The best journey of my life!

The one big wish for every muslim is to make that sacred journey to fulfill the rukan of hajj once in their lifetime. Last year i got blessed with this opportunity. Here, i am going to jot down my experience and a few tips which might come handy to anyone travelling this year and ahead. We chose a private hajj package by “alkhair hajj & umrah” and that was probably the best decision. They made our trip as much smooth as possible. Everything was so well organized and planned out. I will highly recommend it to any one who has plans to travel this year for hajj.  They assisted us in every aspect and made our experience truly comfortable. 

We chose the 12 days package. We stayed in azizia and paid extra for a private room. Since we went near hajj and had very less time, we stayed only in azizia in makkah and not a hotel, because eventually everyone has to move to azizia and by the time we reached makkah people were already moving back to azizia for hajj. 

Our building was good and accomodation was overall satisfying. The good part was that it was near mina which made our commute relatively easier to mina and jamarat. The key is to expect less, hajj is hardwork, though they will try to make it easier for you, yet it still would require a lot of will power and physical strength on your part. 

In madina we were in hotel movenpick which was right infront of the gate of masjid e nabwi. It was the best experience. Below are a few tips which might come handy.

  1. Choose your package and organizer wisely: Don’t choose just any hajj service provider, make sure you have chosen your travel agent after strong recommendations. They may come with flashy offers but on the surface it may become very difficuilt for you in saudia. Also, if possible make plan with like minded family or friends, it will make your experience even more easier and memorable.
  2. Patience is the key: Hajj can be very tiresome and takes a toll on your mental and physical strength. There will be a lot of people, all from various backgrounds, different living styles and there you will have to interact with them and have to live with them eventually in mina, arafat and muzdalfa. You may experience pushing in crowdy situations, plan your rami and tawaf accordingly. Move to top floors if ground floor gets rushy and try to avoid peak hours yet you may find it anyway.
  3. Light handcarry: Carry a light handcarry like a light back pack, mostly provided by your travel agent. It will keep you comfortable. You may use a cross sling bag with it. The lighter back pack can be used to keep your shoes while in haram.
  4. Pack comfortable, light and soft clothes: I got a few ready made stiched plain malai lawn shalwar qameez from khaadi’s outlet shop which was on discount and cost me even below 900pkr each. The idea is to select the most comfortable, soft and breatheable material, since during summer days temperature soars, there will be a huge crowd and you will be wearing an abaya on the top.
  5. Carry three abayas atleast: You may get facilities to wash clothes but still i would suggest to take three abayas. Two of malai lawn in light colours to help with the summer heat and one you can take black in the regular abaya material. Try to get abayas with pockets, you will be surprised to see how handy those pockets will be during hajj days.
  6. Try the scarf and cap before hand: The scarf may be lose and the cap may become uncomfortable. For the cap, buy the one which ties at the back instead of an elastic one. During hajj you are not allowed to use hair pins or make a high hair bun and you have to avoid hair breakage. So you can make a pony or a braid and the cap with ties at the back can be easily adjusted accordingly.
  7. Personal care: During ahraam you cannot wear anything with fragrance. Even soaps and shampoos should be fragrance free. For soap either get fragrance free paper soap or cut the bar of fragrance free soap into small cubes which you can easily carry around with you and throw after using.
  8. Comfortable shoes: Take one pair of sneakers /joggers and some pairs of cheap socks, they will come handy in your long walks from azizia to mina and jamarat. Instead of buying a sandal last minute before leaving for hajj, either take your sandals which you are already using and you know are very comfortable, or test try the shoes a month before, so that you may know if the shoes can cause discomfort of any sort before hand. Invest in a good shoe but test try it because sometimes even an expensive shoe can cause discomfort.
  9. Protect yourself from heat: Carry a small umbrella which can actually prevent the heat from passing. Carry sunshades with you, if you wear glasses get yourself power sunshades. Take ORS tablets with you and drink up on them to avoid physical weakness caused by heat.
  10. Read up on hajj literature and make notes: You will be given lots of literature to read, some of it is to prepare you spiritually and other is for the practical aspects of hajj and how it is performed. Depending upon your time sift through them. Mostly the books which details the practical aspects of hajj are made in pocket size, to make them handy during hajj days. But the most helpful approach will be to skim through the books and make your own notes in a small pocket size diary. In this diary you can also write the duas and the names of persons who have asked you for dua. Get yourself educated on how hajj is performed beforehand, start learning talbih and duas, and if you have any friends going with you, you may sit togather and discuss the process and the method. It will also help you memorize.
  11. Prepare yourself physically: Prepare your body for the hardships of hajj. Make a routine to walk if your physical activity is minimum at the moment. If you have any elderly travelling with you, ask them to start going for a walk as well. It will help them to catch up with the tiresome walk during hajj days.
  12. Carry a small size spray bottle: It will help you to refresh yourself with a spary of water all over you in the sultry heat and you can do wazu with it where ever you are, because bathrooms are at a distance. Also public bathrooms might not be in a very good state. Alkhair have their own private bathrooms in mina only, which are cleaned regularly.
  13. Documents: Triple check your documents and make their photocopies and keep separate sets of your photocopied documents. You may require them at multiple places.
  14. Luggage tags: Usually private travel operators privide you with luggage and luggage tags but since all of them look alike it will be a good idea to tie a distinct tag to your own luggage like any particular colour ribbon. You will be surprised to see that how easily it will help you to spot your luggage among thousands of similar bags at the airport and afterwards.

