Coincidentally, while in the waiting foyer before departure and shortly before the invitation from the airline official, my wife intimidated:
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.
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.
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.