15 days of Hajj with Dar el Salam Travel

15 Days of Hajj with Dar el Salam

Kaaba Makkah Saudi Arabia

Day 1 -3

After reviewing various Hajj & Umrah packages in 2018, we selected the Super Deluxe program 3A offered by Dar el Salam Travel. Every package had multiple groups and a group leader. Our group was group 17 led by Shaykh Ahmed Billoo. This was a 15-day package with trip starting from Makkah and ending in Medina.
We took Turkish Airlines flight from JFK Airport in New York at 12:30 in the afternoon. The flight had a six hours layover in Istanbul and then another three hours flight to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The total flight duration from NY to Istanbul is approximately 9 hours. When we reached Istanbul Ataturk Airport, the first thing in our mind was to find a place to put on our Ihram. The airport was really busy and full of pilgrims and the public restrooms at the airport were unclean with pools of water on the floor. Changing the Ihram was a difficult task as we needed a dry clean area for changing. We decided to rent a Prime Class lounge available at the airport. There are several lounges available for rent for around 80 Euros. These lounges allow you to take shower and putting on Ihram in private bathrooms. They also offer plenty of refreshments which is included in the charge and nice sitting areas to relax and enjoy until your flight is ready to board. I recommend everyone going for Hajj with a stay in Istanbul to take advantage of this service. You will be tired and spending 80 Euros will be worth it as you need to save energy for the later part of your journey.

As we on-boarded our flight to Jeddah, we realized that everyone on the flight was a pilgrim. Restrooms were busy during the entire 3 hours flight as Hajis were busy doing Wudu (ablution) and preparing for their arrival at Jeddah. When we passed Meeqath, there was no formal announcement on the Turkish airline. However, some folks voluntarily walked through the aisle informing everyone to do the Niyyah for Umrah. Once we did our intention and landed at Jeddah around 3:30 in the afternoon, our Hajj had officially started. It was a mesmerizing experience to hear all the Hajis reciting the Talbiyah in unison. While entering Hajj terminal we were nervous in an anticipation of long lines at immigration and baggage. The immigration unexpectedly was very well organized with a number of counters set up. It was a 15 minutes brisk activity and the immigration officer was courteous and welcoming. This is contrary to our experience when we went for Umrah a year earlier. As we entered the baggage area we were welcomed by Dar-el-Salam personnel who directed us to the gathering location outside. The outside of the Hajj terminal had directions and country-specific flags and we easily managed to get to the gathering point where Dar-el-Salam personnel collected our luggage and offered cold juices. It was extremely hot and humid but again we didn’t have to wait very long before on-boarding the bus.

We reached Makkah in 1.5 hours but then had to spend 2-3 hours on the bus going from one Mutawif location to the other. Our passports were collected on the bus by someone perhaps some representative from Mutawif office. At last, we reached the hotel where we were able to collect back our hand carry luggage. The hotel that we were assigned with the program 3A was Hotel Al Marwa Rehaan by Rotana. This is rated as a 5-star hotel and is within the clock tower premises and is connected with all the amenities provided within the Clocktower complex which includes a mall, food court, direct walkway to Haram, pharmacy, grocery store, masjid hall and plenty of gift shops. We had a nice lavish buffet dinner and finally checked-in into the hotel. There was a Dar el Salam counter set up outside the buffet area to hand over the welcome package which included separate room cards, local phone sim card, a backpack, tasbih counter, shoe bag, pen, and the prayer rug. These were a complementary part of the package. After checking into the hotel, we took shower and some rest for an hour an half before heading out for Umrah at around midnight. Even though we were doing the Umrah on our own, Dar el Salam representative Sister Mariam was courteous enough to assign us a group leader for guiding us through it.

By the time we completed our Umrah, it was already 8:00 AM in the morning. After Umrah, we took some group pictures and headed straight to barbershops located in the basement of the clock tower. They charge you around 10 Riyals for the cut or shave. After the hair cut, we officially completed our Umrah and were able to take off our Ihram which was a big relief. With regular clothes on we went straight to the hotel banquet restaurant for breakfast at Al Bayt banquet hall located inside the hotel. The complimentary breakfast buffet was great with lots of continental and local food choices. They even had coolers of ZamZam to enjoy with your breakfast.

