In the sacred city of Mecca, Mudasir Yousuf, 42, a lawyer by profession had set foot for the Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj along with his family and thousands of fellow believers. For a spiritual journey that would transform their lives forever. However, what awaited them was a far cry from the promised experience.
With only one gas burner available for the entire group, Mudasir and his family, along with numerous other pilgrims took turns to cook meals.
"We had to wait for hours inside a small kitchen with no exhaust fan or ventilation, and the scorching heat of Saudi Arabia added salt to our wounds,” says Mudasir.
What should have been a matter of convenience had now become a genuine test of endurance. Every step felt heavier than the last, he says.
After a gruelling day of travel, their weariness led them to a humble lodging, where they hoped to find some respite.
As we reached our designated accommodations, I and my family were taken aback by the overcrowded living conditions. Rooms designed to accommodate a manageable number of people were now suffocating and packed with countless bodies, Mudasir tells The Himalayan Post.
Our expectations were shattered more when we entered the shared washrooms, which represented the very antithesis of cleanliness, he says.
The stench permeated the air, overpowering even the strongest of senses and leaving an indelible imprint on their memories.
When pilgrims rushed to fulfill their personal needs, the overworked facilities groaned under the pressure and soon the Hajis discovered that the washroom’s waste water was seeping into their bedrooms, Mudasir recalls.
With water torrents leaking and forming a hazardous maze on the uneven floors. The pilgrims gingerly maneuvered through this treacherous terrain, hoping to avoid slipping or injuring.
Even the laundry service provided was subpar, with each person receiving only a single unwashed sheet for an entire month, he says.
“During the pilgrimage, the Moalim- an individual appointed by the Indian Hajj Committee to guide and support the pilgrims- was absent. “
“His absence meant that the pilgrims did not have access to the necessary Identity Cards, Coupons, and Bracelets that are crucial for various activities throughout Hajj, says Mudasir.
The lack of these essential items left the Kashmiri Hajis in a state of disarray and confusion and unable to participate fully in the rituals and were unsure of how to navigate the intricate procedures of the pilgrimage.
The promised bus facility, which was included in their package, had only been provided to a mere 800 pilgrims.
“In a Maktab of 5000 pilgrims, only 800 were provided with the bus facility.”
“We had paid our hard-earned money for a comprehensive Hajj package, which explicitly included transportation charges. How could we pay extra for what had already been promised and paid for, he asks.
Even some Kashmiri Hajis were left to navigate the arduous routes on foot, Mudasir adds.
When The Himalayan Post approached authorities for comments, Dr. Shuja maintained that as per the guidelines set by the Hajj Committee of India, each pilgrim should have been provided with a spacious area of 4 square meters, which would include a kitchen and washrooms.
However, it was also advised that the pilgrims share these cooking and restroom facilities in compliance with the rules, he says.
“The facilities were regularly inspected by both the Saudi administration and the consolidated generals of the Hajj Committee. So, in theory, everything seemed to be in place,” he says.
As per instructions, blankets were supposed to be changed every two days to ensure cleanliness and hygiene. In case this rule was not followed, the pilgrims were advised to contact the branch offices situated after every ten buildings, the authority adds.
Despite the hardships, Mudasir says, there were moments of sheer majesty. The sight of the Kaaba, the most sacred site in Islam, illuminated by thousands of lights, left Mudasir and his family breathless. They cried tears of joy and gratitude as they joined millions of pilgrims in circling the holy structure, with hearts full of devotion.