Nankana Sahib bus rolls amid many 'roadblocks'
The bus service between the two most holy sites of the Sikh religion - this city of the Golden Temple and Nankana Sahib across the border in Pakistan - is unlikely to make the journey easier for common people.
The bus was flagged off by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday.
However, while the move to start the bus has been widely welcomed in Punjab, the high ticket prices and the fact that people will have to travel to Delhi to get a visa have created apprehensions that the service might be not be viable.
A ticket between Amritsar and Nankana Sahib - birthplace of first Sikh guru - Nanak Dev - is priced at Rs.1,000 ($22.40) for the four-hour journey.
"The fare is too high. Most of the devotees who wanted to visit the shrine would not be in a position to pay this amount," said a Sikh religious teacher (granthi) Sukhjinder Singh.
Nankana Sahib - where thousands of Sikh devotees go annually - is about 70 km from Lahore. The entire journey from here to the shrine in Pakistan would be nearly 150 km.
Moreover, the non-availability of visas here to people wanting to go to Pakistan would pose another problem.
"They (both countries) should have thought of this problem earlier. Starting the bus services from Amritsar would be of little purpose if visas are given only in Delhi. They should immediately do something about it," said Deepak, a bookstall owner.
The government had started the Amritsar-Lahore bus in December last year before the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib service.
The bus services were started from here so that people from Punjab did not have to make a nearly 900-km journey to and back from Delhi to board the Delhi-Lahore bus to go to Pakistan. The Delhi-Lahore bus had no stop anywhere in Punjab.
The Amritsar-Lahore bus too is not plying to capacity due to the high fare, Rs 800, for the 60 km journey and the visa facility not being available from here.
Officials at the international bus terminus at the youth hostel complex here said that on many days, only 10-12 passengers boarded the Amritsar-Lahore bus. They attributed it to the high fare and no visa facility in Amritsar.
Amritsar MP Navjot Singh Sidhu had earlier said the bus fares were impractical and "unpayable" for common people.
For the first journey of the Nankana Sahib bus - a 45-seater Volvo luxury coach - over 30 passengers were ministers, officials and their family members while about 10 were other passengers.
"The bookings for the first bus were mostly for officials. Other passengers numbered just about 8-10," reservation officer Jaswant Singh said.
The Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) - the mini-parliament of Sikh religion that manages Sikh shrines - was upset that the management of the bus service was not entrusted to it.
"We were the right agency to run the bus and send devotees to Nankana Sahib," said SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar.