On the way back home to Doha from umrah, we decided to take one night stay in Jeddah. Curious how the second largest city in Saudi Arabia looks like.
From our hotel we booked a shuttle transfer to Jeddah. We booked through an agent which office located just outside Al Marwa Hotel lobby. The cost is 250QR. The same arrangement can be made through hotel concierge as well for the same cost.
The agent sent us a driver who later turned out to be so annoying (I don’t want to elaborate more, but the agent up there is not recommended!)
With service from an Indonesian working as a travel agent staff in Jeddah, also a long time Jeddah resident, we were taken for city tour to different parts of the city and famous tourist sights.
We went to IKEA (yes, we are big fans of it! …and its meat balls) in the evening, then to King Fahd Fountain (unfortunately did not operate). The fountain is said to be the biggest salt water fountain of the world; it jets the water about 312 meters above the Red Sea. The fountain has been given as a present by King Fahd to the city Jeddah. At dawn or during nighttime is the best time to visit the fountain as it is lighted with 500 spotlights. We were also taken into driving along Tahlia Street, an important fashion and shopping street in the mid-town of Jeddah housing many upscale department shops and boutiques.
The following morning, we went to Floating Mosque, or White Mosque, or formal name Ar Rahmah Mosque, located just west of airport on the Red Sea Coast. It is called the floating mosque because when the tide is high it is surrounded by water giving the impression that the mosque is floating looked at from the Corniche.
We then drove along 20km+ beautifully landscaped, open air art ornamented corniche road to go to Al Balad, old town near city port (Jeddah Islamic Port). Al Balad is the historic center of the City of Jeddah; traces its history 2,500 years back as a fishing village when the fishermen tribe settled there. When Jeddah began to become wealthier due to the oil boom, many Jeddawis moved north, away from Al-Balad. In order to preserve the old structures within the Balad the Historical Area Preservation Department was established and restoration project commenced to restore Al-Balad.
You may notice that Hilton Hotel Mecca’s window is inspired by traditional ornament of the houses in Al Balad.
We were also taken to visit Tomb of Eve, execution yard, Bab Shareef, and Bab Al Makkah. Bab Al Makkah (Mecca Gate) is used to be one of the main entrances for Hajj pilgrims (through Old Mecca Road) before construction of Jeddah – Mecca Highway.
The cosmopolitan city of Jeddah is in fact a home for hundreds thousands Indonesian citizen, constitute one of the major expatriate community in Jeddah. We were taken to see specific areas in Jeddah (Al Sharafiya) where large concentrations of Indonesians are living. No wonder I saw so many Indonesian restaurant or specialty stores dotted the areas. How unfortunate we were that none of them ready to serve lunch!
A quick tour of Jeddah gives us a brief introduction to Jeddah’s life.
One fine morning on our third day in Mecca, we went to Jabal an-Nour (also Jabal an-Nur or Jabal Nur). Jabal Al Nour meaning “The Mountain of Light” has been so called because the first “light” of Muhammad’s message, Islam, was here. It houses the Hira cave where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is said to have received his first revelation from Allah through the angel Gabriel. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to climb it a lot before getting his first revelation and loved to stay in the cave for long.
Hiring a taxi from near Abraj Al Bait Complex for 30 SAR we were driven to the mountain, located about 5.3km straight line northeast of Masjid Al Haram (coordinate: 21° 27′ 27.2″ N, 39° 51′ 33.9″ E – start of Hira Cave trail)
Our taxi driver dropped us at roadside at the mouth of small road leading to start of Hira cave trail. Cars can actually be driven up to this start but with steep inclining road at the end and narrow U-turn space, many don’t give a chance to drive up to here.
When we arrived there, many, mainly from Turkey, have started their hiking. From our drop off point to the start of Hira cave trail is about 400m. Though it seems a short distance – (think about width of Doha’s Landmark Mall – it gives a shock warm up to our rarely-exercising body from its 45-degree inclining asphalted road). Meanwhile as we climbed up, brown-orangish standalone giant rock, Jabal Al Nour, gives us a blocking view of challenging trail in advance. Can we?
