Sunday, July 29, 2012

Wednesday, 25th July, 2012: Trip to Mecca and then Madinah - I

The idea of a trip to perform the Umrah came to me when Ramadan started; the intention to do it for the sawab of my father occurred to me a few days after my dad was re-admitted to the hospital for infection secondary to the central line that he had in his veins for the haemodialysis. I conferred with a few knowledgeable people who informed me that such an Umrah was indeed possible provided it would not be MY first Umrah. As it was a distinct possibility, I decided to go ahead. I took a day’s leave from the hospital. I realized that this was also a good opportunity for me to go to Madinah as the next two days were also off for me, and hence, I packed my bag with a few extra things like an additional pair of clothes etc.

Ordinarily, I would have tried to hitch a ride with a truck driver from outside one of the hotels that are located behind the house on the main highway (and I have done this before), but the situation was different this time: it being Ramadan, the hotels would be closed for the day, and no truck driver would actually stop here. Hence, I decided to wait for an ambulance to take some patient to T’aif. Imagine my good fortune, therefore, that a patient was about to be sent to T’aif at just about the same time as I reached the hospital!

Thus, I went in the hospital’s ambulance, reaching T’aif at about half past twelve. I got off at the point where the ambulance turns right to go to the King Abdul Aziz Speciality Hospital (KAASH, in short). From here, I took a taxi to go to the taxi stand near the Gazzaz Mall. Here, I got a cab for Mecca for SR 30. It was a fairly comfortable ride, and my first halt was at the miqaat, where I went in to change into the ehram. We left the miqaat after about half an hour, and then, in the same cab, I arrived in Mecca at about half past three.

Mecca was the same, but the mosque and the area around the Haram was too crowded to be comfortable with. I trudged onward, past the teeming multitudes of people from all over the world, and reached the area opposite the King Abdul Aziz Gate in another half an hour. I located the lockers, and deposited my bag for SR 10 for 5 hours. Thus unburdened, I went in after completing the compulsory ablutions, and was inside the main structure in a few minutes.

Proceeding to the central courtyard, I began the Umrah in earnest, reciting the necessary prayers at each juncture. I had already taken the niyyah (Intent to Pray) in dad’s name, and my Umrah continued with no problems at all. As the crowds were dense, it was sometimes impossible to circumnavigate the House of Allah (Baitullah) with impunity. I took nearly 45 minutes to complete the seven rounds. At about five minutes to six, I completed the rounds and then proceeded to the Safa area to begin the second part of the Umrah, the obligatory seven trips between Safa and Marwah. It was after about 3 perambulations that it became the time to pray the Maghrib, and I had to pause the prayers and break my fast with about 30-40 thousand additional devotees. There were literally hundreds of volunteers who stepped forward to serve dates, water, juices, and the ubiquitous Arab hot drink, the kahwa.

Shortly, the prayers began, and everyone was ready in a few minutes to join in. As soon as the prayers ended, a team of well-trained and extensively co-ordinated cleaners descended on the floor of the Safa-Marwah corridor and, cordoning off the crowds, began an exquisite ballad of mopping, drying and sweeping the entire corridor. These were uniformed employees, supervised by a team of aggressive, shouting seniors. They literally glided across the floor, sweeping the trash ahead of them on long brushes. As soon as the trash was shifted to the side, electrical cars with bottom-mounted brushes came in and cleaned the floor and dried it, all in the same liquid motion. Within 5 minutes, the entire corridor was scrubbed clean, and the pilgrims began their perambulations again. I completed the seven trips by half past eight. After this, I went outside the Haram. I visited a barber’s shop to get a tonsure, and then, at a snack stall, I purchased a dish of rice and chicken cubes. I had this on the pavement, sitting atop a small box-like structure. I also drank a can of Pepsi, and then, left the area to walk down to the main road from where I would catch a taxi to go to Madinah.

My initial plan had been to stay overnight in Mecca, but I decided to alter this plan because I had already completed my Umrah and there was no further reason to halt here. It was quite fortuitous, therefore, that I espied a bespectacled young taxi driver with a beard who saw me at almost the same time as I saw him. He asked me across the road if I was looking to travel to Madinah. I hailed back in the affirmative, and he beckoned to me to join him. I went across to his cab. He quoted a charge of SR 75 and asked me to sit in the back as the front seat had been already taken. I put my bag inside the trunk and went into the cab to occupy my seat. In the meantime, he also took in two other adults with two children to sit with me in the rear. I got to keep my one seat, while the two men sat next to me, one child with each one. They were Pakistanis, and they were travelling to Madinah to join their families which had already gone ahead in a bus. The man next to me was in his early forties, and while the daughter was his (and she was really cute), the boy with him was his sister’s son. The  old man next to him was the younger man’s father in law. They were really nice people, and I had a good time travelling with them.

The man in the front seat turned out to be an Indian from Dubai. He is the general manager of a hotel property in Dubai, and the driver was involved in a deep conversation with his front seat co-passenger as he was interested in securing a job for himself in the Emirates. Thus, while the two men in the front seat kept up a banter between them, the five of us in the back seat remained aloof as the discussion in the front had become a little lurid and sex-oriented. Engrossed with his passenger, the driver drove at a less than break-neck speed, if 120 km/hr may be referred to as a sedate pace.

We stopped at a road side hotel for snacks, tea and so on, and then went ahead towards our destination, napping off and on. It was a little past 3.00 a.m. when we finally reached Madinah.

More about this and the next few days in the next post.

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