Despite the threat perception to Indians in Pakistan following the execution of the lone surviving 26/11 gunman Ajmal Kasab, a large number of Sikh pilgrims here left for that country on Sunday.
The pilgrims will participate in Guru Nanak Dev's birth anniversary celebrations at his native place Nankana Sahib in Pakistan. While 2,208 pilgrims boarded two special trains from Attari international railway station to travel to Lahore, another 178 crossed over through the Wagah-Attari road check-post.
In the list of those who left by train are 899 people, who are part of the jatha of Shriomani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which is being led by member Jang Bahadur Singh Rai.
Besides Nankana Sahib, the jatha will also pay obeisance at Panja Sahib and Dera Sahib in Lahore among other shrines, before returning home on December 4.
"We are on a pilgrimage to the place where Guru Nanak was born; God will look after us," said Jaswinder Singh, a pilgrim as he boarded the first train from here.
The same feeling was echoed by Devinder Singh, who boarded the train with his family. He said whenever a jatha went to Pakistan there was talk of a threat. "But with God's blessings nothing has happened so far and this time too nothing will happen."
Referring to the threats by terrorist outfits Lashkar-e-Taiba and Pakistani Taliban about avenging Kasab's hanging, Jaswinder Kaur, said: "It is the duty of the Pakistan government to rein in such groups. Our security is the responsibility of the Pakistani government."
While boarding the second train, Kuldip Singh put the security onus on the Pakistani government. "If any untoward incident were to occur, it will have a bearing on the relations between the two nations," he added.
SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar has already written to the Indian and Pakistan governments about the safety of the pilgrims after Pakistani terror groups threatened to target Indians.
Confusion prevails as trains arrive late
Pilgrims had a harrowing time as trains, which were supposed to take them to Attari and then to Pakistan, arrived late at the Amritsar railway station.
Left with no option, they boarded taxis, autorickshaws and any other vehicle to make their way to Attari. Even at Attari they had to wait for hours before the first train arrived at 2pm. The second train from Pakistan also got delayed due to the late arrival of the first one here.
The first train crossed over at 4pm; the second, two hours later. A third train arrived later, but by then all the pilgrims had left for Lahore.
"The delay was due to a communication gap between the Indian Railways and the Pakistan Railways," a railway official at Attari said. "However, everything was sorted out later and Pakistan Railways sent its trains."
According to procedure, pilgrims board the trains from Amritsar and come to Attari where customs and immigration clearance take place. Thereafter they leave for across the border.
For the 178 pilgrims, who left by buses, there was no hitch in reaching Pakistan.