To reach Hira Cave, climber actually only needs to take 600 steps. But with the cave is at a height of 270 m this is a test of determination. During our hiking, we were accompanied by many old Turkish women and men. While we frequently needs to make a brief stop …age doesn’t lie J….they were so determined to reach the peak and gave their support to us. I must admit their determination to go up to the peak. As my friend puts it, it’s because of here (he signals his hand to his heart), not age or strength.
Hira cave trail has been facilitated with wide cemented steps and several rest areas along its 1.2km (perhaps) long trails only. Some rest areas (with simple shade or roof, and seating) are even big enough for more than tens of climbers. Don’t worry much about water as these rest areas sell drinks and light snacks! (bring yours as required though, just in case)
Half-way the trail we were greeted by a group of monkeys making some noises and eagerly expect something from climbers. Also, don’t be surprised with some people make a living by as if he made a repair on cemented steps or just simply lying on the ground asking for people generosity. One thing that disappointing me is trashes scattered around many places.
As we climb up trail become less steep and even flat, giving us a quite pleasure walk. When you reach a big rest area with its small cafeteria then you are almost there. Hira Cave is concealed on the other side of the hill, about 5 meters from the peak and behind two big and deep rocks. Measuring only 3.7m in length and 1.6m in width, the cavity is formed by stacking of three big rock plates. Access to cave can be either from very narrow passage shortcut to the cave entrance (that only thin person can pass through) or from edges of big rock to the top of cave.
Hira cave should be able to reach within 30-60 minutes.
Unlike climbing up, the walk down the hill is an enjoyable one. We jokingly gave ascending climber a warm support ‘Keep it up! Keep it up!
Visiting Hira cave indeed a unique experience. Muslim can reflect how Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s seeking of Allah, how great is support from Prophet’s wife Khadija and all hardships they faced.
We’ve just finished performing umrah. Unlike last year, we now opted to use air plane to get into Mecca. As no direct flight to Mecca, pilgrims should go via city port Jeddah or The Prophet’s City Madinah.
Doha – Jeddah
A two-hour-ten-minute direct flight took us from Doha to Jeddah. This is to cover about 1519km route distance (or approximately 1326km straight line). I noticed that the plane flew northwardly past Ras Laffan, Bahrain then turn left past Dammam, north of Riyadh and finally Jeddah at its North Terminal of King Abdul Aziz Airport.
One may question how to wear ihram if travelling through air, specifically for Doha-Jeddah-Mecca bound pilgrim since the flight will fly over Taif, a miqat (stated place (for assuming ihram) on the way to Jeddah. I and my sons wore ihram from home but we covered ourselves with thobes (a Qatari long dress garment). Some chose to wear ihram only as I noticed few pilgrims at the airport.
During the flight, Captain would announce a preliminary notice, 30 minutes, before reaching miqat and again 5 minutes before to give sufficient time for pilgrims to change their clothes to ihram. This was when we removed our thobes and were ready to enter the state of ihram.
Stewardess would also distribute an Umrah Arrival Card. This card is like a departure/arrival card with more information required on umrah visa. Just make sure that you know which is visa no and which is entry no. The former is on the top right side of visa and the latter is on the below part of visa.
Qatar Airways (and I guess all other foreign airlines) will land at North Terminal of King Abdul Aziz Airport while Saudi Airlines at South Terminal. No special features of the airport in regard to umrah except that there is a special lane for umrah at immigration gates. I had mixed feeling before my departure about immigration and landing experience in Jeddah Airport. Some have told me their terrible experience with airport staff. I had prepared the worst but what I had was alhamdulillah far from terrible. It was in fact very nice and smooth.
Benefiting from sitting at the front rows in the airplane and disembarking earlier, we avoided a long queue at immigration gates. No direct access from plane to airport so passengers must be conveyed through shuttle busses.
In front of us at one of two immigration gates was a group of pilgrims from Asian countries. Immigration staff looked furious as he shouted at them quite frequently. Hmm…. it’s probably a start of terrible experience. When the group passed, the staff suddenly changed his mood. He was totally nice! “Welcome to Saudi”, he said smiling at us.
We handed over our passport, arrival card and boarding passes.
