Pakistan Yatra – A Sikh Indian Lady’s Story from Across the Border

By Navjot Kohli
December 4, 2018
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Pakistan Yatra is an Uplifting Story of a Sikh Indian Lady’s Journey to Visit the Gurdwaras Across the Border

4 minute read

“Pakistan!!?? Why?” that’s the reaction we got from everyone when we announced plans for our latest trip. This was followed by a concerned “Is it safe?”

It’s hard to explain to someone what a jumble of conflicting emotions the name of the country brings up. For centuries our forefathers lived and worked in the land until they fled to a new country. The older generation never stopped pining for their homeland and left us holding the feelings of unfulfilled desire to go back once at least and bring closure to the heartache. The line that divided the country into two also divided their lives into two halves: before partition and after partition.

Growing up in India, there was always a curiosity about how the other side lived. People who visited talked of their experiences; blurry TV reception of PTV from Lahore offered us glimpses into their lifestyles, and bootleg copies of Pakistani dramas became the hottest thing on our VCRs in the 80’s. So, getting to go to Pakistan was a dream come true for my husband and I, as we both had a yearning to visit it.

Kartarpur corridor
Enroute to the Pakistan Border

There is a thin red line after no man’s land, that demarcates the beginning of the border. One step and you are on the other side. We line up at the immigration counter and the officer on duty greets us with a smile and a greeting in pure Punjabi! His enthusiasm and welcome come straight from the heart. Listening to his pure Punjabi , I realize that we share the bond of a common mother tongue as well. We are ​Humzabaan.

As we proceed to Lahore, there is little difference in the landscape or the topography, only signs in Urdu remind us that we are no longer in India. The hotel staff greet us with red rose garlands, rose petal showers and a Dhol player. It doesn’t take long for our party to join in the Bhangra and respond to their elaborate welcome. Punjabis on both sides dance to the same beat bhangra beat!  Later at dinner, the waiters go out of their way to bring us Kashmiri chai and Kahwa. They are just as eager to share their culture with us, as we are to explore it: “​Aap hamare Mehman hai​”, they respond with a smile.

A gas station owner opens up his home to ladies who want to freshen up, a local ​lambardar​ gets us bags full of gur that we can take back. A hotel manager refuses to take money when I want to buy a basket from him …​ Aap hamare mehman hai​! As we tour the area, this phrase is heard multiple times.

It’s Mehman nawazi yet again ​when my grandfather’s 95 year old prepartiton neighbour Raja sahib travelled for two hours with his family members to meet me at Rohtas fort. The gentleman who was in excellent health regaled us with stories of partition and life before that. It was truly a moment to be cherished, as I realized how much of an effort it was for him to make that trip.

Sikh gurdwara, Kartarpur corridor

The Gurudwaras we visit are neat and clean, most have an air of peacefulness that’s hard to describe. The buildings are simple and with none of the ornate decorative accents that most Indian Gurdwaras have. Some have local Muslim caretakers, who share the same love and respect for Guru Nanak Dev Ji that we do. I’m happy  to realize that he is just as much their Baba Nanak as he is ours!

Gurdwara Sacha Sauda, Rohri Sahib, Tambu Sahib, Chakshi Sahib, all of them mark an event in Guruji’s life that we heard about in our grandmothers’ bedtime stories. It’s so amazing to actually see where they transpired. As we walk along the Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara, you can see the fields where Guruji actually worked in the final years of his life. Walking on the same land gives you goosebumps.

Sikh gurdwara in Pakistan

The highlight of the tour is Nanakana Sahib where we reach to celebrate Gurpurab. Devotees from all over fill the place: there are Sindhis who have travelled 12 hours, Peshawari Sikhs and Multanis too, apart from Sikhs from all over the world. The atmosphere is one of celebration and joy and the message of universal brotherhood is reality.

As we move from one city to another I realize we have police cars provided for security, leading and following us. The police men accompany us on shopping trips always, quietly making sure no one gets left behind. As we navigate the crowded Anarkali Bazaar on a Sunday, they courteously offer to drop us to our buses.

Ten days are over too soon. Our farewell dinner is at a 200 year old renovated Haveli that overlooks the Badshahi mosque. The evening is magical with a singer singing Punjabi songs, drawing us into a bond of brotherhood and friendship.

Our iPhones are stuffed with photos and our hearts are full of memories, bags are loaded with Parshad and holy water to take back to friends and family. We get on the bus and plan the next trip to Lahore. Once is not enough… and safety? Well you don’t worry about safety when you are with family.

Read about the Do’s and Dont’s if you plan to visit Katas Raj Temples in Pakistan. Also, take a glance at Lahore.

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About Navjot Kohli

Navjot lives in California, USA with her husband and two kids. She enjoys reading and holds a keen interest in the history of the Indian sub continent.