From Motherland – To Holyland & Brotherland – Part I

Holy Land and Brother Land Travel
Holy Land and Brother Land
Well of course, that means we have been to 5 different airports and took 6 flights in two weeks. During the last flight we took from Istanbul – Islamabad; we were so much more comfortable with the hassles of airport – by then we had internalized who would carry what; very much used to looking out for trolleys and passing through the security check; getting our bags and zamzam checked in. And so we spent our last two hours at the airport – changing currencies; having fresh orange juices and cake; changing Shazil’s diaper and finding Burger King. Right when the boarding started we found burger king and stood in a long line for buying it. Only when they announced the last call; we boarded. (And had our burgers in the plane)
This was the new Istanbul Airport which became operational just a day ago. The Ataturk airport has closed down and from April 6th all the flights have been shifted to new Istanbul Airport. It is aimed to become a global aviation hub. It is on the outskirts of the city and took us an hour to get there – while the three of us slept!

Holyland - Makkah and Medina

I have always been fascinated by the mosques and their architecture. There is something about them which is inspirational and fulfilling. 
But this time; what was more moving was seeing thousands of people walking briskly towards Kabba for offering prayers; and what was more inspirational was how everyone was praying differently under one roof without telling each other that their way is the right way; and how this beautiful house of God accepts everyone and allows everyone to pray in their own way. 
Praying with thousands of other people from various other countries and nationalities was soulful. And offering Namaz-e-Janazah after each prayer became a food for thought. It kept on highlighting the momentary nature of this life. 
Perhaps it is only the abstract things that matter in life – such as belief, love, faith, trust, kindness, a connection with the God, a prayer which is said from the heart, an intention to do good, and showing gratitude towards what you have.
Shazil met people from Algeria, Jazeera, Turkey, Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Morocco and UK. He received sweets, biscuits and cheese; with which he only played. I used to get amazed and humbled by looking into the eyes of the old age aunts, couples and young girls which brightened up and filled with love when they used to see Shazil. There was this old lady who told me that Shazil resembled his grandson and she made him sit on her lap for a while. Meanwhile, Shazil also enjoyed sitting on her lap as he was missing his Dadi and Nani. Filipinos were very accommodating and used to offer me a space for prayer because I had a baby with me.  An old lady came after us to hold Shazil and asked us to take her picture with him. 
There was this beautiful little girl from Algeria who wanted to talk but couldn’t because of language barrier. And then there were two ladies from Central Asia; who took Shazil’s picture because they loved the embroidery on his Kurta. A group of ladies from Turkey held Shazil one by one before the Jummah prayers and this little guy gave them good company. There were old ladies praying on a chair who used to cover him with his blanket while he was asleep so that he didn’t feel cold. Shazil received so much love in the two cities and I felt loved because of such sweet gestures. 
Meeting Anum

We were also destined to meet Shazil’s Anum Khala in Haram, Makkah. Shazil and Anum met each other for the first time and it felt like home. We did non-stop talking from Maghrib to Isha. Prayed Isha together and said goodbye. Anum and I have been friends since grade 6th. She was visiting from UK. Shazil got along with his Anum khala quite well. And I got to know how it feels to meet a friend in Makkah. I remember offering prayers with her in our academy days and there we were together offering prayers again but this time right in front of Kabba. And so the abstract part came into action i.e. destiny. 

What we learned and few tips..

But of course, everything was not flowery and everybody was not that nice to us. As soon as we landed in Jeddah we were misguided by the quite unhelpful STC sim provider guys who registered the sim on our passports and allowed us a one day package only. The next day we had to pay 160 Riyal per sim i.e. Pakistani around 6000 Rupees per sim to recharge which we were only going to use for 9 days. Besides, they didn’t even tell us our numbers until we went three times at their counter and requested them again and again. It wasted our an hour and a half at Jeddah airport. 
Later, we came to know that there’s another service provider Zain – there counter is also on the airport and you can set up a package with them based on your requirements and financial resources. 
The locals were not generally friendly. Even if they would understand your language they will not help out. I guess they are so much used to the flux of people that they prefer not to offer help. For them, its business. So, every shop owner would tell you a different price of a packaged yogurt, bananas or even bottled water.
On Food

In Makkah, there are numerous options for food near Haram; so you do not have to worry about it. There is Makkah Tower right across Haram and on your way to and from Haram you can find number of shops offering desi or fast food. 

In Medina, it depends on your hotel location. Usually, if you are living near gate number 17 to 25; there are many options to eat in contrast with gate number 5 to 7.

Generally, a desi dish ranges from 7 to 15 Riyal and its quantity is enough for two people while a burger would start from 19 to 22 Riyal. 

On Ziaraat

In Makkah a taxi cab would take 150 Riyals for all the ziaraats while in Medina it would take 100 Riyals. However, do not miss out on them and plan as soon as you get there. You can visualize Islamic History through these visits which you might have just read somewhere. For us, we had read it as a part of Islamic Studies curriculum and learnt it by heart for our exams in school. But seeing it made us wondered how the companions of Prophet (SAW) must have fought on those mountains of Uhud. And we imagined how must have the wars looked like in the times when there were no guns or bombs or chemical weapons. 

If you are taking a baby along..
Do not give second thoughts to take pram with you. It makes life easier in Medina. In Makkah, pram is not allowed in Haram but in Medina, you can take pram, however, you would have to pray outside i.e. under magnificent umbrellas. I have seen mothers with four and even five kids. Hats off to them! Such mothers used to give me a lot of courage. 
Mothers with kids, you should also visit the doctor before leaving and keep all the medicines along which the doctor has prescribed in case of fever or bad stomach. Shazil had a very high temperature in Medina; unfortunately I forgot to take thermometer along but thankfully we had antibiotics for him. He was fine within two days. 
And if you are going with the husband and a kid; essentially you would have to take care of two kids; if your husband also gets sick. Wajahat got sick and unfortunately we thought we are too cool for it so we did not take any antibiotics with us. First, you cannot buy any medicine without prescriptions unlike in Pakistan. Second, pharmacies could be located at a distance. Therefore, to save yourself from these inconveniences take prescribed antibiotics for adults as well along with you. 

Shazil: Oh well! I also served as a security guard on one of the entrance gates in Masjid-e-Nabwi. Kidding! Hats off to all those people who have been manually checking all the bags of hundreds of people before each prayer. And to those who have been taking care of the cleanliness of the mosques. You guys are doing a great job!

Stay tuned for our Part II in Brotherland!