Friday, October 24, 2008


It was four years ago on 1st June 2004 that we had the golden opportunity to travel luxuriously on the national carrier, Malaysian Airline System from KLIA to Jeddah. Not that we paid for the first class tickets but by sheer coincidence or fortune we were invited to take the seats in the first class cabin. Who would refuse? Who would bother to ask question why us? We accepted with glee and fortitude. It was not just the two of us. My father and mother- in- laws travelled likewise. On this occasion we were twenty in numbers all with economy class tickets and headed for Jeddah and continuing to Madinah and Makkah, two Islam holy cities for our umrah visit.

Coincidentally, while in the waiting foyer before departure and shortly before the invitation from the airline official, my wife intimidated:
"Abang, kalaulah kita ada duit lebih bolehlah kita bawa mereka naik kelas atas. Lagi pun dengan usia mereka sekarang wajar dapat duduk dengan selesa serta segar menunaikan ibadat nanti" Insya'Allah was the proper reply.

We knew that at Makkah or Madinah people do get retorts either way. It has been said that sometimes people get responses in double quick time especially for saying out things deplorably.

"Bayaran, katanya datang secara tunai" It is cash payment and made on the spot. 'Ada mata boleh tengok tapi lidah mesti waspada dan tak sebut sebarangan"

Blessed indeed it happened when we were still on home ground and in good measures too. I have not looked back at that incident till now accepting that it was an isolated case. Our recent journey in June 2008 to the same cities in Saudi Arabia triggered a new perspective. Maybe we were on a special journey then; a historic trip and the incentive was there laid out much earlier. Pilgrims who make their journey to Makkah this year for Haj have been cautioned to be extra careful. It will be cool and comfortable since it is winter time in the northern atmosphere but it will be dusty as construction works continue around alHaram in a frantic phase.

That we saw in June 2008. It was not desert dust or sand but blasting works as buildings were pulled down or blown to bits to make way for ultra modern Makkah.

Arab News dateline Makkah on 14 June 2008 read: " King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, has given approval for inviting international companies to set up a comprehensive plan for the development of Makkah, said Prince Khaled Al Faisal, Emir of Makkah Province. The plan which includes the upgrading of health services, education, electricity, water, sewage, roads and transportation, aim to make Makkah an inspiring model for the whole world".

Saudi Gazette reported: " Expansion of the Grand Mosque and its surrounding area is part of the 10 year modernization plan announced by Prince Khaled Al Faisal, Emir of Makkah. Over the next five years, the central area in Makkah will be attracting modernization projects at a cost of SR100billion....."

For modernity, space and comfort, people have to endure. Almost all the houses, hotels, shops and bazaars surrounding al Haram on its western and northern side have been pulled down and levelled. The row of barber shops and the bazaar at Ghazah Street have disappeared. The Sofitel hotel nearby awaited demolishing. At the time of writing it too has been reduced to dust.

This time around we were unable to be accomodated at a location favorable and convenient to the 'jumaah'. Both hotels Firdous Al Marwah near Bab Al Marwah (Gate Marwah) and Firdous Al Umrah opposite Bab Al Umrah (Gate Umrah) which had been our favored hotels have disappeared, annihilated. So too many more buildings: bazaar, hotels, restaurants levelled and only barren hills or flat land standing on their plots.

Beginning 1992 when I made my first visit to Makkah and the next year for the Haj, we have been fortunate to make other return visits, almost biennially.It has always been with a small family group averaging 15 to 24 pax. Previous experiences with the traveling and hospitality sector allowed us to get the best from the travel agency and not adding other frienges to the cost. The senior group that accompany us would feel comfortable with such arrangement. We are part of the group and their satisfactions have always been our joy as well.

It is not too late to realise that we have been very fortunate to have travelled comfortably and especially so in June 2004. Our visit in 2006 failed to record images of Makkah especially because I lost a camera alongsides photographs of Makkah, Madinah and Dubai. Searching back we found photos of Makkah, invaluable since they captured most part of the city which has now disappeared. These were taken during the 2004 trip when we stayed at Firdous Al Umrah, and especially of buildings and scenes around the area. Now how fortunate can you be to have scenes of that area in tact, recording activities and movements that have once occured and never to be repeated unless in a new scenery once the ultra modern Makkah comes into existence again.

Our latest visit this year, besides performing all the rites of umrah and fulfilling the daily prayers at Al Haram and the Prophet Mosque in Madinah also allowed us to be witness to the ever changing scenario especially at Makkah. The exceptional photo of the city which I captured on top of a hill near the city will remain a true keepsake and hopefully a historical landmark just as the other photos as shown here.

I have always believed that yourself can also be a partner in the happenings of the century, as long as you realise that the momentums that take place have significance of their own while shifting around characters and scenarios specific to the time. Looking back you may be surprised to know at some moment in time you were near important and famous person or at strategic places. Only you failed to highten and capitalized the opportunity.

You would be grateful too if you are upgraded and we were stretching with comfort on the way to Jeddah.

