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Umrah: The journey begins.

Byline: Aftab H. Kola

MUSCAT Eoe1/4" With the beginning of Ramadan, Makkah, a sanctuary of peace, is teeming with pilgrims. It is the peak season for Umrah (short pilgrimage) and Muslims from across the world converge on the holy land to perform Umrah. Despite the swine flu scare, the Saudi embassy in Oman has been issuing Umrah visas.

Omanis do not require a visa to enter Saudi Arabia. And the expat community does not want to be left behind either. According to the Saudi embassy, 4,800 Umrah visas Eoe1/4" one month validity Eoe1/4" have been issued to expats as on August 18.

The Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs had banned the elderly (above 65 years), children and patients from performing Umrah in wake of H1N1 outbreak.

Saudi embassy has given four operators Eoe1/4" Suhail Bahwan Travel and Tours, Al Hashar and Co., Noor Majan Travels and Tour Agencies and Moon Travels Eoe1/4" the licence to organise Umrah trips.

Says Ahmed Maseehuddin, In-chargeEoe1/4"Haj & Umrah, Moon Travels LLC: Eoe1/4EoThis is the peak Umrah season. We are taking 1,000 people this Ramadan.Eoe1/4A[yen]

Air travel

A majority of pilgrims (60 per cent) opted for air travel. Says Ahmed: Eoe1/4EoOur first bus left for Makkah on Thursday; the next are scheduled to leave Muscat on August 24, 28, September 1, 5, 9 and 13. A trip usually takes 10 to 12 days.Eoe1/4A[yen]

The bus journey from Muscat to Makkah through the UAE takes about 38-40 hours. Oman Air operates daily direct flight to Jeddah, and Saudi Arabian Airlines weekly two direct flights to Jeddah, on Wednesdays and Fridays. Saudi Arabian Airlines also operates weekly two direct flights to Madina, on Tuesdays and Sundays.

An Umrah package costs RO185 per person by road during the first 20 days of Ramadan and RO225 during the last ten days of Ramadan.

Pilgrims prefer to be in Makkah during the last 10 days, a time stretch where Night of Power (Laylatul Qadr), the most blessed night in the fasting month of Ramadan, has been promised by Allah and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It was on this day, which can fall any day in the last ten days of Ramadan, when the Holy Quran was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

The bus package includes four nights hotel accommodation in Makkah and three nights hotel accommodation in Madinah. The cost will also include UAE border fees, ziyarah tours in Makkah and Madinah, visa service fees and inland transportation.

Shorter route

The 142-km Ramlat Khaila Highway linking the Sultanate (from Ibri) and Saudi Arabia was officially opened in the begining of 2005, but the highway on the Saudi side (Rub Al Khali) is yet to be thrown open to public. Saudi embassy officials said they had no information about the opening of the highway on their side though they indicated that it would be done soon.

For those travelling to Saudi, the journey from Muscat passes through Sohar, Buraimi, Wadi Jizzi, entering UAE at Shukla border and exiting UAE at Al Guwaifat border postreaching Saudi at Batha.

Saudi and the Sultanate have agreed to establish a border point to facilitate transportation and enhance trade relations. The opening will cut travel time by 6-7 hours. Eoe1/4" TNS

The opening will cut the journey time by at least 6-7 hours and help avoid wasting a few hours at the UAE borders. There is also great possibility of business along the route flourishing.

Says Ahmed: Eoe1/4EoWe can avoid waiting six hours at the UAE Border and save 700 km of driving, thus totally saving approximately 12 hours. It will also enable cost cutting as a pilgrim will be able to save approximately OR 30.000 which he/she pays as UAE border feesEoe1/4A[yen].

Muscat Press and Publishing House SAOC 2009

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Date:Aug 22, 2009
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Umrah: The journey begins.

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