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Hajj, A Journey of a Lifetime: An Insiders Look

Hajj, A Journey of a Lifetime: An Insiders Look

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Old Oct 1, 14, 1:21 pm
  #1  
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Hajj, A Journey of a Lifetime: An Insiders Look

Introduction

Hajj is truly a trip of a lifetime. It is the most important spiritual journey a Muslim can make and people spend their entire lives dreaming of it. 3 million people, from over 125 countries all coming together for this same purpose. The annual Hajj period this year is coming up in the next few days. My wife and I were fortunate enough to make the journey in 2012, and it was truly an amazing experience.

There is an abundance of information about the rituals and rulings of Hajj, but a lack of information about the actual booking process, trip, visa processing, and accommodations during Hajj. Thus I feel, even though I did not use a single mile or point during this trip, this trip report is the most important to write as my first.

The only way to experience Hajj is to officially go with one of the licensed tour companies. In the United States, there are a handful of tour companies that offer the service. Prices range from $5000 for the absolute most basic package, to a $16,000 VIP hajj experience.


Dar Al Salam Executive Hajj Package

After months of research, we decided to go with Chicago Hajj and Umrah based on the offerings of their basic services. We filled out the Hajj visa application, took our immunization shots, and prepared all of the other documents necessary. But as you plan, God is the greater planner. Our package got lost in the mail. Since Chicago Hajj and Umrah, never got our package, they were now sold out and were not able to accompany us. We frantically searched for another Hajj operator and were fortunate enough to get one of the last spots with Dar El-Eiman.

We decided to go with the absolute basic package and have very low expectations of accommodations during our visit in Saudi. We have heard numerous stories of people paying different prices in the different packages all ending up in the same hotels, accommodations, and transportation. Rather than getting a more expensive package and potentially being disappointed, we decided to “rough” it out…We were pleasantly surprised.


Sunset at Mount Arafat

My wife and I reserved the Budget package from Dar El-Eiman which included a three day stay in Aziziyah before Hajj, 5 days in Mena during Hajj, and 2 nights in Madinah after Hajj. The price for this package was around $5500. We were also responsible for immunizations ($200pp), Hajj Visa ($150pp), extra airline charge for leaving from Kansas City ($175pp), and Udhiyah ($150pp).

I am an absolute OCD planner, and the reservation process for Hajj really sets the tone for Hajj. The Hajj operator has full control of all the reservations. You have to really just be patient and wait for things to happen. Being not in control of the reservation process was very nerve racking for me. But, there was no other choice. We handed all the documents and payments to Dar El-Eiman and then waited, and waited, and waited….

After around 3 weeks, we received our passports back with the Hajj Visa and our flight information for our flight departing from Chicago. Only problem, we need to leave from Kansas City. We eventually booked a separate ticket from Kansas City to Chicago with a 4 hour buffer between flights just in case there were any delays.

In the weeks before travel, we prepared our luggage and our minds. Following will be the report of our Hajj trip, the Journey of a Lifetime.


The Holy Kaaba


Last edited by isaifan; Aug 24, 16 at 3:59 am
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Old Oct 1, 14, 1:25 pm
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Kansas City to Jeddah

After preparing our luggage and minds for the Hajj journey, we were finally ready to head off to Saudi Arabia.

As stated in the introduction, the Hajj operator provides airline tickets from the international gateway, Chicago in this instance. We were responsible in getting a separate ticket from Kansas City to Chicago. Ticket prices were running in the $400 range, except for the 6am departure which was priced at $200. This would force about a 9 hour connection in Chicago, but for $2002, we could rough it out. So we booked our tickets….except we didn’t.

For some reason, the ticket reservation didn’t go through. We had a confirmation number and everything, but there was no ticket. I have no idea why. I only found this out as I was doing my typical OCD checking. Of course, when I went to buy the ticket again, it was priced at $400. After a few calls with United, they suggested buying the ticket and they would offer us a $200 voucher. Since we were going to spend the $400 anyway, we might as well get the ticket with good timing. So, luckily, it all worked out in the end.

The flight to Chicago was uneventful. Since we were on a different ticket from Chicago, we went to the Lufthansa desk to pick up our boarding passes to Frankfurt then to Jeddah. Thankfully, everything was very smooth. We spent about 2 hours waiting for our next flight in the United lounge compliments their credit card.


