I know it’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged and I will catch up on a few from this year that Ive missed but this one was so different and I couldn’t wait to share my experience!
This October I completed “Umrah” which is a Muslim pilgrimage to the holy Kabba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is a spiritual journey for pilgrims to essentially purify their minds and souls. That was definitely enough to convince me, I couldn’t wait to experience what millions of people all over the world had recommended so highly!
So it was four of us that were travelling together; my mum, my uncle, his wife and myself. We always have such a laugh together in the UK and spend a lot of time together so I knew instantly they’d be great to travel with. Because there are no direct flights from Manchester to Jeddah, we had to fly with Oman Airways and seeing as none of us had been to Oman before, it was a great excuse to spend a few days there and explore 🙂
When we landed in Oman (note: you need to apply for a visa beforehand) it was already 36 degrees at 9am! I wasn’t complaining though, anything beats Autumn/winter in England in my opinion. As soon as we checked into our hotel, I was straight by the pool despite not having slept for 28 hours. It was a must, I’d missed the sunshine way too much and I needed a tan! After the oldies (they’re going to kill me for calling them that) had their nap, we headed over to the old souk which was located right by the sea. The souk (Arab marketplace) consisted of many stalls selling traditional items from dates to rugs. I was actually surprised at how many different tourists there were, I really didn’t think Muscat was a popular tourist destination! Oman was laid back in the sense that you could wear western clothes but still had to be conservative obviously with it being a Muslim country.
The next day we had a day trip planned; the first stop was at the grand mosque which is one of the only mosques in Oman to allow non muslim visitors so again there were many tourists around in big groups. The tour guide that we had was so informative and absolutely hilarious which was a bonus as he made the trip so much fun! The mosque itself was absolutely breath taking, especially the mens prayer room where the chandelier measures a staggering 14 meters and weighs 8,5 tons. It holds 600,000 shining bright Swarovski crystals, 24 carat gold plating and took more than four years to complete!
Whenever you enter a prayer hall, it is mandatory to take off your shoes. Unfortunately when I came out, someone had taken mine and we still had the rest of the day to go. I couldn’t understand why someone would take them, they weren’t even anything special! So carrying on the tour barefoot and confused for a full hour after, I was observing every single person who walked past to see if they were wearing/carrying my shoes. At the end of the tour around the mosque, we were taken into a room and given traditional Arabic coffee and dates. Everyone was so friendly and hospitable. After our break when I stepped outside, my shoes were there! Turns out the tour guide sneakily hid them up his sleeve the whole time!! A massive relief to say the least, I thought I’d have to go back to the hotel and miss the rest of the day.
We then travelled to Jabel al akhdar which is a mountainous area around 2 hours from Muscat. After the mosque, I had brought a change of clothes (pure dedication for pictures) however the dress was too big for me and I didn’t have a belt! We ended up stopping at a souk and I had to make do with a bullet strap seeing as the shopkeepers had absolutely no clue what a high waisted belt was.
Anyway when we finally reached Jabal al akhdar, the views were insane. I’d say it was a good 15 degrees cooler than sea level but it made a nice change and the air was so refreshing. We ended up going for an hours hike before watching the sunset. I’m pretty sure the locals were a little confused as to why I was wearing a bullet strap around my waist but oh well, improvisation is key sometimes! Later that evening back in Muscat, we had dinner at a rooftop restaurant called Shathi Al Qurum which was in the corniche area of the city. The next day we pretty much chilled at the hotel preparing for our journey to Mecca the day after.
Before entering Mecca, you must assume “Ihram” which is basically a state of purification. This meant we all had to wash everything with products that did not contain any perfumed chemicals and our clothes had to be completely fresh. No make up is allowed but you can if you’re just going round the Kaaba for prayers without doing Umrah. You’re not even allowed to break your nails, you have to be in a calm state and absolutely no swearing is allowed.
