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Place to see & to be seen at: Pak gallery
- Celebrity stampede to catch a plane and take a private toy across the border

March 8: Pariah yesterday, paradise today.

Cricket has put Pakistan on the glitterati’s latest must-go map. Industrialists, film stars, former cricketers and politicians are ready to hop on to the flight to Karachi, which hosts the first of the five one-dayers on Saturday.

While Bollywood actors Sunil Shetty and Sharad Kapoor have confirmed they will be present, industrialist-turned-MP Vijay Mallya plans to take off in his private aircraft from Bangalore and even give some of his film star friends a lift. If he gets civil aviation clearance from both countries — as an MP he does not need any — he would stop at Mumbai to pick up his friends, though their names are not being disclosed now.

Actress Shilpa Shetty, screen hunk Akshay Kumar, singers Sunidhi Chauhan and Shaan and the Jatin-Lalit music director duo are scheduled to be in Lahore on March 25 for a charity show.

“A number of film stars have reserved their seats for the Karachi match through friends and contacts and would apply for visa only at the last minute,” an official of the Pakistan high commission said.

Pakistan Cricket Board chief executive Rameez Raja said several Indian film industry heavyweights had expressed a desire to attend later matches.

“I would not like to take names, but yes, some of the big names have been in touch with us and are keen to visit for some of the matches in Lahore,” he said.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka, son Rahul and son-in-law Robert Vadra are almost certain to leave on March 12, unless, of course, the Special Protection Group — which would travel with them — decides against it. The three are scheduled to fly from Delhi to Mumbai and take the Pakistan International Airways flight to the port city. They would come back on March 13, after the first one-dayer.

Sources in the Pakistan high commission confirmed that arrangements for their visas have already been made and a special security ring would be thrown around them once they land in Karachi.

Earlier, the Congress had been saying that the party’s presence would be felt in Pakistan during the tour if L.K. Advani also went. Now Advani is tied up with his Bharat Uday yatra, but the Congress is still keen on sending its young generation to witness a tour that has now become more than cricket.

Indications are Indian cricket board chief Jagmohan Dalmiya would take with him a host of big guns, including a team of former cricket captains, for the opening match. Former players Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sanjay Manjrekar have already applied for visas.

Although it looks like neither Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee nor his deputy, Advani, has plans to go, commerce minister Arun Jaitley and shipping minister Shatrughan Sinha might fly down.

If the jet set is raring to travel, so is the man on the street. Used to enjoying their cricket in groups, Indian fans want to watch the matches with family and friends and are ganging up to travel to Pakistan.

Sachin Bembi, a businessman from Ludhiana, is going to Lahore for one of the ODIs in a group of 26. “We decided last week that we should all gang up and go to Pakistan for at least one match as it promises to be an experience to remember,” he said.

“All of us cheering the Indian team together in Lahore.… It will be truly memorable for us.”

Indian officials said additional trains, buses and flights would be pressed into service to cope with growing pressure from fans. The Samjhauta Express — the only rail link between the two countries — would be augmented by inclusion of additional compartments. Two special trains would also be run.

Apart from the Delhi-Lahore bus, the government has plans of running additional buses between Amritsar and Lahore.

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