Boarding to Frankfurt

The flight to Frankfurt was enjoyable. After an acceptable meal, I watched the inflight entertainment, and slept for a few hours. The Lufthansa flight attendants were very nice though and I enjoyed a good conversation with them. When asking them for extra water, juice, snacks, they were very happy to oblige. I didn’t feel like they were bothered as usually the case with US based airlines.

At arrival in Frankfurt airport, we navigated the maze and arrived at our departure gate for Jeddah. An amazing site was present with dozens of people already dressed in their Ihram and making the Takberat (Remembrance of God). Although it is not required to wear until just outside Jeddah, I noticed that most of the passengers decided to put on their Ihram in Frankfurt rather than in the airplane. I, wanting to be comfortable on the six hour flight to Jeddah, decided to wait.


Boarding Lufthansa with Ihram

The flight from Frankfurt to Jeddah was one for the memory. The first couple of hours went by as normal; with me getting sick (I always get sick on long-haul flights). Again the Lufthansa attendants were very helpful and brought me tea and some perfume to bring me out of my nausea. With about an hour left in the flight, I regained my strength and changed into my Ihram in the bathroom. For those unaware, the Ihram for men is literally two pieces of cloth. One wrapped around your waist, and another covering your upper body. That’s it. Nothing else. Yep, all natural down there.

Sensing their proximity to arriving, the Hajj Pilgrims also got very excited. One of them even took the planes PA system and was doing the Takberat and chanting. We followed along. This seemed all too normal for the flight attendants.

Overall, I praise Lufthansa for the job they did during this flight. Being hajj season, they seemed aware of the cultural aspects of the flight and were very accommodating to the passengers. Job well done.

A huge adventure was awaiting our arrival in Jeddah.

Last edited by isaifan; Aug 24, 16 at 4:00 am
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Old Oct 1, 14, 1:28 pm
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Airport Processing

The processing of Hajj Pilgrims in the Jeddah airport is a nightmare….if you don’t know what to expect. It is an excruciatingly time consuming and confusing process. Having your expectations set extremely low and setting your mind to just go with the flow is the best advice.

Our Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt touched down at around 6pm Jeddah time. We taxied for about 15 minutes to a remote stand. First, the non hajjis departed from the plane and taken to the normal Jeddah arrivals terminal. After about another 30 minutes, the Hajj Pilgrams were driven to the Hajj Terminal.


Hajj Terminal

We were put in a gigantic holding room, with virtually no amenities. There was a small, overly used bathroom in the corner, nothing else. We were placed in this holding room, with no further information. One single officer went around checking passports and visa, but I think he did this just to look busy. Whenever we asked him what we are waiting for, he would just say “just stay here, just stay”.

After about two hours waiting in this holding room, a door opened to allow us to go through further processing. “Hurry, hurry!” we were told. We followed the crowd to arrive at the formal Passport and Visa check. We lined up and were processed through in about 30 minutes. All interactions with airport officials was in Arabic. Non-Arab speakers had to rough it out and find an Arabic speaker to translate and help them through the process.


Hajj Passport Control

After Passport Control, we had to go through another small temporary structure for further processing. This kiosk, I believe, was for bus transportation to Jeddah. I’m not really sure though, as there was no signage or other communication. Being an Arabic speaker, I took control of communication with officials for our group. I was told to gather up our Hajj groups Passports and to see an official. I did that, and as there is no such idea of a line structure, I pushed my way to the front for processing. After a bunch of yelling and hand waving, some heavy duty stickers were placed on each of our passports and we were allowed to go through.

After a total of about four hours, we were officially in Saudi Arabia. Since it had been so long since our plane arrived, our luggage was waiting for us. There were several food stands, money vendors, and Sim cards sellers outside, so we took care of business. A gentlemen working with our Hajj operator greeted us and told us to wait in another area for our bus. So we waited, and waited, and waited….

At this time, people were getting irritated, and understandably so. We’ve been traveling for 24 hours plus, and just gone through a four hour process to get into the country. And remember, we were in our Ihram with nothing to keep us comfortable down there. The lack of communication was the real pushing point for most. After another two hour wait, “Hurry, hurry!, the buses are here." We were loaded into the buses (think kids school bus with about 24” seat pitch) and our luggage tossed on top. We were off to our short 30 mile drive to Makkah….NOT!