If any of you wants to know anything, feel free to message me or email. I will be glad to be of any help to you guys. Whoever reads this and is going on hajj, please remember me and my family in your prayers. May ALLAH give all of us this opportunity to make this sacred journey again and again. Ameen.

      Irresistible Istanbul!

      Honestly, i have been a big fan of turkish drams like, ishq e mamnu, feriha and mera sultan. They surely urged me to visit this beautiful country. During our care free days we were able to hop to istanbul for a few days. Turkey is so pretty you, will fell in love with it in no time. We took turkish airlines and i have to praise them. The seats were comfortable, the service is overall a good experience and the food they served was also very nice. 

      Let me just tell you straight, once you visit turkey, you would want to go there again and again. The strolls on taksim square, the shopping at istiklal street, the historic marvels of sultanahmet, the grandeur of grand bazar, the breathtaking view of istanbul from the top of galata tower and the romantic ride on bhosphorous, will make a place in your heart for eternity. 

      Basically istanbul is divided by bhosphorous. One side is in asian continent and the other is in europe. You will actually see the difference among the two. The european side truly has a european touch and is more famous with tourists. We stayed at Marti istanbul, a five star on taksim square. From taksim you can easily walk up to bhosphorous, istiklal street and galata tower. Sultanahmet is a bit far so you have to take a ride. There is metro, taxis and havatas buses which makes the commute easier.

      Turkish people are very friendly and courteous. Turkish food is really nice though for some of those you might have to develop a taste. Dont forget to bag some mouthwatering turkish delight. They are absolute yum. So many flavours and so yummy. I am not talking about the boxed ones. Go to a proper shop in grand bazar where scores and scores of insanely flavoured turkish delights are displayed. You can taste test and buy them. They will seal the box for you and they are good for 6 months.

      You may also get some sterling silver for yourself. Turkish jewellery is so pretty, you wont be able to stop yourself from buying some. Just dont forget to do a good bargain. Many of them know urdu so be careful when you are chatting among you to bargain with him. He might be understanding all of it. Also you need to be a bit careful about your belongings and beware of taxi scams. Always take a taxi which has clearly visible meter outside or you may end up paying triple the fare. 

      At sultanahmet at every nook and corner you will find the historic monuments. So you can just walk around and take a look over them you can enter blue mosque for free but hagia sophia and topkapi palace would require a ticket. You might need to reach early to avoid line and both of these places may take your whole day. The experience will indulge you in the history of the ottoman empire. You can also dress up as sultan and his beautiful wife and a get a picture clicked.

      I am surely returning back to turkey because i have yet to explore the beautiful cities of anatalya, izmir, cappadocia and pamukkale. 

      A toddler-friendly vacation in Srilanka!

      Vacations with toddlers are no more your average relaxing, funfilled, adventrous ones. The only person for whom it is actually an adventure is the toddler itself while you just be on their guard.

      Last year we got the chance to visit Srilanka. We had mixed feelings on leaving our kid behind or taking him with us. Eventually we took him with us. We decided to keep it a low key trip where we will stay at one place. But the best decision which turned out in our favor was the choice of the resort.

      We choose Vivanta by taj, at bentota island. The resort itself is beautifully built, the room was comfortable, the food was halal and the location is so serene. The best part was that they offered to prepare custom made food for my son (which they did as per my instructions) and washed and boiled his bottles. This made my life a lot easier. Also you know how messy kids can get, none of the waiters made a face when my son was throwing bits on the floor. 

      I just cant stop raving about that place and their hospitality. Generally i found Srilanka as a beautiful place and its people very friendly. I will totally recommend it to all the parents looking for a nice vacation option. Go ahead guys.