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Pakistan, India launch new bus amid emotional scenes

Written by: Staff
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NANKANA SAHIB, Pakistan, Mar 24 (Reuters) The annual Sikh pilgrimage to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan took on special significance this year with the first bus service linking the birthplace of the religion's founder with Amritsar in India.

Sikhs from all over the world travel to Pakistan to mark Guru Nanak Dev Ji's birthplace, but the bus service from Amritsar, home of the Golden Temple, the most sacred temple in Sikhism, marked the first trip since partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

''I wish to stay here longer,'' Balbeer Singh, a Sikh resident of Amritsar, said as he alighted from the bus in Nankana Sahib with tears rolling down his cheeks.

There were around 70 Sikh families living in Nankana Sahib but a large number of Muslim residents took to the streets to greet the Sikh pilgrims from India.

''We welcome the Indian guests,'' read the banners hung around the small town. Residents sprinkled pilgrims with rose petals.

Pilgrims began worshipping as soon as they arrived at the temple of Guru Nanak. Many were crying.

''I have been told that it is very difficult to travel to Pakistan but now I want to travel every month,'' said Karamjit Singh, a retired Lieutenant-Colonel in the Indian army.

The Nankana Sahib-Amritsar bus is the fourth cross-border bus service between Pakistan and India since they launched their peace process two years ago.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for a ''treaty of peace, security and friendship'' with Pakistan as he flagged off the bus in Amritsar.

Pakistan welcomed Singh's comments.

The bus between Nankana Sahib and Amritsar will run fortnightly.

The first Pakistani bus will leave for Amritsar Sahib on March 28.

REUTERS LR KN2145

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