Hajj Buses

The busses were overloaded and had a top speed comparable to a crippled tortoise. Our first stop, after driving for about an hour, was a rest station. Confused looks hit people’s face. We were “welcomed” by some Saudi officials and were given juice, and snack cakes. People complained “We don’t want snacks, just take us to our hotel”. “Patience” we were told. After 30 minutes, we were off again. This time heading to the “Mutawaaf” office.

The Saudi Hajj system is dependent on the traditional “Mutawaaf” system were a local is in charge of the visitors. In past history, it was one person who would take care of the Pilgrams, but now with the multi-billion Hajj industry, the Mutawwaf has become much more formalized, you would hope. We reached the Mutawaaf’s offices and were again told to wait. All of our passports were collected and handed to the Mutawaaf. Imagine my OCD brain going nuts as my passport and all the other group’s passports were tossed in a plastic bag and rung over a teenager’s shoulder. Hajj is really a hard-core training to truly depend on God. We would hopefully see those passports again right before our departure.

Luckily, our bus only had two separate hajj groups, so we only had to go to two Mutawaaf offices. I’ve heard of nightmares with 5 or more separate groups on the same bus, each having to go to a different Mutawaaf office.


Packed Hajj Bus

After processing in the Mutawaaf’s office, we were finally taken and arrived at our residence at around 5am, 11 hours after the plane touched down!

The arrival process for Hajj pilgrims needs to be better communicated. There was mass confusion throughout. The airport had virtually no signage and if you are not an Arabic speaker, the process becomes so much more difficult. None the less, reflecting back, I think all those steps were necessary to accommodate the large number of people coming from all the different countries in the world. If we were told in the beginning, that the process would take 11 hours, we would have prepared and been ready for it. With better communication and signage, the overall process would improve.

After that long process, we were finally able to relax in our rooms in Aziziyah…

Last edited by isaifan; Aug 24, 16 at 4:01 am
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Old Oct 1, 14, 1:32 pm
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Accommodations in Makkah

When we arrived to our residents, the Hajj operator owner was there to greet us and welcome us to our rooms. There was a list posted on the wall with names and room assignments. I was assigned a room with four other gentlemen, while my wife was assigned a ladies room. There were five roll-away beds in the room and really not much else. The pillows and blanket were wrapped in sanitary plastic to keep clean. Most importantly, the air conditioning was blowing ice cold. The room was actually quite comfortable.

Since we went with the budget package, our residence during the time before hajj was in a residential area called Aziziyah. This part of town is about 3 miles away from Masjid Al-Haram, certainly walkable, but not comfortably so. After resting in our rooms for about four hours, a van took us from our building to Masjid Al-Haram where we were able to perform the Umrah.




Kaaba

For the next three days, we were shuttled back and forth between Aziziyah and Masjid Al-Haram. We would usually wake up 3am where the van would take us to the Masjid for the 4am morning prayer. We would stay in the Masjid doing various religious activities, observing the scenery and people, or just relaxing until about 8am when the van would pick us up and drop us back off in our building. Again, the van would pick us up at around 4pm to take us to Haram and pick us up at around 10pm to bring us back for the night. The van transfer was surprisingly easy. We agreed to meet at one of the 5 star hotels next to the Haram. The hotel was close enough to walk to the Masjid, but far enough so that the van would not be caught up in traffic.


Van Transfer


Meeting Location: Elaf Hotel


Elaf Hotel Food

During our stay in the residence in Aziziyah, we were provided with Breakfast, Dinner, and available drinks throughout the day. The meals were served buffet style and were actually quite good and filling. The variety of food was great as well. Every day a different type of meal would be provided. A large refrigerator filled with soda and juice was also available for our use throughout the day along with obligatory tea.







Aziziyah Residence Buffet

Overall, our residence in Aziziyah was comfortable. It provided a quite, clean, and cold place to rest. After three days in Aziziyah, it was finally time to start the Hajj.

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Old Oct 1, 14, 1:43 pm
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Mena

The main Hajj activities started on the 8th day of Dhul-Hijjah with our transfer from our residence in Aziziyah, to the tents in Mena. From our residence, we each dressed in our Ihram and prepared mentally and physically to our journey to Mena.

