An expected 700 Indian Sikhs will make history on Saturday, as they become the first people to avail the visa-free Kartarpur Corridor established by Pakistan and India.
The shrine to Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak is located in a small village where he is believed to have died. It is one of the holiest places in Sikhism and has long been a point of contention between Islamabad and New Delhi as Sikhs based in India have been unable to visit it since Partition in 1947, due to strained ties between the neighboring nations.
Last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan performed the groundbreaking ceremony of the corridor with a pledge to have it completed before the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak—which takes place on Nov. 12. Per the government, hundreds of laborers have worked to expand the site and build a bridge connecting Pakistan and India, along with an immigration checkpoint.
Earlier this week, Khan announced on Twitter that Indian pilgrims would not need a passport to cross into Pakistan so long as they have valid, government-issued identification. While normally a service charge of $20 would be charged for each visitor, the P.M. said anyone arriving on the opening day or on Nov. 12 would be provided entry for free. Additionally, pilgrims will not be required to register 10 days prior to arrival. There has been some confusion over these waivers, with New Delhi saying it will only accept conditions as laid down in the agreement between the two nations.
The Kartarpur Corridor marks an increasingly rare example of cooperation between Pakistan and India. Negotiations on how it would operate lasted nearly a year and were only finalized last month.
The four-kilometer-long passage connects the Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur to the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Indian Punjab. Both sides have agreed to cap the daily visitors to 5,000, though Pakistan’s Foreign Office has said it hopes to eventually double that capacity.
Per news agency AFP, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will see off the first group of pilgrims. Prime Minister Imran Khan will then welcome them at the shrine.
Pakistan’s APP news agency said visitors would be able to visit a museum set up in the vicinity that features photographs of Sikh religious leaders. In addition, a 12-bed hospital has been established for any health emergency.
Around 250 cameras will offer round-the-clock vigil for foolproof security and effective monitoring of the complex, while 1,500 staffers have also been assigned for the facilitation of pilgrims.