Over 170,000 Pakistani pilgrims return home from Hajj

1 / 2
In this file photo, Muhammad Mushtaq Ahmad, Federal Secretary, Ministry of Religious Affairs sends off pilgrims from Jeddah on August 20. (Photo Courtesy – Ministry of Religious Affairs)
2 / 2
Special flights for Hajj pilgrims – which began on August 17 to bring back 200,000 Pakistanis – will continue until September 15. (AFP / File)
Updated 09 September 2019

Over 170,000 Pakistani pilgrims return home from Hajj

  • Specially designated flights to bring the Hajjis back will continue until September 15
  • 200,000 Pakistanis performed the pilgrimage this year

ISLAMABAD: More than 170,000 pilgrims have returned to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia since August 17 after completing the Hajj pilgrimage, the Ministry of Religious Affairs said in a statement released on Monday
“[The returnees include] 99,000 from the government quota and 72,000 who were using services offered by private tour and Hajj operators,” Imran Siddiqui, MRA spokesman said in a statement, adding that 23,000 others are still in Madina.
Special flights – which began on August 17 to bring the 200,000 pilgrims back – will continue until September 15.
“Elaborate arrangements have been made on Pakistan’s 10 airports to welcome the pilgrims on their return,” Siddiqui said.
Pakistani officials lauded the Kingdom’s arrangements and hospitality extended to pilgrims during Hajj this year.
For the first time this year, a pre-immigration pilot program was launched at the Islamabad International Airport as part of Saudi’s Road to Makkah project which Pakistan had been included in on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s request.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had made the announcement during his historic visit to Islamabad in February this year.
The initiative was aimed at facilitating Hajj pilgrims by way of a faster immigration process which helped them save up to 10 hours of waiting time on their arrival in Saudi Arabia.


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.”