During the Hajj, the buses are always “nearly here”. Buses are assigned to groups based on a lottery system to determine the order of pick-ups. Unfortunately, you never know when your group’s bus will arrive. So usually, we prepared and got ready very early in the day, and then just waited until they tell us to “hurry, hurry, the buses are here”. We were dressed and prepared in our Ihram from 9am, as they told us the buses were coming. We eventually left to Mena at 4pm.

The drive to Mena was beautiful, as we saw people from all over the world driving and walking to Mena. The trip took about 30 minutes and luckily we faced no traffic.

Mena would be our residence for the next 5 days during the actual Hajj rituals. Mena is set up as a tent city, with no other facilities. It is used only during the 5 days of Hajj and sits vacant for the remainder of the year. We arrived in Mena to find our groups tent ready for us.


Mena Tents

When first arriving in Mena, the first thing I did was write-down and memorize our tent number and location. All tents in Mena look exactly the same and the only way to differentiate is with the tent number. During my first Hajj in 2006, I was lost for four hours trying to find my tent. Others in my group were literally lost for days. I also picked up a map that was my most prized possession during that time.


Mena Tent City – Dont’ Get Lost

Each tent in Mena is 4 meters x 4 meters and is meant to hold 16 people. Usually, the groups open up the walls of each tent in order for the groups to socialize, eat, and listen to lectures together. Vertical storage is used to store our belongings during our time in Mena.


Mena Tent Setup

We luckily received one of the upgraded tents which provided a pull-out mattress for each person that could also double as a seat. Each mattress also came with a pre-packaged blanket and pillow. We were also provided with an amenity kit that included fragrance free soap, shampoo, slippers, toothbrush, toothpaste, and other necessities. Again, since we chose the absolute cheapest package for hajj, all of this was beyond our expectations and we were truly happy to have such luxuries.


Mena Mattress


Mena Amenity Kit

Space in Mena is extremely tight. When sleeping you are literally shoulder to shoulder with the people next to you. There are a few inches between each others feet as well. Being 6′-4″ does not help as I was regularly awoken with people accidentally stepping on me as my feet dangled in into the 6″ walk-way between mattresses.


Mena Walking Path

The bathroom situation in Mena is very difficult. Each group of tents is set up with a central bathroom structure that contained 12 stalls. All but two were setup in the traditional fashion with only a hole in the ground. All stalls also had a shower set with only one temperature, ice-cold. In Mena, I tried to limit my food and drink to the bare minimum to reduce the number of trips to the bathroom. The bathrooms were not able to be cleaned at any time during our stay in Mena. At the end of the 5 days in Mena, they really became a nuisance. Stating that, the shower I took in Mena after the Hajj rituals, was literally the best shower of my life.

Other than the bathroom situation, the overall experience in Mena was a good one. Lectures were regularly held to motivate us during the Hajj. With the tight spaces, we also became very familiar with our traveling partners and made life-time friends with many.


Mena Lectures- Sheikh Khalid Yaseen

We were provided with a full meal service during our stay in Mena. Breakfast was pre-packaged cereal, muffins, banana, and milk. Lunch and dinner usually included rice and a meat. No fresh vegetables are allowed in Mena as they could easily spread disease. Only bananas and oranges are allowed as well since those need to be peeled before eating. A tea-stand is also set up outside our tents with an attendant taking care of making the tea. The attendant was extremely nice and stayed in the area throughout the 5 days in Mena. Coolers with juice, water, and cola were also available throughout our stay.


Mena Dinner


Mena Breakfast


Mena Tea

Our stay in Mena was a very memorable one. With the very basic space and supplies we were given, I felt that Mena provided a training to my body and soul and I realized how little I really need. For example, before staying Mena, I would never thinking of entering bathrooms such as those present in Mena. At the end of our stay though, the shower in the filthy bathrooms were magnificent and the best shower of my life. Mena provided us with lessons learned for the rest of my life and a good base for the rest of the Hajj activities.

