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Hajj – 1st Dhul Hajj: Off to the Holy Land

November 18, 2009

M and I decided this year we should try to go to the Hajj . What an experience!

After carefully reviewing the different travel companies and asking advice from people who previously went to the Hajj, we decided to go with Adams Travel, who incidentally have an office in Boston. Reviews of Hajj groups online make it seem like all of the travel groups are crooks; whether that is true or not, I do not know, however I can say that our experience with Adams Travel was overally relatively pleasant. Sure, there were some difficult experiences, however most of them were not things that were controllable, but rather difficulties due to the rules of the Saudi Government. I would probably give them a 4 out of 5 if I had to rate them.

(On a side note, I thought it would not be a good idea to take my SLR camera, so we just made do with Maryam’s small point and shoot… the quality is unforunately not up to par with the SLR of course, but overall I think it did a decent job.)

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11/17/09, shortly after noon:

All packed, ready to go! Ehaan and Maryam’s mom came to the train station to say goodbye. Ehaan now responds to “Khuda-Hafiz” and waves back 🙂 Here we are saying bye to him:

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We took the Amtrak to New York Penn station, then headed over to JFK Airport; we arrived around 7:45 p.m. There was a loooooooooong line at the Etihad counter, with nearly all of the people in line appearing to go to the Hajj. Lots of Dar-el-Salaam and Sara International group members!

We finally got our tickets around 9:15 p.m., and headed over to security, then waited at the gate for our 10:00 boarding.

Once on the plane, I pretty much slept. Didn’t take advantage of Etihad’s awesome entertainment system this time around.

Arrived in Dubai many ours later; we had a 5 hour layover. Maryam called her cousing Emaad, who kindly took us on a tour of Dubai. What a beautiful place this is! The architecture is very modern, it actually reminded me of places in Japan! Of course, we had to check out the Palm Jumeirah, here we are as seen on the car’s GPS:

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We then checked out a ritzy hotel, I can’t remember which one it was. It had an apparently super expensive installation of this glass sculpture:

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I think I remember seeing something similar at the entrance to the Montral Botanical Gardens.

Outside, there were all these super expensive cars, apparently to loan people who stay at the hotel:

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I can’t figure out what some of the cars are, but all I know is they are very, very expensive!

It was getting close to the time we needed to get back to the airport, so we headed that way, and said bye to Emaad. Back at the airport, we saw our flight was delayed by one hour… bummer. We waited at the terminal, I had some Haagen-Dazs. Eventually boarded the plane, and embarked on the 2 hour flight to Medinah:

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Upon arrival at Medinah (which was on the 2nd Dhul Hajj, as we were traveling during the 1st), we encountered the first of many long waits and disorganization during this trip… Trying to get through passport control. The officials would make lines, then move the lines, but in no definite order. After having whatever stamps we needed to have stamped, we went to the exit, but there were two random people in PLAIN CLOTHES who asked us for our passports. We hesitated a little but they kept on insisting that was the protocol, so we obliged, although a little disconcerted that we didn’t get any kind of confirmation or receipt…

At any rate, we saw everybody else handing over their passports to them as well so we figured it must be ok, and if not, well we have copies of our passports.

Outside, all of the checked in luggage was just randomly mixed onto the curb. Luckily we found our luggage relatively quickly but others were not so lucky, and had to spend a considerable amount of time just going back and forth to see if they could spot their luggage. As these tasks were going on, I could see the daylight slowly illuminating the rocky mountains in the distance.

We waited, and we waited, and we waited for our bus, but eventually got sick of waiting after 2 hours so we asked the Adams travel reps to put us in a cab to the hotel, to which they obliged. The way to the hotel reminded me a lot of Pakistan. 15-20 minutes later, we caught a glimpse of the Masjid al Nabawi complex; the taxi driver dropped us at our hotel which was just around the corner from it.

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To be continued…

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