After immigration gates but before baggage claim area (separated by waist high transparent barriers) we were checked by another staff who took our arrival cards. “Indonesia?” “Terima kasih!” (Ind. thank you), he said. Again, a nice welcome.
Jeddah – Mecca
Mecca is about 85km from Jeddah (about Doha – Dukhan distance). Public bus is available but most pilgrims travel by pre-arranged transportation or by taking an airport taxi (available just after exiting arrival hall), at least until construction of Haramain Highspeed Rail Project completed. I was told that airport taxi would charge about 200SAR for Jeddah – Haram (Mecca). Unfortunately even after haggling 250SAR was the best I could get. Note that taxi meter would never be used! Also make sure you agree the price before boarding the taxi.
You may also be approached or touted by informal (private) taxi driver as you exit baggage claim area.
Jeddah is connected to Mecca via an excellent road and highway connection, thanks to its 3-4 lane 120kph speed limit highway. Cameras were installed at rare intervals. Don’t be surprised to see how drivers in Saudi manage their drive. Lane discipline is minimal, driving on leftmost road shoulder is not uncommon, signal is not required, and abrupt lane changing and risky overtaking is what you should be aware of. Alhamdulillah, after 1 hour 20 minutes we arrived safely at our hotel, Al Marwah Rayhaan by Rotana.
Part Kaaba View
We booked our hotel, Al Marwah Rayhaan by Rotana, through booking.com. The hotel is situated at clock tower complex, or to be precise Abraj Al Bait complex. The driver dropped us at hotel drop-off point accessed through underground road. From here we should take a lift from P-2 level to P11 level which is where hotel lobby is located. Sharing the same floor is Raffles Makkah Palace Hotel and Movenpick Hotel lobby. Check-in experience was easy, and quick. Check-in staff has good English proficiency (rare in Mecca) and he gave us exactly the same room type as we booked. I read many reviews that hotel may not give travellers the same room. Taking hotel own lift (different than we used from drop-off point) we headed to our room at Mezzaine 1.We open our room and rushed to a small window at the end of room. Masya Allah… Kaaba can be seen from our room. Though a quarter of Kaaba is obstructed by one of the minarets, it is still a stunning view of Haram, Kaaba and whatever around it.
It’s almost Magrib praying time (dusk); thousands of people flocking masjidil haram like ants back to their nest as seen from above. We’re ready to start our umrah
Umrah started with tawaf, circumambulation of Kaaba 7 times in anticlock wise direction. Men are encouraged to do this three times at a hurried pace, followed by four times, more closely, at a leisurely pace. The circling is believed to demonstrate the unity of the believers in the worship of the One God, as they move in harmony together around the Kaaba, while supplicating to Allah. Tawaf starts from Hajar Aswad (black stone) corner. Pilgrims are to touch or kiss if possible, otherwise (due to large crowds) it is acceptable to simply point or hold up their hand to the Stone on each circuit. The circling continues passing Maqam Ibrahim (the station of Ibrahim the stone rock on which our Master Ibrahim, peace be upon him, stood when building the Holly Kabaa), passing Hijr Ismail (where Prophet Ismail and his mother Hazrat Hajira are buried) then Rukun Yamanii the fourth corner of the Kaaba and back to Hjar Aswad, during which prayer is chanted, raised to Allah The Almighty. Although tawaf never gets quiet, periods after Maghrib prayer and after Fajr prayer are two busiest and crowded time.
Finished with circumambulation, we performed two rakaat shalat at/behind Maqam Ibrahim, then drink zamzam water. That completed a tawaf process.
What follows is sa’I, means rapidly walking seven times back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah. This is a re-enactment of Hajar’s frantic search for water. The baby Ishmael cried and hit the ground with his foot (some versions of the story say that an angel scraped his foot or the tip of his wing along the ground), and water miraculously sprang forth. This source of water is today called the Well of Zamzam.
We have just completed 2 walks when Ishaa prayer come so we paused our walk an performed prayer. Afterwards, we continued the remaining walks for another 5 times . The whole umrah rituals completed with cutting and shaving our hair.
The whole 4 nights in Mecca was like a holy break. Our day-to-day activities were spent mainly for religious activities and centered around Masjidi Al Haram. We didn’t miss any single 5 times a day praying together in a congregation, for we believe the reward of praying in Masjid Al Haram is 100,000 times fold than praying in any where else.