After breakfast, we went on a search hunt for our luggage. After consulting with Dar el Salam folks at the breakfast reception area we were informed that some of the luggage was at the Fairmont Plaza hotel which is also part of the clock tower. All the hotels are connected from the inside and you don’t have to go outside. We found our luggage in one of the areas at the Fairmont Plaza. There were tens of suitcases lying there and since we had our Dar el Salam tags on, it wasn’t difficult to identify them. We requested the bellboy at the Fairmont hotel to help us in delivering the luggage to our hotel. The rest of the day we spent resting at the hotel. There was also a complimentary dinner arranged at the Al Bayt banquet throughout our stay at the hotel. After dinner, we finally ended the day 3 of our journey.

Day 4

Day 4 was a rest day. Dar el Salam had arranged for group lectures at the terrace of the grand mosque after Fajr. After breakfast, we went back to the hotel for some rest and preparing for the Friday prayers. In an anticipation of an extreme crowd, we decided not to go to Haram and instead prayed our Friday Salat at the hotel prayer hall on the 10th floor. The hotel prayer halls and all rooms are also connected to the sound system of the masjid and hence you can pray in your room or at the prayer hall as if praying at the Haram. There are separate prayer halls in the clock tower complex for Men and Ladies. The one for the sisters was on the 11th floor. After Friday prayers, the rest of the day was spent relaxing at the hotel or performing Salat at Haram.

Day 5 & 6

Day 5 was the day before our journey to Mina. It was 7th Zulhijja. Dar el Salam had arranged for a group meeting after dinner. Shaykh Billoo and Sheikh Mohammad Faqih who was also the overall group leader of the program 3, explained about how the next few days at Mina and Arafat were to be spent and the type of arrangements made by Dar el Salam at the Mina and Arafat Camp. Both the Shaykh’s did their best to settle our nerves but nevertheless, the night was spent in anxiety and most of us had difficulty in falling asleep. By around 4:30 AM, we woke up to take shower and then went for Fajr prayers. Today was 8th Zulhijja. We came back to our rooms for putting on the Ihram. Once we checked out from our rooms at around 6:00 AM, we went to the Al Bayt for breakfast. We waited for a couple of hours in the lobby and by 8:00 AM, announcement was made to proceed towards the bus loading area. Loading and on-boarding was a smooth affair and we were on our way to Mina. Driving distance from Haram to Mina is around 9 km however it took approximately 45 minutes to an hour to reach the camp. At this time, the tunnel to Mina was still open so we were offloaded right outside our camp entrance. We took our hand luggage and were guided to our rooms. Group 17 and 18 of program 3A were in the same room divided into 2 sections. There were approximately 10 -15 people in each group. Every person had their own sofa-come bed. There were shelves at the top to place our hand luggage. The nice lunch buffet was served with a variety of continental and local food. The rest of the day was spent relaxing at our rooms in Mina camp. Dar el Salam had arranged for plenty of cold juices, water, tea, coffee, and snacks to refresh in between the meals. All groups prayed their Salat inside the room by folding the sofa beds. The night before the Arafat also ended up in anxiety. Its quite natural for people during their very first Hajj as we did not know what surprise to expect during the day of congregation.

