200,000 Pakistani pilgrims reach Saudi Arabia as annual Hajj ritual begins today

Muslim pilgrims pray around the holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah on September 21, 2015. (Reuters/File)
Updated 10 August 2019

200,000 Pakistani pilgrims reach Saudi Arabia as annual Hajj ritual begins today

  • Pakistan hopes “Road to Makkah” project will be extended to other cities after 30,000 pilgrims benefited at Islamabad airport this year
  • The county’s post-Hajj flight operation will begin from August 17

ISLAMABAD: Nearly 200,000 Pakistani pilgrims have reached Saudi Arabia to perform one of the most sacred religious rituals as annual Muslim pilgrimage begins in Makkah today.
The Hajj is among the five pillars of Islam that is mandatory for all adult Muslims who are financially and physically capable to undertake the journey at least once in their lives.
It is a combination of different rituals that last for five days in Makkah and three other places – Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat — on the outskirts of that city.
This year, around 30,000 Pakistanis availed the pre-departure facility at the Islamabad International Airport under ‘Road to Makkah’ project.
“The pre-Hajj flight operation has concluded successfully with zero complaints from pilgrims,” Imran Siddique, spokesperson for the Ministry of Religious Affairs, told Arab News from Makkah.
Lauding the Saudi government for its cooperation, he said the Pakistani pilgrims were given “the best” accommodation, transportation and food facilities in both Makkah and Madinah.
“Our pilgrims who have benefited from the Road to Makkah project this year are particularly thankful to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for extending the facility to Pakistan,” Siddique said, hoping the project would also be extended to other airports of the country in the coming years.
Pakistan was included in the ‘Road to Makkah’ project during a February visit to Islamabad by the Saudi crown prince, after which it was announced that all pilgrims traveling from Islamabad airport would benefit from pre-departure immigration facility. Malaysia and Indonesia are already part of the project.
A team of Saudi officials set up the pilot immigration program at the Islamabad International Airport in July which provided immigration facility to about 30,000 Pakistani pilgrims flying from the country’s federal capital. The project helped these pilgrims save 10 to 12 hours of waiting time at Saudi airports.
Siddique said that Pakistani Hajj pilgrims were allotted 13 Makaatib [service offices] in train zone, 23 in old Mina and 24 in new Mina. About 54,000 Pakistani pilgrims would avail train facility, he added, while buses had been arranged for the rest of the pilgrims for their movement in the area where Hajj rituals are performed.
Pakistan’s post-Hajj flight operation will continue from August 17 to September 14 this year.

Thumbs-up: Pakistani woman defies risks to hitchhike across the country

Updated 14 September 2020

Thumbs-up: Pakistani woman defies risks to hitchhike across the country

  • Leaving corporate security behind, Maria Soomro has traveled solo around the country since the pandemic began
  • She documents her travels and uses YouTube and Instagram to provide tips on how to solo travel as a woman

RAWALPINDI: A few months ago, while doing a stable job in the banking sector, Maria Soomro decided to act on her gut instinct and leave behind the monotony and routine of her daily life to follow her dream of hitchhiking around Pakistan. 

30-year-old Soomro hails from Karachi and has been working in the banking sector since completing her university education. The corporate job gave her 40 days of annual leave which she utilized for travel, though she felt that something was missing. 

“I wasn’t fully able to immerse myself in enjoyment or the experience,” she told Arab News over the phone while traveling through Gilgit-Baltistan. “When I travel, I go to remote villages, off-the-beaten-path type places and get to know the locals, actually spend some time understanding where I am and who I am surrounded by. Five or 15 days don’t allow for that.” 

The idea of spending time doing what she loved as opposed to sitting at a desk kicked Soomro into high-gear. “I opted to turn the documenting of my travels, which I had been doing since 2015 on Instagram (@MariaSoomro_) and eponymous YouTube channel, into my full-time job.” 

Maria Soomro smiles for the camera in a ride she hitched near Burzil Pass, part of the historic caravan route between Srinagar and Gilgit on her Instagram page on September 11, 2020. (Picture courtesy of Maria Soomro) 

In March of this year, Soomro headed out on her hitchhiking journey. Being a solo female traveler in Pakistan is a steadily growing trend, though a woman who hitchhikes is almost unheard of.

 “Budget traveling is my focus. The largest chunk of your budget ends up being spent on accommodation and transportation, and both of these things can be covered when you’re hitchhiking,” said Soomro. 

But her travel ethos is another reason hitchhiking was so attractive. To her, there is no better way than this to know the places one is traveling through. 

“This is a shortcut to get to know local communities, be it Pakistan or another country. When you ask for a lift, you get a special introduction to their home, their points of view, and you learn from them,” she said, adding that one can build contacts as a bonus who can be assets to solo travelers. 

Soomro estimates that her hitchhiking adventure has allowed her to meet over 300 people, all of whom, she maintains, contact through social media. “The more people you meet the more stories you hear and the more people you can share your own story with,” said she. 

Maria Soomro shares tips and tricks on solo travel including how to keep one's tent from blowing away in a shot she shares from Golden Beach, Balochistan, on her Instagram page on June 14, 2020. (Picture courtesy of Maria Soomro) 

Instead of merely asking for a lift, Soomro has taken each ride as an opportunity to educate on what hitchhiking is, why she is doing it, and why she is traveling Pakistan. 

“It’s not very common here and I want to change that. The general consensus is that Pakistan is not safe, in particular for women, to travel alone.” 

When asked about how safe she has felt while traveling, Soomro said she follows “her gut instinct, assessing each ride” but also stressed the importance of “being prepared,” such as carrying personal protection equipment like pepper spray and knife. 

“My advice to Pakistanis who want to follow into my footsteps would be to take time to understand this kind of travel first and do not go straight for hitching,” she said. “Travel in groups and learn the areas you want to visit, know how roads work and, like any other passion, take time to educate yourself.” 

Soomro is doing her part in educating travel hopefuls on her YouTube channel and Instagram page with tips on how to hitchhike, where to go, and how to pitch a tent to withstand winds and what type of rides to expect around the country at present. 

“There are very few people who follow their passion in the world, and I am one of those crazy people since I thought I could do it,” said Soomro. “I am a free bird and travel is a part of me. I can’t imagine my life without this.”