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Indian Hindu pilgrims to visit Pakistan's Katas Raj for annual pilgrimage


LAHORE: Over 50 Hindu pilgrims from India would arrive at Katas Raj, one of their holiest sites in Pakistan, for the annual pilgrimage this week, notwithstanding bilateral tensions over Kashmir. Katas Raj is a complex of several Hindu temples connected to one another by walkways.

It is situated in Chakwal district of Punjab. "The expected number of Hindu pilgrims arriving from India is over 50. They are on a 10-day pilgrimage," Aamir Hashmi, spokesperson of Evacuee Property Trust Board (ETPB) told PTI.

Hashmi said that the pilgrims will cross the Wagah border on Friday and will arrive at Katas Raj on Saturday. Indian pilgrims normally visit Katas Raj twice a year, once in February during the festival of Maha Shivratri and again in November/December.

They missed the last pilgrimage in February due to the tensions between India and Pakistan over the Pulwama terror attack on February 14. Deputy Secretary of Evacuee Property Trust Board (ETPB) Syed Faraz Abbas told the Dawn newspaper that the government had made arrangements for 200 pilgrims.

"We are very excited as we are coming to visit our holiest site after a break of a year," the chief organiser of the pilgrimage from India Shiv Pratab Bajaj was quoted as saying by the Dawn. "We were ready to celebrate Shivratri at Katas Raj last year but unfortunately we could not make it," Bajaj said.

The tension between India and Pakistan escalated once again after New Delhi revoked Jammu and Kashmir's special status on August 5. Reacting to India's move on Kashmir, Pakistan downgraded diplomatic ties with New Delhi and expelled the Indian High Commissioner.

Bajaj thanked former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar for his efforts to revive a pond at the temple which had gone dry due to excessive water usage by cement plants operating in the vicinity of Katas Raj.

Though the pond currently has 7.8 feet of water, its natural springs have not been revived. The report said that the authorities are filling water in the pond through tube wells. Nisar had imposed a fine on cement plant owners for exploiting underground water that affected the pond at Katas Raj.

Deputy Commissioner Abdul Sattar Esani chaired a meeting on Tuesday to review the arrangements being made for the Indian pilgrims. He directed officials of Islamabad Electric Supply Company (Iesco) to ensure uninterrupted power supply at Katas Raj.