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Sikh pilgrims take selfie pictures in front of the Shrine of Baba Guru Nanak Dev at the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib ahead of its opening, in the Pakistani town of Kartarpur near the Indian border. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: Pakistan is all set to welcome thousands of Sikh pilgrims as Prime Minister Imran Khan will formally inaugurate the Kartarpur corridor on November 9 to mark 550th birth anniversary of the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak. The peace corridor would allow Sikh pilgrims from India visa-free travel to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib – one of Sikhism’s holiest pilgrimage sites.

When was the agreement signed?

Pakistan and India signed a final agreement on Kartarpur corridor on October 24 in a rare cooperation between the two bitter neighbours.

How much is the fee? Do Indian Sikh pilgrims have to carry passport?

Each Sikh visitor would be required to pay US$20 as fee. However, Pakistan has waived entry fee. The Foreign Office on Thursday clarified that the passport waiver for Kartarpur pilgrims would extend up to one year as a special gesture. FO Spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal was responding to a question on a statement by Director General ISPR where he termed passport a must requisite for Indian pilgrims using Kartarpur Corridor. “This is the formal position of Foreign Office and the ISPR statement is also in line with it.” There is no fee for Pakistani citizens.

Facilities for Sikh pilgrims

To facilitate visa-free travel of 5,000 pilgrims arriving through the Kartarpur Corridor from India on a daily basis, Pakistan has set up around 76 immigration counters. The approximately $100 million complex features a tent village to accommodate up to 10,000 guests, medical centre, IT centre, museum, money exchange booth, shopping kiosk and a free food hall for 2,000 people.

How many pilgrims are arriving for the festival?

Every year, nearly 3,000 Sikhs from India and similar number from all over the world arrive in Pakistan for the annual ceremony. This number is expected to nearly double this year for the grand inauguration ceremony, according to Special Assistant to PM on Information, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan.

What are the two other ways to travel to world’s largest Gurdwara?

1. Wagah border

Pilgrims can also arrive via Wagah border under a 1974 Pakistan-India Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines. During special occasions, Pakistan issues maximum number of visas to visitors from across the border. Over 2,000 Sikhs from India have already arrived for 2019 festival.

3. International routes

Thousands of Sikh pilgrims from all over the world including UK, Canada, the UAE and European countries are also arriving in Pakistan. Around 600 pilgrims have reached from the UK and dozens from Canada.

Significance of Kartarpur

Pakistan laid the foundation stone of the Kartarpur Corridor project on November 28, 2018, and completed it in record time to offer visa-free access to pilgrims to world’s largest Sikh Gurdwara. Pakistan is home to some of the holiest sites of Sikh religion and Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur is believed to have been built on the site where Guru Nanak breathed his last in the 16th Century.