On the road into Makkah from Jeddah

You won't be able to see this building with its characteristic windows nor the shoe display anymore. The building and other sites nearby have been demolished to make way for a modern Makkah

Two years ago you could see such sights that characterised the old feature of Arabic homes and windows that keep the heat away while filtering the dust.

Seen at another part of Makkah but close to Al Haram. This western section of Al Haram too has been levelled for the new city.

Makkah Hilton and the white marble floor opposite in front of Al Haram photographed from the window at Firdous al Umrah where we stayed in 2004 and 2006.

From our room could be seen Al Tawhid Hotel, the clock tower and the busy road astride Al Haram

The scene just after Friday prayer at Al Haram with taxis waiting for passengers especially for Jeddah. Expect to see a different scene here when the Makkah project is completed

The long narrow pathway leading to the marble courtyard near Makkah Hilton. Such pathway are plenty and characterised the city.Now hard to find.

Pigeons and cleaning workers in yellow at the northern part of Al Haram. On the right side in the background can be seen the alley and the shopping archade that led to the Mosque.

The marble floor as part of the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah

Our family group in the foyer of a hotel at Madinah. Should you wish to join our group in the coming visit do give a call.

A most recent recent photo of Makkah City with Al Haram in view and thenew Zam Zam tower by its side. Notice the lone building ( Sofitel Hotel) in the right corner. That too has been pulled down recently.

Construction work on going throughout the day and night

On departing for home, if time permit we called at this beautiful floating mosque by the Red Sea. Enough time to have lunch by the sea.

Modern facade of hotel buildings replacating the wooden window screens

Is this what Al Haram and its vicinity will look like when the modernization project is completed?. Hopefully with Allah's will we will have the opportunity to return to Al Haram and Masjid Nabi in Madinah.


Azizi Ahmad Termizi: said...

Pak Non

It is now more than 2 years (coming to 3 years soon)that my wife and I went for our hajj. The pictures you showed reminds me a lot of our more than one month stay in Madinah and Makkah.

As you alluded to, most of the hotels are now no more. My Hotel Bruj Riyadh, located just after Bukit Marwah, has been demolished. But the good memory remains and the longing to go back is as strong as ever. With ALlah's grace I shall be back insyaAllah.

Thank you for the pics.

U.Lee said...

Hello Kotastar, wow! I like that 1st pic of you and Mrs...macham VIPS, lagi pun with laptops, ha ha.

And this the first time saya tengok gambars of the Holy city.
Its beautiful.....I guess you have been there you are now Haji ya?

Oh ya, ada one day, I was waiting at JB airport to catch a flight to KL, a big airbus landed and everyone got off, all returning from the Holy city...AND? The plane now kosong....and believe it or not, I was the only passenger in that whole plane flying to KL, ha ha.
So many lovely air hostesses ad saya satu orang, ha ha.

Glad to read you been there twice. Oh ya, and Mrs look at least saya tau siapa Kotastar, ha ha.
Re your mention of homes in my posting, drop by, just put up a new one...with houses.
Berjumpa lagi Haji, you keep well, Lee.

KotaStar said...

Dear Lee
Thank you for dropping.Yes I thought maybe it is worthwhile to put up a story of the Holy Cities [Makkah and Madinah} at least others can see what they are like seeing that they are forbidden to be entered by non Muslim. Don't ask me how they check out? They do. Yes that's me and wife. By the way my name is Zainal.Starting early Nov there will be many flights to Makkah since the Haj falls on 8/9 Dec. Normally more than 2 million pilgrims will congregate there. Imagine the infrastructure, transportation and accomodation facilities etc required. Most will stay there for a month at least.They come all over the world too. The modernization plan on going will no doubt ease the current problems.
Interesting about the lone passenger. Ha,Ha. In all we have made nine visits and that give me a good reason to speak of its expansion as we saw. Glanced at yr latest just now and thank you for the housing and living aspects. I am sure all yr admirers will be thrilled again. All the best. Zainal

Al Khalifah said...

Pak Haji Zainal,
Nice write up indeed and the pics enticed me to forget about works, works and works...need to spend a bit of time to plan out my visit there. Never been there, but really eager to spend at least a month there.
The last time my parent and sister went there, my father who's just recovered from stroke back then lost for two weeks after performing Tarawikh. The good news was, when they found him 2 weeks later, nearby the mosque, he's doing fine and healthier than before! Amazing....he did tell me about his journey but it seems out of this world yet I can rationalized it...the Greatness of Allah!

KotaStar said...

ALLAHUAKKBAR -GREAT TO KNOW THAT YR DAD IS WELL AND THAT HE WENT THRU A 'JOURNEY'AND BEST OF ALL IN THE HOLY CITY. Yes I sincerely urge you to make the trip when you are ready and NOW is the time. A fortnight and less will be sufficient for the first journey because you will be 'invited' again and again.Listen to the jumaah when they return from the Haj late Dec and early Jan 2009. There will be many account.My daughter and hubby make the Haj trip this year.They are about yr age group.It will a good break after all the hard work both of you have put in. Salam

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