1,500 Sikhs cross over to Pakistan for pilgrimage

Wagah, Pakistan - About 1,500 Sikh pilgrims carried a gold-plated palanquin across the border to Pakistan on Tuesday to celebrate the 536th birthday of the religion's founder, Guru Nanak. Guru Nanak, a former Hindu, was born in 1469 and advocated the equality of races and genders.

The pilgrims had planned to mark Guru Nanak's birthday on November 15 at a shrine in the eastern Pakistani town of Nankana Sahib, but an earthquake that devastated the region last month forced them to postpone the journey.

On Tuesday, a group of Pakistanis waving the national flags of India and Pakistan showered rose petals on the pilgrims as they arrived with the palanquin bearing the Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib, said Baba Jagtar Singh, a Sikh religious leader. Parvez Elahi, the top elected leader of Pakistan's Punjab province, was on hand to greet the Sikhs.

The Pakistani post at the border was decorated with flowers and banners, an indication of a thaw in relations between the longtime rivals who have fought three wars since they won independence from Britain in 1947.

Amrinder Singh, the top elected official of Punjab, also was among the Sikh pilgrims.

The two countries will start a bus service early next year between Amritsar, and Nankana Sahib -- both famous holy sites for Sikhs.