In a first, a delegation of British Sikh soldiers arrived in Lahore to visit the important religious and cultural sites related to Sikhism and to explore the culture of Pakistan’s Punjab.
The soldiers started their journey by attending the flag-lowering ceremony on Wagha Border. They thoroughly enjoyed the parade and the zeal of the audience on the Pakistani side.
Soldiers also paid a visit to the Walled City of Lahore and the Lahore Fort, Badshahi Masjid and other important and surviving sites related to Sikh leaders of Punjab preserved by the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA).
The delegation visited Gurdwara Janam Asthan, the birthplace of the fourth guru of Sikhism at Choona Mandi and moved to the next destination that was Haveli Nau Nihaal Singh which is now converted into Victoria School.
Major Diljinder Singh Virdee, while witnessing the century-old architecture said, “It is amazing and appreciable that WCLA has preserved all this Sikh heritage. It is very important for our next generation to see and explore about their ancestors.”
The delegation visited the Samadhi of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Gurdwara Dera Sahib adjacent to the Lahore Fort.
In the next phase of the journey, the soldiers visited the state-of-the-art religious site, Kartarpur, which was inaugurated by the government of Pakistan on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the supreme leader of Sikhism.
Baba Guru Nanak spent his last years at the place, preaching about the Sikh religion.
While entering the Gurdwara, the soldiers were emotional and everyone in the delegation felt gratitude towards their hosts.
UK’s Field Army Deputy Commander Major General Celia J Harvey, while talking to Minute Mirror said, “This place is amazing. I had seen some pictures of this place but standing here and witnessing this remarkable effort of the Pakistani government to secure such an important site related to the Sikh community is making me feel overwhelmed.”
Harvey also thanked the Pakistani military for facilitating this trip for the soldiers as for many of them, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
To show their respect, the delegation did Keertan (prayer) and listened to Ardas (prayer) at every Gurdwara and also met with the locals.
One Sikh soldier, Corporal Pardeep Kaur, becoming quite emotional said, “I never imagined that I could be here. My family and my friends are very proud of me that at such a young age, I got the opportunity of this blessed pilgrimage.”
In 1947, Punjab was divided between India and Pakistan, with a 425km-long border between them. Both sides of Punjab still have the same culture and traditions and a similar language called ‘Punjabi’.
Corporal Chaman Deep Singh, who is a passionate musician and who was also recently invited to the Queen’s Buckingham Palace Garden Party to mark 75 years of her reign said, “We have been to different countries. But the love and warmth which we get in Punjab are indispensable. The language brings us closer and I feel very proud when people here talk to me in Punjabi.”
The soldiers in the last chapter of their Punjab tour reached Nankana Sahab and paid their respect to the Shahidi of Jathedar, Lachhman Singh, who was one of the Saka Nankana Sahib martyrs in 1921.
“While standing here, at this sacred place we can say nothing but express thanks to the Pakistani military for facilitating this visit for us. Nankana Sahab, where the Guru was born and Kartarpur, where he left the world…both these places were always discussed in our homes by our parents. At times we used to think if in this lifetime, we will ever get a chance to see these places. And now when we are actually standing here, it all looks like a dream,” said Pte Opinderjit Atwal.
Head granthi of Kartarpur Corridor, Gobind Singh, head granthi of Nankana Sahab, Gopal Singh Chawla, and president of Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee, Sardar Ameer Singh welcomed the delegation with an open heart and presented Saroop and did a special Ardas (prayer) for the soldiers.
They said, “We feel very proud when these turbans contribute their time and efforts towards their community. They all are proud of our Sikh community.”
The Sikh leaders urged the Indian Sikh community to visit Pakistan and seek the blessings of the Guru as much as they could.
“Pakistan has created state-of-the-art facilities for Sikhs. Every year thousands of Sikh Yatrees come on different occasions but I would like to extend a special invitation to all my Sikh sisters and brothers to visit Kartarpur. I also want to ask the Indian government to ease the process of travelling for their religious duties,” said Gobind Singh.
All pictures by author
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