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Old Oct 1, 14, 1:44 pm
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Hi,

for some reason your photos are not showing... could you fix that somehow?

thanks!
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Old Oct 1, 14, 1:44 pm
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Arafat / Muzdalifah

The 9th day of Dhul-Hijjah, the day of Arafat, is the core of the Hajj. On this day, we were to spend the day near Mount Arafat. The day started with the pre-packaged breakfast. During breakfast, a group of us decided that rather than joining the crowds and pushing our way onto a bus, we would walk to Arafat. Our group leader said that it was about a 2 hour walk. This sounded great. Little did we know that it going to be a much longer 13 kilometer journey.


Walking Towards Mount Arafat

After preparing ourselves with necessities, a dozen of us started walking at around 8am. The first hour went by pretty quickly with our excitement and adrenaline pushing us through. The second hour got tougher as the sun was really shining down and we had to take frequent water breaks. The third hour was a nightmare. The crowds started to increase and our group was separated into two. The sun was getting unbearable and a couple of members in our group blacked out. With even more frequent breaks and plenty of juice and water, we eventually made it to our camp site in Mount Arafat to find the people that took the bus got there about an hour earlier. Lesson learned, take the bus. After another two hours, the second part of our group reached the camp site minus one person, who had to be taken to the hospital due to heat stroke.

The camp site in Arafat was set up in a way similar to Mena, with a temporary tent structure. This structure though had no air conditioning and we resorted to foldedup newspaper for our cooling system. Luckily, there were coolers filled with water and juice that I visited at least a dozen times. There was also a tea station set-up. The bathroom situation was similar with a central structure for use by numerous groups around. We were also provided with a simple lunch of rice and chicken during our stay.


Mount Arafat Tents


Mount Arafat Tea

After about 30 minutes of relaxing and massaging my legs, I had recovered from the three hour walk. Thankfully, I could focus on worshiping for the remainder of this most important day of the Hajj. As the day drew dawn and the sun become to settle, there was a sense of calmness that the day had ended successfully. People were reflecting and hoping that the purpose of the Hajj, to be forgiven and start anew, would be fulfilled.


Arafat Sunset

The sun set. Almost immediately, people’s frustrations started to rise as they were again waiting for the buses. This was very understandable as we have been moving from place to place, the heat and sun, poor hygene conditions, and being in our Ihram (again, with nothing comforting our most prized “possession”). Unfortunatley, arguments were taking place to try to get on the bus first in order to get to Muzdalifah first to spend the night and rest. My wife and I, and a group of six others distanced ourselves and decided to walk to Muzdalifah.

Muzdalifah is in between Mena and Arafat, and we were walking in moonlight instead of sunlight, so in theory, the walk should have been easy. We started to walk and were reflecting on our day, and having very nice discussions between our group. I felt light headed a couple of times and the group stopped to allow me to recover. This happened twice, but I kept moving. A requirement of Hajj is to spend the night in Muzdalifah. Muzdalifah is basically an empty lot with no services, though it has enough room to accommodate everyone. As we were getting close to the border of Muzdalifah, the crowds got insane. It seemed like rather than heading towards an empty area of Muzdalifah with a little further walking, people set up right on the border. The 8 lane highway we were walking on was literally filled with people laying down and trying to rest. There was a single two foot wide pathway for people filed in a single line to try to make their way towards the back of Muzdalifah.

This is when my body decided to fail on me. I fainted and fell unconscious. The single-filed crowd was unable to stop, but luckily two members of my group carried me towards safety. The only location they two gentlemen were able to find for me to rest through the crowd on the other side of the road, through a sewage filled ditch, and on the footsteps of the mountain. My wife followed them to the resting spot. When we reached our resting place, one of gentlemen helping me also fainted.


Night in Muzdalifah

For the next three hours I fell in and out of consciousness. This though, was absolutely the most impressive part of Hajj and the treatment and selflessness of other Hajj Pilgrims is unforgettable. As stated, there are no facilities in Muzdalifah. No fruit stands, water stations, coffee shops, nothing. Your only possessions are what you carried in your day pack. People were literally giving me their last bottle of water,their last carton of juice, their last piece of fruit for me to regain my strength. One gentlemen, who I have never seen and will never see again, gave me one piece of his ihram (each person has two pieces total) to keep me warm. He literally gave half of his worldly possession to a complete stranger. People were climbing the mountain in order to find any spare inches to rest on and by doing this, rocks were tumbling down. One person in our group stood guard the entire three hours to protect us from falling debri. My wife tried calling for medical help, but with the crowds, it was impossible for them to do anything.