Day 7 – The Day of Arafat

Today was the day of Arafat. We woke up around 3:00 AM and left for Arafat around 5:30 AM after praying our fajr. We were arranged to take the Al Mashaer Train however the walk from the VIP North American camp to the station is around 20 minutes. So here we go, all the Hajis reciting the Tabiyah in unison, headed towards the train station. This was another mesmerizing moment and the feelings we experienced are beyond my words. There was a light rush at the train platform, however, once we were inside the train, it was jam-packed similar to what we experience in the NYC subways during the morning hours. We were lucky not to have waited at the train station. It was all about timing and Dar el Salam are very good at planning these movements from one place to the other. They do their best to choose the timing that avoids the rush and possible stampede. So full marks to them. Our group was the first one to reach Arafat in program 3A and we were able to find good resting spots. This was a huge tent, very different from the smaller ones at Mina however there were no assigned spots so we were reminded by our Shaykhs to show courtesy to the fellow Hajis on spiritually the greatest day of our lives. There were breakfast and lunch arranged by Dar el Salam and then came the time for Friday Khutbah and the precious window of repentance and prayers from Zuhr to sunset at the best place on earth had finally arrived. Everyone did their utmost best to pray and beg to their lord for forgiveness, health, wealth and happiness. There were cries of repentance and prayers for peace and tranquility on earth. And in between, there were excellent arrangements by Dar el Salam at the restrooms with non-stop cleaning by the volunteers and enough snacks, tea, and cold drinks to refresh from the hot weather. An hour after sunset we were announced to start moving towards the train station. This was the slowest and most challenging part of this journey. All the 2 Million plus hajis heading towards Muzdalifah. It took us around 2 to 2.5 hours just to reach the train station. It was extremely humid outside so my piece of advice would be to carry enough cold drinks, hard candies, cold towels, and portable fans to keep yourself hydrated. Those coming from North America may find it hard to cope with the weather however if proper preparation is done then it can be managed effectively. The Saudi government had also placed lots of volunteers on the way to spray the water mist on Hajis to keep them hydrated. We reached Muzdalifah around 11:00 PM. The place was jam-packed however again Dar el Salam had made some very nice arrangements. There were rugs all around and mattresses, pillows, and bedsheets to cover while we spent the night in open. There was also enough food, water, and juices to refresh ourselves. The toilets over here were common public toilets so obviously they were not that clean as what we used to at Dar el Salam camps in Mina and Arafat but again it was just one night so it was manageable. The trick is to eat and drink less to avoid frequent restroom trips but at the same time be mindful of not dehydrating yourself. We also had to collect the pebbles for the Jamarat. I never thought collecting a few tens of pebbles could be so tiring but in reality, it was, as we were on our feet for many hours and by the time we reached Muzdalifah, our energies were already drained. Again this is what Hajj is all about. It is not just an Ibadah of wealth but also that of our bodies. Everyone in the same dress code and going through the same rituals at the same time is the essence of it. It brings equality and sacrifice. Dar el Salam just tries to make it easier for those traveling from US and Canada however they cannot completely eliminate the crowd or the hardship of walking and sweating in heat and sun while performing these rituals and the movement from one place of worship to the other.

Day 8 – Day of Eid

Today was 10th ZulHijja, the day of Eid. After resting for a couple of hours at Muzdalifah, we headed back towards Mina after praying our Fajr Salat. Again it was a smart move by Dar el Salam group leaders, to leave early to avoid the rush hours. We prayed our Fajr Salat at the train station and although it was not perfect but keep in mind the circumstances, the Fard was performed. Some of the groups preferred to stay for Fajr but then paid the price as they were stuck in the rush for a few hours. Again its a personal choice but to my mind, the intention of the leaders who led the group to pray at the station, was to keep the Hajis safe from crowd and stampede. Timing the movements is what Dar el Salam is very good at. We reached Jamarat a little before the sunrise. This was another mesmerizing moment and probably the best. Hundreds and thousands of Hajis walking toward the Jamarat and reciting the Talbiyah in unison is a wonderful experience spiritually. After performing the stoning at Jamarat, we reached Mina Camp around 7:00 AM. It felt like we were back to our 5-star hotels with all the amenities at our disposal. When you travel in two pieces of cloth, walk in the crowd and heat and sleep in the open air, then reaching Mina camp is the best thing on earth. It would feel like the most comfortable place on earth. Humans are adaptable creatures. While at Makkah Clock tower 5-star hotel, we had the best possible amenities and it was a pleasurable time spent in those hotels while being so close to Haram, over here in Mina, after spending the day at Arafat and night at Muzdalifah, the tents felt no less than the five-star hotel. After reaching Mina, we had our heads shaved and Ihrams removed. We took shower and people had their Eid dress put on. Our Hajj was completed and it was the day of happiness and celebration. Even though some of the rituals were left but the Fard Mansik (rites and ceremonies that have to be performed by Islamic pilgrims) of Hajj had been performed. In the evening Dar el Salam had arranged for the bus to take us to Haram for performing Tawaf e Ifadah (Circumambulation of Kaaba). This time we had to walk through the tunnel as buses were not allowed beyond the Mina Tunnel. It wasn’t bad though as we were back in our regular clothing. We reach Haram around Maghrib and then completed the Tawaf after Isha. I along with my group of friends decided to celebrate our Eid at the food court in the clock tower. We headed back to Mina at midnight and reached the camp around 2:00 AM. This ended our day of Eid

