Tuesday, February 14

Umrah 2012, Day Two: The Great Unwashed

As I mentioned before, the last time I came here it was for the middle ten days of a Ramadhan month. The time before that was for Hajj. Naturally both periods were very busy, but since that was to be expected I was kind of geared up for it. The times before those two trips, I had visited during the quiet periods of the year including one trip while Umrah was officially closed to foreigners. As such most of my memories of Saudi were of a relatively relaxing and easy going nature.

Which brings us to the next difference I've noticed. The number of people. It used to be the case that the first couple of weeks of Umrah season were pretty much dead, but that doesn't seem to be the case any more. Of course it still wasn't as busy as Ramadhan or Hajj, but it's clear that the times I enjoyed in the previous decade are long gone now.

The main explanation is related to a recently typical criticism of the Saudi authorities; that of the commodification of the holy lands. There's really not much doubt about it really - at times it seems that the vast majority of pilgrims now belong to a Turkish or Indonesian tour group. Of course it can never be a bad thing for more people to have the opportunity to visit Makkah and Madinah, particularly if they come from a place that was otherwise extremely difficult to journey from before.

A difference I missed yesterday was how Safa was now cordoned off behind glass. This sucks, especially since I remember how we used to climb the mountain for both prayer and adventure. I can totally understand why it had to happen though.

And finally now that I'm out of ihram I've begun to notice my environment in a little more detail (no, nothing seems to have changed much at all). All I can say is that it's at times like these that I wish I had a wingwoman. I'm going to hell, I know.

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