Sunday, July 02, 2006
Pakistan Visit (Part 1)
We received the visa confirmation just one day ahead of the scheduled date for departure (April 10) and left for Amritsar the same evening, from where we were meant to board the train to Pakistan. The visa was for a duration of 15 days and would allow us to visit Hasan Abdal (Gurdwara Punja Sahib), Nankana Sahib, Chuharkhana Mandi (Gurdwara Sucha Sauda), Lahore (Gurdwara Dera Sahib), Kartarpur. Ultimately, we were also able to visit places like Eimanabad (where there are historical Gurdwaras and which was one of the towns we had to pass through, on the way to Kartarpur by road).
All the places that we visited and all the places that we journeyed through in Pakistan, lay in the province of the Punjab.
Pakistan Railway plied 'Sikh Pilgrim Special' trains that took us from Amritsar to Hasan Abdal, on to Nankana Sahib (which has now been designated as a separate district) and Lahore and finally back to Amritsar.
We visited Sucha Sauda and Kartarpur by road in local buses, under police escort.
In fact, the provincial government literally pulled out all stops while providing security and there was heavy police presence wherever the pilgrim 'jatha' (group) went. We were guarded by elite units of the Punjab Police (Pakistani) even while we were on the trains.
And I was really impressed by how well-equipped the Punjab Police on the other side of the border are. They had MP5 machine pistols (some with foldable butts), besides others who had the regular 9 mm semi-automatics. Of course there was the odd bolt-action rifle visible here and there, besides the odd revolver. According to the young off-duty cops I made friends with, it is even possible to shoot down an airliner if you point and shoot straight upwards with the G3 rifles that they have acquired recently from the Pakistani army.
And then there were these small sized Toyota Landcruisers that they had besides the neat little pick-ups..., all purchased before American regulations played havoc with the off-road driving capabilities of such vehicles by disallowing high ground-clearance.
The fitness levels of the Punjab Police on the other side of the border also appear to be much higher than their counterparts in India, which was evident in terms of far fewer pot-bellies. I suppose the kukkad-daaru (chicken and alchohol) routine of the Indian Punjab Police must be responsible for that in large measure.
Then they were also a lot less rude to the local populace as compared to the Punjab Police this side of the border. People joked with policemen far more freely than anyone would dare to in the Indian Punjab. I wonder what that could be attributed to. Does their better level of physical fitness make them more jovial as well? I do not have a definite answer.