Last year, Niaz Husain, my gardener was missing and I was furious…… as usual!
“This time I’m going to fire him.” I said.
“I’ve been here for three years, you have been wanting to fire him every month!” Remarked my mother.
I was very upset. So, I tried to call him on my mobile phone. By mistake I called an earlier number of his, realizing too late – the phone was picked. So, I wished and asked if I could speak to Niaz. “I’m sorry Baji, I’m brother of Niaz, we are going for Umra by land. We are at the Quetta border now. “ I was very surprised. My anger vanished. I remembered that for some time, someone else was coming in his place.
“When will he be back?” I asked.
“We don’t know, but he will join as soon as he gets back.”
After that, no news for many days which turned into months. Then one day the substitute mentioned that brother of Niaz has died, and he was going on leave too. So, he disappeared too.
Finally, a few weeks later I found Niaz busy in my lawn. (I had been giving his pay to the substitute, and it wasn’t payday yet.) I dashed outside to ask what had happened. Well, he did have a successful Umra trip. But his other brother who was living in the village in Pakistan, died suddenly. So, this was the news he received on return from such an exhilarating trip.
He was looking a bit pulled down, but otherwise fine. So, I asked him for some time so I could interview him and find out about his trip:
Meanwhile I took out maps of his trip from Google maps, and was fully ready. It was a distance of 3912 km by land. During the interview, I had my laptop with me, and he was happy to see how many photographs of the places he visited were there. So, I’m taking this license, as his pictures got deleted.
I’m writing about his trip as he told me. The pictures on the net were amazing. The ones which were familiar to him, were selected for this article.
What really intrigued me was the fact that this man, with hardly any education or financial backing made this trip of around eight thousand kilometers by land (to Makkah from Islamabad, via Iran, Iraq) with his family. His motivation was of a religious nature, and he doesn’t earn much, so it was all his savings being used on such a trip in the name of God or Allah. He isn’t normally a very religious person, just an ordinary simple man.
Anyhow, I was intrigued and wanted to know all about his daring trip. A few days later, I had him in my drawing room for his interview. He spoke in his Urdu and Punjabi style, so I’ve translated it here:
SGN: When did you start your journey?
NH: March 22nd 2016 it was the Islamic calendar 5th of month of Safar.
SGN: Who went with you?
NH: My wife Shamshad Bibi, son Zeeshan Haider (10 year old,) and myself. We were six people from my family: sister, brother, mother of wife. Plus 105 people who also went from our village ‘Laiya’.
SGN: Name of organizers of trip?
NH: Allama Safdar Najafi and Bagh Ali.
SGN : How much did it cost?
NH: One lakh per head.… round trip… including vehicles, food, stay. (Which would be $1000 per person.)
SGN: Type of travel?
NH: All by land.
SGN: Means of transport?
SGN: Did you fall ill on the way? How was your health?
NH: All good throughout. No illnesses at all – even though we went through snow clad areas of Mashad in Iran. We had taken simple medications with us for headaches, fever and stomach upsets etc.
SGN: How did you manage for food?
NH: In Iran and Iraq we paid nothing. They paid for everything. Including all food and stay. The food included fish, honey, naans, meat was provided, (and we cooked.) We had a few cooks with us. We were eleven people in our group, and we did everything for ourselves, and cooked ourselves too. We got naans (or bread) from outside, and cooked the curry or ‘salan’ ourselves. All roti or naan was free. Everyone gets free food in Iran and Iraq on the way between the 1st of Muharram to 8th of Rabi ul Awal.
SGN: What about luggage?
NH: We took 5 kg atta or flour, 1 kg desi ghee, cooking oil 2 liters, and masalas we took for ourselves. No beddings, we took three suits each. Bought blankets for ourselves on way in Iran. Things were very cheap there. If a thing is Rs.10,000 here, it would be Rs.3,000 there.
SGN: Where did you all stay?
NH: We stayed in homes of people, who give their homes for this purpose . We were called ‘Haji, Zaireen or Arbaeen.’
SGN: What was the most terrible thing that happened?