Day 9 & 10

Mina Camp view from Jamarat

Day 9 was a day of relaxation at the Mina camp and in the evening we headed for Jamarat. Rami was completed in 45 minutes and although it was busy but still manageable. Next day after Fajr on the 12th Zilhaj we did our final rami after Fajr and then after doing breakfast we packed and left for Haram to perform “Tawaf Al Wida”. Dar el Salam had made arrangement at Masjid e Shohada for lunch and placing our hand luggage. After lunch, we were transported to Jeddah. Dar el Salam also arranged for temporary rooms at a very nice hotel in Jeddah. we spent a few hours resting at the hotel, we had our dinner and by around midnight we were taken to the airport for our flight to Medina

Day 11 – 15

City of Medina

We reached the city of the prophet at around 7:00 AM the next day and were directly taken to our hotels where we had our breakfast. Group 3A had an arrangement at Anwar al Madinah Movenpick Hotel. The hotel is a bit dated however the best part of it is that its located right at the boundaries of the Masjid e Nabawi near gate 15 and hence it was very convenient to go for prayers 5 times a day without having to walk few blocks multiple times a day. It was also convenient for the ladies as they could directly walk back to the hotel without waiting for the Mehram to walk with them. Gate 17 at the Masjid is an entrance to the ladies prayer hall so that made it even more convenient to those traveling with their wives, mothers, and sisters. This should be an important consideration in picking the hotel because at the end of the day we are there to perform prayers and not to spent time sleeping in our rooms. Also, the hotel is kind of 3 stars but had a very good restaurant that served excellent buffet meals at breakfast and dinner. I would highly recommend this hotel if you are going to program 3.

Banquet Hall At Anwar al Medina

Most of the time at Medina was spent praying at the mosque or shopping at the underground malls for Hadya (gifts). Medina is a little bit more expensive than Makkah for shopping gifts but its lot more relaxing place and there is calmness in the atmosphere that makes it a nice place to shop. Also getting into shopping activity after Hajj makes more sense than doing it during the days of Hajj while in Makkah. This is why I liked program 3 more than program 2 or 4 that were planned with Medina before Hajj and Makkah after Hajj. During our stay in Medina, Dar el Salam arranged for lectures every evening. They even arranged for Sister’s visit to Rawdah (grave of Prophet PBUH) which was very convenient for the ladies in our group. On day 3 in Medina, Dar el Salam had also arranged for a trip to the valley of Uhud and Masjid Quba (the first mosque). This was also very well arranged by them with lots of information provided by the Imams in our group. On the 15th day of our journey, our flight was 6:30 in the evening. We were taken to the Airport around 1:00 PM. Once we reached the airport, our passports were handed back to us and we were given our share of ZamZam container, one each per person. We had our goodbyes with friends and Imams in our group and this ended our 15 days of the most memorable trip of our lives.

Masjid Quba Medina

Verdict

So why select Dar el Salam versus the other tour operator. The reason is very straight forward. Dar el Salam will not cut corners. They will make their best effort to remediate situations and there will be many during the trip. This is the nature of the Hajj where many things are uncertain and unpredictable. However, Dar el Salam representatives always made sincere efforts in resolving our concerns. They did not try to save money by cutting on committed amenities like hotel, food, and transportation. In cases people lost their luggage they were courteous and mindful and always paid attention to our grievances if any and apologized along with making the best effort to remediate the problem. I have heard of other Hajj tour operators who turn back on their commitments and then lecture by shaming you in the name of God for making unnecessary complain while in Hajj. Dar el Salam is not that company. They are honest tour operators and their intention is to make every effort to deliver what they promise. I would say they delivered 99% of what they committed. If there is anything that I would suggest them to improve is to use professional coordinators for each group who would help in arranging and communicating the loading and unloading of luggage and passengers from one location to the other. Currently, they have tasked the Imams to do this job who are basically trained to motivate you spiritually and they do a fantastic job in providing the spiritual guidance whenever requested but are not professional coordinators and hence sometimes they are a bit challenged when communicating the transfers from hotel to airport or from one destination to the other. That’s the only area they need to improve else Dar el Salam is a 5-star Hajj and Umrah tour operator and I would highly recommend them to those who are thinking about going to Hajj. They may be a little bit more expensive but the extra money you spend will be every penny justified. At Hajj you only want to worry about your spiritual needs and let Dar el Salam handle your logistics and other amenities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.