For that, staying closer to Haram is really a major advantage. The hotel we stayed is just a 3-minute walk and at the doorstep of King Abdul Aziz Gate reducing travelling time while getting easy access to Haram. One time we woke up late in the morning, Second Prayer Call has been sounded as we heard from our room sound system that is connected to Haram. Imam has started the prayer, yet we managed to catch up. No wonder hotels in this particular area (south of Haram) are pricey. In addition to hotels in Clock Tower Complex such as Movenpick, Rotana, Royal Makkah Palace, and Pullman Zamzam, Hilton and Intercontinental Hotel (the two are standing buildings in themselves) are always in demand.
Our daily schedule normally starts with morning prayer, then have a quick nap before having a breakfast at hotel restaurant that overlooking Haram and Kaaba. Our favorite break time at hotel is usually occupied with enjoying stunning view of haram ad Kabaa.
From our window, we can see Haram and Kabaa, and many granite hills that make up geography of Mecca city. At northern side of Haram another expansion project can also be seen. Northern expansion of the mosque began in August 2011 and is expected to be completed in 1.5 years. So by the time we have another visit next year Insha Allah the expansion will have been completed.
The area of the mosque will be expanded from the current 356,000 m2 to 400,000 m2. A new gate named after King Abdullah will be built together with two new minarets, bringing their total to 11. The cost of the project is $10.6-billion and after completion the mosque will house over 2.5 million worshipers. The mataf (the circumambulation areas around the Kaaba) will also see expansion and all closed spaces will be air-conditioned
Go back to daily schedule, at noon we perform Zuhr prayer then have lunch in one of the many food courts in clock tower complex. We particularly like Malaysian cuisine restaurant in Al Safwa Tower. A simple lunch meal costs us about SAR15 per person.
After a brief break we return to Haram for Ashr prayer. When we finish with all religious duty and supplication we normally do brief walk and people watching on the way home, stock some supplies from Bin Dawood Supermarket, or just simply get back to hotel before return back for Maghrib prayer. Pilgrims from Turkey and Indonesia are the most recognizable ones for they are travelling with groups in easily identified markers. Meanwhile pilgrims from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh normally occupy area in mosque plaza with their groups.
As time between Maghrib and Isha prayer is short we sometimes stay in Haram instead of get back to hotel. Finish with Isha prayer we always have another food hunt for our dinner. With that we conclude our day. This is going for 4 days except for third day when I and my wife went to Jabal Nur in the morning. Oh…. did I mention that our hotel TV did not work (except for one single channel) ad we decided not to turn on the TV for almost entire stay. Good support for holy break!
This holy break looks like simple and easy rituals yet it requires a lot of stamina. Faiq – my older son – got dropped at second day, fortunately recovered the following day, while my wife dropped at last day. Don’t forget your medicine and health supplement supplies and always maintain a good balance of rest and activities.
Qatar is on full swing to celebrate the first National Sports Day, fall on the second Tuesday of February and also decreed as a holiday. Here are some ideas where to go during National Sports Day (NSD) celebration.
1. Attend your-company organized events
It’s probably the best time when you beat your boss or see them in sportswear or rather informal suit, or to catch up with your colleagues you only see their names on email. For example, Qatargas organizes NSD events at Al Gharafa Club for all its Doha-based employes and families and in Al Khor Community for its Al-Khor-based employees and families.
Where is your company-organized NSD event? If there is, you gotta attend it.
2. Head to for-public NSD events
If your company does not organize any event, why don’t you head to the popular places such as Corniche, Aspire Park, MIA Park, and Katara where big companies and organizations such as QNB, Aspire Zone, Qtel, MIA, and QOC organize events for public. Some offer free gifts (QOC) or big reward (QNB for Mini Marathon).
Take a look the below flyers for details
9.00 – 21.00pm. Corniche with main activities (shooting, football, basketball, table tennis, tennis, athletics, electronic games, face painting, healthy food court, QOC majlees, FIREWORKS!) in QOC Sports Zone at the ground of QPost. Get 2 stamps (one for starts at MIA/Sheraton Park and one for finish line at Sports Zone) for free gift.