NH: I wouldn’t have told you, but you are asking, so I’m telling you; At the beginning of the trip, while we were still in Pakistan, our worst time was at Pakistan and Iran border. Where we had to stay for two days while our papers were being checked. The facilities were not clean and food etc. was very expensive. Near the border area, an army convoy stopped us, as there was some blasting going on the way. We had to stay about 6 hours there waiting. Then we travelled our 600 km (36 hours) in which there were a total convoy of 120 buses. We went with security provided by army…. all the way during the time in Pakistan we received protection. We stayed two days at border where facilities were very dirty. In Pakistan House… where army people make you wait while papers are checked. We spent two days and one night there. Here our passports and visa etc. were checked. In lines we were checked individually, and sent onwards.
Then Irani border personnel checked our papers also. They kept a copy of each person’s papers. The moment we entered Iran. There was a very good camp there with warm water for bathing available. Plus we got free food. There had been no free food in Pakistan, and that too with outrageous prices of food items. We got Nestle water in Iran and dates free of cost. With respect and they even polished our shoes.
On way there, we spent 7 days in Iran reaching shilamshiya border. Which was very far. On return we crossed Iran in 2 days, as we got a border closer. Going through Tehran.
We entered Saudi Arab border which was well managed and arranged. (It was dirty only in Pakistan.)
In Makkah we performed one Umera. Stayed 13 days in Makkah (6 days in Makkah) and Madina (7 days in Madina)
SGN: Did you walk up to Ghar-e-Hira? (the cave inside which the first verses from Holy Quran were revealed by Angel Jibrael (Gabrial) to Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
NH: Yes, we walked up to Ghar-e-Hira, it was a long way on foot from the foothill near Makkah. Many people went into it, we passed it and came back.
SGN: What was the best part of your trip?
NH: The best part was in Khana Kaaba. The feeling when you are there cannot be matched. One just sits and prays there. It is an endless process of prayer and asking Allah for all things. I prayed for all people. I said to Allah that please accept all the prayers of all those who asked me to pass on their prayers, I asked Him to accept for them in whatever is best for the person.
SGN: What did this experience teach you? (Why did u do it?)
NH: I did it for love of God. To ask Him to forgive me my sins …. I’m illiterate, I have not even read the Holy Quran. He knows best what is best and what is correct. I asked Him to forgive me where I have missed out. Many times my prayer times are missed. During my trip, I was able to pray as much as possible. Still I asked for forgiveness. We were taught how to say qasar prayer (a shorter version of regular prayers) … which is not needed in several places.
SGN: Anything else you would like to say?
NH: The bus drivers were good. We would start reading darood and have people giving us speeches in the bus… before reaching a place telling us details of the place. We were instructed how to pray, and what to pray and how… Said naffals… this journey was worth it. When Allah has given me so much, so far I had not yet performed Haj or Umera …. This type of journey is like getting a stamp on you. It is destiny that one can go on such a journey… It is all destined… only if Allah accepts then only one can go there… I’m blessed that I’ve been able to go on such a journey. I’d love to go again.
Niaz also told me about the pilgrimage to different places in Iraq; going to Karbela and the place where thousands of prophets are buried. He saw the largest cemetery in the world. I found that hard to believe till I looked into the sites for it, and found the photographs of these places.
So, Niaz had travelled around eight thousand kilometers by land in buses, (I’m counting his journey there and back, and also including his pilgrimages in Iraq.) All this during a time, when there is supposedly uncertainly in Iraq, and parts of it are war torn. The places he visited were in complete peace. Travelling through Iran, both ways (while going and coming) was all in peace, while enjoying hospitality of the locals.
Niaz is planning another trip next year!
As I understand, his journey was in search of spiritual satisfaction. I could see he had truly enjoyed the experience. The journey had given him the solace missing in ones daily lives.
Each one of us needs a spiritual journey to find peace. This is what all travelers yearn for, and this is what we all are searching during our travels. We love meeting different people, getting surprised by how ‘the other half lives’, and enjoying the novelty of new experiences. Travels widen our horizons and our hearts to open new vistas within ourselves.
Stay blessed my dear reader. 🙂