Thanks to the generosity of the complete strangers, I and the other person who fainted, regained our strength. We drudged through the crowd and continued to walk. At three a.m. we arrived back to our tents in Mena. The bathrooms that I was trying to avoid previously, provided for the best shower of my life. I put on a new set of Ihram and managed to sleep for the next 12 hours. I woke up every few hours as the remainder of the group trickled in throughout the day.

Hajj though was not yet over…

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Old Oct 1, 14, 1:46 pm
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Jamarat / Tawaf

After recovering from the previous days journey, my wife and I went to fulfill the next stage of hajj, throwing stones at the Jamarat. We left our tent and went walking towards the Jamarat area. Roads were very clearly marked and there were security officers to help out with directions and also gave words of encouragement. Their simple statements of “Eid Mubarak” or “Congrats Hajji” which were really uplifting. The walk was a very easy through a series of tunnels. After 30 minutes we arrived at the newly built Jamarat Structure.

The Jamarat structures 10 years ago was simply three columns with a footbridge to access them. The Hajj Pilgrams are to throw stones at each of the columns, representing the stoning of the devil. There is massive crowding in this area and used to be the most hazardous part of Hajj. Almost every year there were casualties due to crushing. The Saudi Government expanded the columns and made them into a wall structure, to give more room for the Hajj Pilgrams, but even this was not enough. In my first hajj in 2006, 346 pilgrams were crushed to death in the Jamarat area. Luckily my group had finished the Jamarat about 30 minutes prior to the accidents happening. The Saudi Government decided to expand the Jamarat area even further. What was built was a gigantic structure to be able to handle the flow and opened in 2011.


Jamarat

The new Jamarat area is very easy to use. Depending on from which area of Mena you are coming from, you are lead to one particular level in the structure. The concourse is extremely wide and gives plenty of space to throw the stones and then move on to the next Jamarat wall. My wife and I arrived at the structure, threw the stones, and were lead to a separate bridge and tunnel for the return path to our tent in Mena. The entirety of the trip took about 2 hours in a very casual manner.


Jamarat Wall

With the stoning of the Jamarat on the first day, I cut my hair as the tradition, and was finally able to remove my Ihram. It was a luxury and an amazing feeling to put clothes back on. We repeated the process of throwing at the Jamarat for the next three days while camping in Mena.

Another requirement of Hajj is do the the Tawaf around the Holy Kaaba. Traditionally, this is done on the first day after throwing the Jamarat. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to get from the Jamarat area to Masjid Al-Haram to do the Tawaf. Taking a car is prohibitively expensive due to demand and with traffic could easily take three hours. The best method is to walk the three mile path in order to get to the Masjid. Due to our situation and fatigue, my wife and I decided to delay this three days until we departed from Mena, headed back to our building in Aziziya, and were able to take decent auto transport to the masjid.

Heading back to Masjid Al-Haram and seeing the Kaaba was an amazing experience. There are three levels in the Masjid. The “bowl” is the level directly next to the Kaaba and on this level, you walk the least distance to circle the Kaaba. Unfortunately, this is the most packed level as others have the same idea. My wife and I decided to go to the rooftop level. Although it is a much further distance to walk, there was very little crowd and we were able to enjoy the walk around the Kaaba. The nice breeze of the night also helped. After circling the Kaaba, we walked back and forth between the mountains of Safa and Marwa in order to complete the last ritual, and complete our hajj.


Kaaba

After completing the Hajj, my wife and I sat in a corner to contemplate our last five days and our accomplishment. We felt a great sense of fortune that we were able to successfully complete our Hajj. There were smiles on everyone’s faces as they too were contemplating their achievement. We randomly bumped into friends as they were also completing their last ritual. Our last ride from the Masjid back to our apartments was a complete shocker. The crowds, traffic, and noise mostly disappeared that night. Our ride back, which normally took about an hour with traffic, took exactly five minutes.

With the completion of Hajj, our next journey to the city of Madinah would commence. Little did we know what surprises were waiting for us.

