Sunday, July 28, 2013

My first Ramadan Umrah

As I stated in my previous blog, I intended to perform Umrah during Ramadan this year. However, things started going wrong when my partner was asked to fill in for an absent doctor in Khurma. He went away from Monday, the 22nd of July to do the locum duty. As he was to proceed for his annual vacation on Friday, I was now worried if I would be able to perform the Umrah. In the event, Dr. Yasser returned on Wednesday ... late at night, and called me around 3:00 A.M. (Thursday early morning) to tell me that he had returned and that if I wanted to, I could now go for the Umrah.

This was great news. However, I decided to go after the Dhuhr prayers, as going in the morning would mean that I would arrive at Makkah in the heat of the day. Doing the rituals of Umrah would then be a tough job as Makkah is a very hot city. Hence, I stayed at home in the morning, and visited the hospital once to meet Dr. Yasser and wish him a safe journey and a nice vacation. Also, I informed him that as I was leaving in the afternoon, it would be at least Friday morning before I returned from Makkah. He told me that would be fine as his flight from Ta'if was late on  Friday night.

I prepared myself in the usual way, which means doing the things needed to be done before going on the Umrah. One has to trim one's nails, shave the hair from the arm-pits and the nether areas, and perform a ritual bath and a special prayer before leaving the house. I decided NOT to take any bags. I just took my "ehram" cloth and a few other basic things only. I left the house at a little after 2:00 p.m., and drove to Makkah via Ta'if -> Hada -> Makkah. On the way, I stopped at the Meeqat Wadi Haram, did a bath, changed into my ehram, did the special salat in the Meeqat mosque, then drove on till I reached a point where my car was stopped for parking (at around half past five). The drive had been event-free and peaceful thus far. At a designated point, every Umrah pilgrim had to park his car in a large parking lot and proceed to Makkah by either public bus or private taxi.

I parked my car in a blank spot near to the bus services, got off and climbed into the "Hafil" bus that stood there to receive new passengers. The ticket was SR 5/= and the ride was comfortable. I reached the precinct of the Haram at about six p.m. 

I left my slippers in one of the shoe stands and went in for the Umrah. The first part of the Umrah is performing seven circumambulations around the holy Qaaba. The crowds were there, but it was possible to complete this circuit before the Maghrib prayers started. At that time, people paused to break their fasts. After this, I proceeded to the Masaa (the place where you perform the second part of the Umrah - the "saai" or the seven crossings between the Safaa and the Marwaa mountains). I was unduly exhausted, as the day had been quite busy thus far, and all I had eaten between my noon lunch and this point of time was a few dates (I wasn't fasting). I completed my saai just a few minutes before the Ishaaprayers were due. Soon, I left the Haram, arrived at a stall that sold food, ordered and had a chicken sandwich and a tea, and rushed to a salon to get my hair shaved.

I completed all this by about fifteen past nine p.m. The next thing to do was to find a way to go back to my car which was parked at the parking lot about 20-25 km away. I reached a Hafil bus and asked the driver if he would take me to "Sharaya", which is what I had been told about the location where my car was parked. The driver (and the few passengers) all said that Hafil buses did not go to Sharaya. I should have immediately investigated this matter, but I kept asking many others, including volunteers at the Haram as well as some policemen how to go to Sharaya. I was told that the buses for Sharaya would leave from around the other side of the Haram, and these would be SAPTCO buses. This sounded very strange, but I was so tired at this point, that I did not think I had the strength to walk that much to reach the other bus stand. I therefore got into a cab and was taken to Sharaya for SR 50/= 

Imagine my consternation when I discovered that this was NOT THE PARKING LOT WHERE I HAD LEFT MY CAR. I was in a near-panic. I approached a few cabbies, and it was after my discussions with them that I learned that there was another parking lot for cars that came to Makkah via Ta'if -> Hada. This parking lot was not at Sharaya but at Arafah. I was further informed that the charge for taking me there would be SR 100/= Oh my sweet God, I thought! However, it was nearly 10:00 p.m., and I was in no mood to fight over this, so I engaged a cab, and got to the correct parking lot in the next half hour.

My car gave me no trouble as I drove out of the parking lot, went towards Makkah to find a U-turn, and having found it, turned around to proceed towards Ta'if. The drive to Ta'if (up the mountain road) was event-free, and I reached Ta'if at about half past eleven in the night. I went to the Asian restaurant to have my dinner, parcelled some food from there, and then proceeded onward to Al Muwayh.

By this time, I was not only tired but sleepy. I decided to take a nap inside my car when I stopped it at a road-side resting area run by SASCO (an organisation that runs motels, restaurants and petrol pumps all over the Kingdom). I actually slept for over an hour. When I woke up, it was almost 2:15 A.M. I drove on to Al Muwayh, completing the remaining journey in about 75 minutes. By the time I hit the bed, it was almost half past four. Thus was my Ramadan Umrah accomplished.

Just to complete this record: I slept for almost seven hours after this, and woke up at half past one in the afternoon. I called up Dr. Yasser to inform him that I had returned, and thereafter, spent the evening doing this and that.

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