Like the Madinan counterpart, the Makkan ziyarat is pretty essential. In no particular order we have:
- Jabl-e-Saur, the place where the Prophet was said to have sought refuge while escaping from Makkah.
- Jabl Ar-Rahmah, or Mountain of Mercy, the iconic symbol of the most essential of Hajj rites, that of the stay in Arafat. This used to be a very undeveloped area, pretty much a desert, with a mound and a pillar; but now we have car parks, markets, stairs, camel rides, quad bikes and people queuing up to either sign or rub themselves on the white pillar. I predict the place will be gated off in a few years. The empty camps of Arafat themselves were empty yet distinctly recognisable - as I had skipped the ziyarat the last time I was here, it had been exactly a decade since I last visited this place.
- The skeletal remains of a dormant Mina, an impressive sight even when vacant. The train stations are shiny new and rather impressive, although personally there's something about walking back to Makkah that a train will never be as charming as.
- The Jamaraat. Of all the changes, for me this was the most different. Gone are the classic pillars and two level structure of the previous thirty odd years, to be replaced by walls supported by a massive fiver levelled thoroughfare. This is a wonderful improvement, and equally impressive that it had been completed in a year. I'm already less against modernisation than most, but given the stoning of the jamaraat was one of the most physically testing tasks I've had to do (probably topped only when I ran a marathon a few years later), I can't but only fully support it.
- Al 'Aziziyah. Not really a sight per se, but this was the first time I took notice of it in the context of its growing importance as an overflow during the Hajj period.
After lunch I decided to try a pre-Asr tawaf, the idea being to get one done out of the way while it was quiet. And quick it was too - 18 minutes and a pint of sweat later and I was done. Oh and remember how I mentioned how serendipitous my visits to Saudi usually are? Well, on the way to the mosque I came across the exact same pretty girl I had seen during the Madinan ziyarat 300 miles away. Of course I only mention this because of the coincidence.
In the evening we ventured out again, this time catching Maghrib at Hudaibiya (where that important treaty between Muslims and the people of Makkah was signed), after which headed to the "Exhibition of the Two Holy Mosques Architecture" which was far more enjoyable than it should have been. A few things were noticeably missing (probably since they were loaned out somewhere), but there was still enough for a quick one hour visit; in particular the model of how the mosque in Makkah will look once the construction is finished.