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Old Oct 1, 14, 1:47 pm
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After Hajj, Accommodations in Madinah

Madinah is my favorite city in the world. The city is incredibly peaceful and the atmosphere is very tranquil. I spent three weeks there as a teenager and another week during my first Hajj trip. I am most happy when I am in Madinah. So I was very much looking to go back to my favorite city, even if it was limited to two days.

After resting for the last night at Aziziyah and eating breakfast, we were told that the buses would be here “any moment now”. So we finalized packing our bags and waited…and waited…and waited. No updates came. Since the buses were to be here in “any minute”, we were unable to leave the building or do anything productive. The buses finally arrived at 5pm. The luggage was loaded on the roof while we were seated in the incredibly tight bus seats, similar to the ones offered in the beginning of our trip. I was still happy and hopeful for us to reach Madinah by the end of the night and be able to visit the Masjid Al-Nabawi (Prophet’s Mosque).


Masjid Al-Nabawi

Normally, the journey from Makkah to Madinah takes four hours. It is a well-traveled road and an easy ride. Normally! Of course, our bus had an engine of a Vespa and topped out at 40 miles per hour. Additionally, during the Hajj season, Saudi Arabia imports drivers from the neighboring countries in order to handle the passenger bus demand. These drivers are overworked, and extremely underpaid, but they come mainly in order to perform the Hajj. The drivers, being in a foreign country, very often get lost. After two hours of driving, in every direction except the correct one, we could still see the Minarets of Masjid Al-Haram. We had not gone far.

Our driver was also sleep deprived. Talking to him, we realized he had not slept in more than two days. The bus would often veer into the neighboring lanes before we shouted to wake up the driver. After a couple of instances of this happening, a group of us sat towards the front to accompany the driver and keep him awake. At one time, the bus driver pulled up to a rest stop and got out of the car without warning. After thirty minutes, we realized he was sleeping. We woke him up, bought him some coffee, drinks, and other snacks and forced him on his way. At 3am, after eight hours of driving, the Minarets of the Prophet’s Mosque could be seen. My excitement built as I could see my favorite place in the world. The only barrier was to go through another processing.

For some reason, we had to go through a separate processing check in order to enter the city of Madinah. I don’t know why, as we were neither entering nor leaving the country and they already had possession of our passports. We were told to stay in the bus as this would not take very long. This was a mess. The group leader and organizer tried to go through the processing, but was met with a lot of resistance. For some reason, they were not letting anyone in. There was a lot of shouting and arm waving. The processing building had very few facilities. Some of our grouped wondered around the facility. I took advantage of the empty bus seats and went to sleep, hoping that something would change when I woke up. After a good nap, everything was status quo. Finally, the group leader got a little more aggressive, made a few calls, begged some people, yelled at others and somehow we were approved to enter. This process took an additional six hours and we drove the remaining thirty minutes to our hotel in Madinah.

We arrived at our hotel at breakfast time. We partook of the breakfast , which was fairly substantial with eggs, potatoes, jams, bread, foul, hummus, and various other foods. Each group of four people was assigned to a room. The room was fairly basic but comfortable with a twin bed for each person, a tv, desk, and clean bathroom. Most importantly, the location was very close to the Mosque.

After a quick nap, my wife and I took the ten minute walk to the Prophet’s Mosque. The Prophet’s Mosque is a very impressive building, it is called the Prophet’s Mosque as that is where the Prophet Mohamed is buried. The Prophet’s mosque is very comfortable being fully carpeted and air conditioned. My wife and I would spend hours there reading, resting, and talking with the locals. There is a special section in the mosque called Ar-Rawda which is believed to be one of the gardens in paradise. Logically, it doesn’t make sense to me, but from my emotional and spiritual experience, the feeling of praying in Ar-Rawda is unlike any feeling in the world. There is a complete sense of calm, serenity, and peace. No words can do justice to the feeling of praying in Ar-Rawda.


Ar-Rawda




Prophet’s Mosque

Other than the main attraction, the Prophet’s Mosque, there were various historical attractions around town that we toured. We also shopped around in Madinah, as prices were considerably lower than in Makkah. The citizens of Madinah are also known to be very kind and generous and dealing with the shop-owners is very delightful.


