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Sikhs pilgrims demand lower bus fare and visa office in Amritsar

06/28/2006


http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2006%5C06%5C27%5Cstory_27-6-2006_pg13_4
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    By Faisal Ghumman


    LAHORE: A visa office in Amritsar and a reduced bus fare would facilitate more Indian Sikhs to visit holy places in Pakistan, Sikh religious leaders said on Monday.

    “Most buses arrive empty and only 234 Sikh pilgrims have come by train to commemorate the 167th death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh,” said Sardar Baldev Singh, leader of the Sikh delegation and member of Shirmoni Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).

    Talking to Daily Times, he said Sikhs had to spend two or three days in Delhi to apply for visas, and were often denied. He offered land by the SGPC for a visa office in Amritsar which, he said, would increase the Pakistani government’s earnings besides helping Sikh pilgrims.

    Baldev Singh, who is visiting Pakistan for the second time, said 55 Sikhs were denied visas and could not participate in Maharaja Ranjeet Singh’s death anniversary.

    Amritsar was only 55 kilometres from Lahore, he said, but the bus fare was three times the train fare. More pilgrims would come if the bus fare to Nankana was reduced, Baldev Singh said, which would earn Pakistan more money.

    Sant Baba Bore Singh, member of Bhai Mardana Society, said he was visiting Pakistan for the fourth time and was happy with how Pakistani officials treated the pilgrims.

    He said the number of Sikhs visiting Pakistan for the anniversary was low this year because a large number of them had been here on June 13 to attend the 400th death anniversary of the fifth Guru, Arjun Dev Jee. The weather was also a factor, he said.

    About 234 Sikh pilgrims arrived at Lahore Railway Station by a special train at 4:25pm. The Evacuee Property Trust Board (EPTB) officials and members of Pakistan Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee welcomed them at the Wagah Border earlier.

    Mahindar Jeet Singh Punoon, a retired Bank Manager from Delhi, said he had problems getting seats in the train in his last three visits, but was happy with seat reservations this year.

    Urdev Singh from Mohali said he had come with 21 people and said the arrangements, especially customs clearance, were better than last year.

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