Qtel at MIA Park
9am – opening ceremonies. include many competitions and amazing prizes to win
10am – Hala Al Turk
11.30am – Martial Arts
01.00pm – Football talents featuring Arab Got Talent Celebrity Moaatz Al Qwasmi
02.30pm – Skating featuring Arab Got Talent Celebrity Hassan and Hussein
03-05.00pm Karamesh Children, famous children singing group
QNB at Aspire Park Section 2A
Starts at 12noon for activities for the whole families followed by mini marathon for amateurs at 2pm. Registration at http://www.qnb.com.qa
A Walk to Remember. Discover up-close Aspire Zone’s amazing world. 10am – 4pm. Enjoy a fun, healthy, informative walk. Get stamps for all 9 points during the walk and claim your free gift.
Indoor and Outdoor activities. From movie show, painting exhibition, lecture, fitness class, and photography exhibition for indoor, to mini marathon, bicycle track, table tennis, beach football, water sports demo, outdoor basketball, beach volley ball, yoga by the sea and sports zone for kids for outdoor activities. Free of charge, some activities require registration.
Government Institutions Across Qatar
Check many events organized by government institutions across Qatar:
3. Grab TV remote and enjoy view-for-free sports channels
Qtel opens its Mozaic sports channels from 11-16 February on the occasion of National Sports Day. Customers will be able to watch a full range of sports on all Al Jazeera, AD Sports, Cricone, Ten Cricket, Neo Cricket, OSN Sports, Fox Sports and Extreme Sports channels.
4. Sports+Valentine’s? Why not…
While I don’t believe Valentine Day and don’t celebrate it, the idea of mixing Sports+Valentine’s is not that bad. Sweat + Love smells romantic?
The British crooner will have a concert at InterContinental Hotel, 14 Feb, starts at 9pm. Ticket QR250 for general admission and QR500 for VIP, available at Virgin Megastores or InterContinental Hotel Lobby.
Now my plan is to attend Qatargas NSD events in Al Gharafa Sports Club, head to Katara if time permits, then enjoy a full range of Indonesian national dishes brought up by potlucks among Indonesian friends. It seems perfect end after sweating with NSD events (only thing reminds me with Sunday morning jogging at Gedung Sate Bandung that it’s not for the jogging but for the food and its Sunday road-side markets 🙂 )
Visited Film City at Zekreet Peninsula for the third time. This time, acted as a Road Captain, I went with ITB (Bandung Institute of Technology) Alumni Association, Chapter Qatar. Twenty three cars (including two sedans) and around 80 people were in a tow.
Being a Road Captain was quite a burden especially with a task to find a sedan-friendly route. Unlike two visits previously, I used the east route (first time) for inbound route to Film City and West-Central route for outbound route from Film City.
*I’ll post a complete route and via-points coordinates (if time permits)*
The east route was started from the first intersection after turn-off from Dukhan Highway. Instead of going straight to Zekreet we turned right to an abandoned asphalt road (it’s probably a diversion road while Dukhan Highway was in the making), drove along fences, then underneath high voltage power towers until (about 3.9km from the intersection) finding obvious wide track to the north. The rest was following this dirt rocky track, passing fenced shooting range, short ‘highway’ near the beach where the surface was smooth, meeting many ‘rock mushrooms’ formations then finally reached Film City. It turned out that there is a route from Zekreet village that connected with this east route just outside the fenced shooting range.
FIlm City doesn’t change much but I think it starts deteriorating. At nearby green patch film crew or may be TV production crew was taking some film shots. Meet Film City Guard who very welcoming to us. Nice gesture with tips will surely help the guy who brave enough living and guarding the city in the middle of nowhere.
On the way back, we stopped by at Mystery Village for lunch, which was originally planned at the nearby beach but already occupied by local winter camp portacabins. From Mystery Village we took a West-Central route passing some plains before turning right approaching beach then Zekreet Village.
We mustered at Zekreet Beach near village but unfortunately very long low tide saw the beach loses its appeal. We adjourned after a brief meeting about the way forward for the alumni association.
An explore dream discover life episode of an Indonesian family in Qatar