Madinah Dates


Last Night in Madinah

We were originally scheduled to spend two days in Madinah, but unfortunately due to the delay, we only spent one night. After packing our bags, and visiting the mosque for one last time, we were ready for our journey back home. But first, we had to deal with the bus…

Last edited by isaifan; Aug 24, 16 at 4:21 am
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Old Oct 1, 14, 1:49 pm
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Jeddah to Kansas City

We headed down to the lobby at noon time as the bus was going to be here in “any minute”. To everyone’s surprise, the bus showed up only 15 minutes later. We were all ecstatic that for once, the bus was actually on time. Except…there was a problem with the bus. The Air Conditioning was out. This wasn’t going to work driving through the Saudi Arabian desert for 400km to get to Jeddah. We waited for an hour while the bus driver, a mechanic, and some other random people tried to fix the air conditioning with a combination of wire hangers, duct tape, gum, and spit. Surprisingly, they somehow managed to get the air conditioning to work.

We loaded the bus, and started our journey back to the Jeddah airport. We were all pretty happy at this point, we had a decent bus that could drive faster than 40mph, good air conditioning, and still 12 hours to go for our Lufthansa flight to Jeddah. Then of course, the gum might have disintegrated, or maybe the spit dried up, but the air condition went out.

At this point, we were used to the bus situation. Rather than trying to fix the air conditioning, we simply opened all the windows of the bus, along with the side door and got a good wind to keep us cool. The drive through the desert was spectacular, with nothing to be seen for miles on end, except the pure sand. Looking through the open bus door into the desert, I reflected on how this moment precisely reflected our experience in the last 10 days. We of course had challenges, with transportation, fatigue, crowding, but it was well worth it to get the reward of the Hajj and to start anew and pure, just like the desert. The sunset was one of the most beautiful in my life and although the journey of Hajj in Saudi Arabia was coming to a close, new opportunities looked ahead.


Saudi Bus


Refection


Saudi Sunset

We arrived at the Jeddah airport at 10pm, with 4 hours to go for our flight. Miraculously, we were reunited with our passports at this time, all still intact. I might have kissed mine when it was handed to me.

The check-in lines were fairly long as most people were bringing plenty of gifts back to their families. After an hour wait to check-in, we were granted our boarding passes. Passport and security control was quick with a separate line for males and females. We spent our last Saudi Riyals at the airport and boarded our flight.

Every person that I have ever known who went to Hajj, contracted the “Hajj cough”. Due to the crowding, the tight quarters, unsanitary conditions, and the people and different sickness coming from all over the world, everyone gets the cough. It is not painful, more of a nuisance, but it lasts for a month at minimum. Boarding the plane, we were met with a symphony of coughs. Again though, similar to our arrival into Jeddah, the Lufthansa flight attendants were very courteous and met our request for extra water and tea.

I don’t remember much of the flight back into the States; I think I was asleep for most of it. After another visit to the United Lounge in Chicago for a shower, we made the last hour and half flight back to Kansas City. At arrival, a huge contingent of family and friends were at the airport to greet us and congratulate us of our achievement. With that, our Hajj trip came to a conclusion.

To visit the two great mosques is very fulfilling. To be able to visit the sacred places, where so many great people were present and so much history has occurred, is exuberating. Yes, Hajj is not easy; every pilgrim will face some hardship. But the reward is well worth the effort. As long as you practice patience, have very minimal expectation, and allow yourself to just go with the flow, you will be successful. Hajj is a journey of reflection, learning, and adventure. Hajj is truly a journey of a lifetime.

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Old Oct 1, 14, 1:52 pm
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This trip report is phenomenal! Really and truly fascinating and wonderful. Thank you so much for posting and I look forward to reading about your future trips!

Last edited by chococat; Oct 1, 14 at 2:01 pm
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Old Oct 1, 14, 2:07 pm
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Fantastic report. Thank you for sharing your journey of a lifetime.
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Old Oct 1, 14, 2:11 pm
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As one who will never go on Hajj I appreciate you sharing your experience. Thank you for this trip report.
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Old Oct 1, 14, 2:16 pm
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Wow - what a journey, and what a report.

This is a *must* read TR, especially for those of us who will never be permitted to visit some of these locations.

Thank you so much for posting this!

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Old Oct 1, 14, 2:21 pm
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I really appreciate you making this trip report. Many of us, even muslims like myself, will never get the opportunity to make the hajj. Very informative and descriptive.
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