Day 1: 5th January (5th Dhul-Hijj)Departure to Madinah from Tabuk:: 8:20 am, Tabuk-Madinah Highway: Assalam-o-alaikum! We’re on the highway to Madinah, settling into comfort in the car. Madinah is still 650 km away but our closest stopping spot is Tayma, 240 km away.The road is very scenic. First, fruit farms, then sandy rocks. The sky has a smattering of clouds, pierced by the rays of the morning sun. The beauty of such a landscape can only be appreciated if you’ve had the opportunity of staying in a desert area. Imagine this: dark rocky hills with sand, as if sprinkled at some places, piles of it at others, giving a glittery, golden effect. I could stop to take a picture but the journey is long and we must keep moving. The sun is out again to light up the bare, barren area. It’s like driving on Mars!:: 2:30 pm, Khyber After stopping at the outskirts of Tayma, we were off to Khyber 230 km away. I was feeling weird in the head, having slept only six hours in two days! My primary concern was sleep and, having snacked on an omlette sandwich and fruit yoghurt, I settled into my seat, awaiting slumber. Slowly, lulled by the images of vast desert beyond the car window, and the then the craggy peaks at Ashash, I took a nap for half-an-hour. On waking, I found Khyber was only 38 km away. At this point, refreshed, my sisters and I spotted several ‘weather rockets’ zooming through the sky, collecting data. Then, we marveled at the colored stripes in the mountains… red, fawn, dark green striations all together…as specifically mentioned in the Quran. “Has thou not seen that Allah causeth water to fall from the sky, and We produced therewith fruit of diverse hues; and among the hills are streaks white and red, of diverse hues; and among the hills are streaks white and red, or diverse hues, and (others) raven black.” (Quran: Al Mala’ikah 35:27)Khyber, remembered by Muslims mainly through the battles against the Khybarite Jews in 7 AH, still has that special feel about it. On entering Khyber, we spotted an old well in a garden that somehow seemed to represent the town. At Khyber, we stopped for Zuhr prayers at a small mosque surrounded by a park lined with green trees. The rocky mountains in the background perfect the picture completely.
I might add now, that the mosque was so small (especially the ladies section, which was just a small courtyard with short walls) and simple… with old, dusty prayer mats that I couldn’t help but feel elated. Yes, elated! There is something in that powerful Arabian setting that when you pair it with such simplicity, the effect on the soul is… indescribable. In modern, air-conditioned mosques with plush carpets, you might find a Qari with beautiful recitation very pleasing, but move him to that mosque in Khyber and everything about Islam suddenly becomes clear. Everything about life becomes clear. Simplicity, simplicity…We returned from the women’s prayer courtyard to find fresh Ruz-al-Bukhari (a special rice preparation with raisins and shredded carrots) and grilled chicken Abba had bought for lunch. The picnic mat was out and in completely basic Bedouin style, we had our delicious lunch. The cool breeze refreshed us instantly and after snapping a few quick pics, we were back on the highway.Madinah is about 200 km away. As I write this, we are driving through a plain desert area with mountains on the horizon again. Madinah is close now and what distance used to be covered in 3-4 days takes just around two hours today.
:: 3:50 pm, 40 km from Madinah
As we approach Madinah, the mountains have taken upon a more typical, conical shape. I think they’re also called lava tracts. Date farms characteristic of Madinah are situated along the highway. I wish I could stop at one and walk amongst the trees, imagining myself a humble resident of Yathrib. Ah… Ajwa dates!It’s getting greener now, as we approach the ‘check point’ of Madinah. There doesn’t seem to be anyone actually stopping to check for Hajj passes here. Ah, but there are policemen. I hope this doesn’t take too long. And it doesn’t, Alhamdolillah. They take a look and let us pass. Madinah is 20 km away and we all want something ‘fresh’ to drink. A great journey, Alhamdolillah.
When we finally got a room in Madinah, close to the Pakistan House where we’d stayed in the summer, it was nearing Maghrib time and we had to hurry to make it to the mosque. That’s when I first saw the pilgrims! Emerging from cars, buses, hotels in groups… groups upon groups, all heading for the mosque. It was interesting to what method each group had adopted to make sure none of the members would go missing. Some had colored bows pinned to their scarves and Ihrams, others used badges or bandannas for identification. One Bangladeshi group had all the women wear neon-orange Ihram!
I was particularly excited about meeting people from different countries, though I hadn’t realized how difficult that could be when each is concerned about his or her own Hajj! Anyway, it soothed the soul to be part of the Hajis, and to know that in the next day and half, we’d all set off for the Meeqat for a common goal.
I should write something about the hotel in Madinah. We couldn’t get a room in the Pakistan House so we located a tiny building with a small sign ‘Dar Az-Zahra’ above the front door. Needless to say, it wasn’t in very good condition. But all we needed was a room to spend the night and we took it, especially when we were quite sure other rooms nearby would all be booked. This is one point to note: If you’re ever stuck without a hotel room, look up these small buildings. They have licenses, yes, and they’re certified by the Hajj authorities, etc. etc. but don’t expect to find great comforts. Our room’s carpet needed changing, the washroom was tiny (with an iron door) and one of the beds creaked so much that only Abeer, the lightest of us sisters, could sleep in it without worrying about the bed breaking. Apart from that, small cockroaches chose to roam over the walls, which we noticed in the morning, saving us a worrisome night. Also, my Amal, my youngest sister, had a particular thing against the pink and blue painted walls.:P So why did I just tell you all that? I’m not complaining, really! My point is… it’s strange how, if you come for Hajj with your mind set to face any problematic situation, you actually get through the troublesome part easily.
That night at Madinah was a bit unpleasant in another way, though. Our Hajj passes/Tasreeh
had been delayed and we were to receive them from a man, Mr. Talha, in Madinah instead of Tabuk. This Talha failed to show up after Isha prayers at our hotel and my father got irritated when, on calling him up, he said he was visiting some friends with his mother somewhere in Madinah. My father began to lose his patience when the clock struck 10 pm and we lay in bed, hearing him talk loudly on the mobile phone. My head was buzzing due to lack of sleep and it didn’t help that my father was tossing and turning in the other bed, waiting for Talha to show up with our passes. Finally, after several calls, he showed up at 11:30 pm and handed over the required documents. People need to be more responsible in such matters, especially when time is short and many things can go wrong.