The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Back to days of innocence
A Kashmiri with a relative from PoK after crossing over.(AFP)

Muzaffarabad, April 7: Ghulam Haider Khan boarded a bus this morning and got off a time machine this afternoon.

Scores of years melted away as the 80-year-old stepped on the soil of the other Kashmir.

'I'm 80 years old but now I feel like a 12-year-old,' Khan said on arriving in Azad Kashmir, which India refers to as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. 'I have not met my relatives here since 1947. It is a blessing of God that I am here today.'

Khan was among the 19 passengers who crossed the Line of Control on two peace buses today. They walked across the border to board Pakistani buses to go to an immigration checkpoint before continuing their journey.

The passengers waved back to media and border authorities while standing in the middle of the bridge that had been closed since 1953.

Thousands thronged the 58-km route from Muzaffarabad to Chakoti ' the town that is the last point on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control ' to cheer the passengers from Srinagar. Banners with the slogan 'Welcome to our brethren from Srinagar' lined the route to Chakoti, where Azad Kashmir premier Sikandar Hayat Khan received the Kashmiris travelling from India.

'I'm able to come to this part of the Valley after 40 years, thanks to the peace process and the thaw in Indo-Pak relations that enabled us to see our relatives after ages,' Mohammad Azam, a resident of Srinagar, said in a voice choked with emotion.

The middle-aged Haji Hussain Ahmed described the journey as the 'most beautiful' moment of his life, bursting with joy over meeting his siblings in Mirpur. 'I'm extremely happy. It feels very good,' said Mohammad Taj, who has come to meet his sister.

In Muzaffarabad, a festive atmosphere prevailed. Colourful shamianas were erected and nearly 2,000 people gathered to see the passengers off to Chakoti from where they would go on to Srinagar.

Hayat flagged off the bus to Srinagar amid readings from the Quran. 'It is not our ultimate goal (bus service), but we believe that it must help the resolution of the Kashmir dispute when people and political leaders of Kashmir on both sides meet.'

Khan praised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi for taking this 'bold' decision and allowing Kashmiris of the two sides to meet after more than five decades.

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