral agreement, 3,000 Indian Sikh pilgrims will be allowed entry into the country for the Gurpurab celebrations.
However, this time around, visitors will only have the option of the Nankana Sahib Visa, unlike last year when they had the option of a 10-day visa to visit multiple gurdwaras in Lahore, Nankana Sahib, Hassan Abdal, Kartarpur, Rohri Sahib and Farooqbad.
For the first time, Sikh pilgrims visiting the country will also not have the option to stay or shop in Lahore and be required to exit the country upon conclusion of religious festivities.
According to Singh, Indian pilgrims will be welcomed at the Wagah Border on November 27, from where they will be taken to Nankana Sahib through a special bus service.
“The pilgrims will have access to various gurdwaras in Nankana Sahib and also participate in the Nagar Kirtan custom. At the end of which, they will be shuttled back to Wagha Border December 1, to head back to India,” he added.
Last week, addressing a media briefing here, Foreign Office Spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said that Pakistan reopened the Kartarpur corridor on July 29, but India has not yet opened from its side.
The corridor – which allows Indian pilgrims to undertake visa-free travel to the historic Kartarpur Sahib gurudwara – was closed on March 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
India has said a decision to re-open the Kartarpur corridor would be taken in accordance with the protocols relating COVID-19 and easing of restrictions.
The corridor links Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur in India to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan – the final resting place of Guru Nanak.
Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara is located in Pakistan’s Narowal district across the river Ravi, about four kilometres from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine.
In November last year, the two countries threw open the corridor linking Dera Baba Sahib in Gurdaspur in India and Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan, in a historic people-to-people initiative.