AS THE 207 bus edged towards Southall High Street, a river of orange turbans and colourful dress, I started to feel like I was gatecrashing a stranger's party.

Though I have a couple of Sikh friends, in reality I know very little about the faith, and the sight of thousands of revellers was, at first, an overwhelming one.

But within a minute of stepping off the bus I had a masoor dhal in one hand, a cup of tea in the other, and I didn't feel like a stranger any more.

At least 50,000 people took to the sun-filled Southall streets to celebrate the birthday of Khalsa on Sunday - 15,000 more people than was predicted.

And though the streets were filled to a sardine-like level, the crowds were calm, friendly and, above all, felt safe.

The very old mixed with the mothers guiding their babies through the crowd in pushchairs and there didn't seem to be a frowning face in sight.

Though the crowd was mostly made up of the Sikh community there were large numbers of people from other communities who joined in to celebrate the festival in the spirit of tolerance.

Dr Parvinder Singh Garcha, general secretary of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, said: "The whole day went excellently.

"Everyone was singing and smiling and there were lots of greetings and people coming together in the spirit of brotherhood.

"There were a lot of non-Sikhs there and I think they were surprised to be offered things without any charge.

"The committee and the trustees would like to thank all the fantastic volunteers who gave up their time for many weeks in advance.

"These were the marshalls, the people handing out food and those who supplied flowers and decorated the lorries.

"We are very grateful to everyone who gave their time."

The festival celebrates the baptism of the beloved ones on March 30, 1699, by Guru Gobind Singh, which established the five Ks, the principles by which Sikhs live.

The day passed without incident and police have reported they made no arrests and there were no major incidents on the day.

Superintendent Andy Rowell, in charge of policing the procession, said: "The Vaisakhi procession was a very peaceful and friendly occasion which attracted a record number of participants.

"As with all religious and cultural celebrations in Ealing Borough we worked closely with our partners and the event organisers to provide a safe environment for participants and minimise the disruption to the rest of the community."

The procession was led by the five sword-carrying Panj Pyare, the beloved ones, who had the path in front of them cleaned by around 20 sweepers.

Much of the crowd sang along with the beat of the Nagar which was played on a lorry at the very front of the crowd.

The parade was stopped at Southall Fire Station where children were given the chance to try on uniforms and see the station's fire engine.

Officers also gave out advice on home safety and arranged fire checks at people homes.

London Fire Brigade's assistant commissioner for community safety, Steve Turek, said: "It was a real pleasure to be involved with this magnificent event and to wish the local community a happy Vaisakhi on behalf of the London Fire Brigade.

"Occasions like this are also a great chance to engage with the local community."

From my point of view the friendliness and community spirit on show was delightful, perhaps because in today's society it's becoming harder to find, and I would recommend next year's celebration to people of every background and faith.