As soon as we landed in Jeddah at about 9pm, we made our way over to Mecca to perform the pilgrimage. I had to sit the first one out unfortunately but the others went ahead whilst I stayed in the hotel with room service and tried to catch up with Power which was actually banned over there 😦 At least they had Gossip Girl so I settled for that!
The next day we went to sites of religious significance around Mecca. It was even more special because another aunt and uncle joined us from Riyadh! One of the sacred sites we visited was Mount Hira (Jabal Hira), which lies about two miles from the Ka’bah. Near the top is a small cave, a little less than 4 meters in length and a little more than one and a half meters in width. It was here that the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) received the first revelations of the Holy Quran during the month of Ramadhan in 610 CE. The mountain is also known as Jabal Noor (the Mountain of Light). We also drove along the route that pilgrims do during Hajj. It shocked me to learn that over 2 million pilgrims come to Mecca during Hajj, I couldn’t believe Mecca, which really isn’t that big could accommodate that many people!
That night we went to the Masjid al haram which was a 2 minute walk from our hotel. It was stunningly beautiful and I learned that it is actually the most expensive building in the world having cost £75 billion ($100 billion) to build. I wasn’t able to pray at this time so I decided to grab a coffee. What I didn’t realise was all of the shops close during prayer time and I almost got locked in the cafe and had to duck under the shutter! However when I finally got out it was honestly so incredible watching thousands of people praying so in sync.
FINALLY the next day I was able to do my first Umrah and I was SO excited. To perform Umrah, we had to leave Mecca and go to the Mosque of Aisha where we had to assume Ihram Again. You have to leave Mecca every time you wish to do Umrah again. On our way to performing Umrah, there’s a prayer that you must repeat over and over on your journey.
We made to the Masjid Al Harm just in time for Fair (sunrise prayer) which was extra special for me as it is my favourite time of day. They say that the first time you see the Kaaba, it is so moving and surreal and the first wish you make comes true. I was actually pretty nervous if I’m honest.
After prayers my mum told me to keep my head down whilst she directed me through the crowd so that I could be in a good position the first time I saw it. She put me on a step and told me to look up. I was in awe. I can’t even explain it. I was literally drawn to it. I actually nearly forgot to make my wish but luckily I didn’t. It was then time for us to walk around the Kaaba 7 times. I managed to place both hands on it and place my head on the side. It smelt of rose water, it was one of the best moments of my life. Whilst walking around the Kaaba, I can honestly say every single person that popped into my head, I made a wish for, whether I knew them extremely well or had only met them once! That was so important to me and I really hope all of my well wishes and prayers come true for everyone.
After you circulate 7 times you have to pray between where Prophet Ibrahim stood and the Kaaba- which was very squished but I didn’t mind. After that you have to drink a belly full of “Zam Zam” water which comes from a sacred well is that miraculously generated source of water from God thousands of years ago. You then have to walk 7 times between 2 mountains. Finally to complete the pilgrimage, you have to cut a bit of your hair so if you ever go- be prepared with scissors. It is mandatory for a man to shave his hair the first time round. And that was Umrah completed!
I loved it so much that I wanted to do it again so we did the whole thing again the next night. This time I did it on behalf of my dad and this time I really wanted to touch the black stone which is nearly impossible to get to. But yes after being the only girl to squeeze through the crowd and nearly being suffocated to death, I managed to touch it! Mecca wasn’t what I thought it was going to be- I actually thought it would be a lot stricter! Everyone was so calm and laid back. We stayed at the Conrad which I highly recommend; it is in a great location and the breakfast is incredible (obviously food is a big factor for me).
We then went on to Madinah and then finished off in Jeddah. Jeddah I’d say is the most chilled city of the three, we were actually allowed to walk around without a headscarf. We had dinner at Angelicas by the sea after watching our last magical sunset.
Overall, I had the most incredible spiritual experience and it was honestly everything I expected it to be. I am so glad I had the privilege of doing it with such incredible company. It’s definitely a trip to remember and I’d return in a heartbeat.
All my love, Kaya xxx