During the final month of the Islamic lunar calendar, almost two million Muslims visit Saudi Arabia yearly to perform the Hajj pilgrimage. The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all adult Muslims who are physically and financially able to do so must undertake this pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.
Historically, before the advent of modern transport, this journey to Mecca would take months upon months of preparation and travel. While the rituals of the Hajj are undertaken over five days, the pilgrimage itself can last for up to a month. This pilgrimage remains the journey of a lifetime for many Muslims.
Here are some essential things pilgrims should prepare before they embark on this journey:
Prepare religious supplies
Besides Ihram clothes, essential religious supplies pilgrims should remember to bring along include a portable Koran, prayer mat and a seven-bead counter. General Muslim travel packs can be bought online and should contain all necessary supplies to help pilgrims along their spiritual journey.
Seek advice from a Hajji
Prepare a list of your questions and concerns and make an appointment to speak with a person who has already performed Hajj. Very often, he or she can provide you with practical tips that can’t be found in regular guidebooks. A Hajji might also have a specific Hajj travel package or travel agency to recommend. They will also be able to give you a first-person account of how to navigate and move along with the crowds and keep your cool among the vast masses.
Be mindful of weather conditions
Saudi Arabia is an arid desert country where fluctuations and extremities in weather are to be expected. The days between July and September can see temperatures reach as high as forty degrees Celsius in the day and dip to as low as the high twenties in the evenings.
During the day, adequate sun protection is necessary to prevent against heat strokes, fainting spells and other ailments caused by the heat. Wide-brimmed sun hats and umbrellas can protect from the sun’s rays. Some also opt to bring a small handheld fan or a mini battery-powered fan to cool down and a towel to wipe off sweat. Sunglasses and sunscreen will also come in handy.
Likewise, be prepared for cooler weather at night and pack some thicker clothing for the later hours.
It is important to keep hydrated during this journey, and a refillable water bottle is a must. Pilgrims can drink the Zamzam water from the well of Zamzam in Mecca.
Prepare essential medication and required vaccinations
Ensure that you have a necessary supply of prescription medication, as well as other essential medicines for common ailments such as coughs, stomach upsets, allergies and muscle aches.
The Saudi Ministry of Health encourages all international pilgrims to be “vaccinated against seasonal influenza before arrival into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, particularly those at increased risk of severe influenza diseases, including pregnant women, children under 5 years, the elderly, and individuals with underlying health conditions such as HIV/AIDS, asthma, and chronic heart or lung diseases.”
Check with your local Saudi embassy if you are from a country that requires vaccinations against Yellow Fever, Meningococcal Meningitis or Polio.
Be physically prepared
Pilgrims will have to walk miles under the hot sun in the day, and battle with cold desert airs at night. Many find it useful to watch their diet, exercise and get in shape in preparation for the pilgrimage. Walking frequently in the weeks leading up to the journey can also help build endurance and stamina. Some prospective pilgrims choose to give up caffeine in preparation for the Hajj.
Pack energy bars, glucose packet drinks, and the like as these snacks will also come in handy during the strenuous journey when a boost in endurance is needed.
Proper sanitation and hygiene during the journey are essential. Bring along disinfectant, hand sanitiser and wash your hands as often as you can. Some choose to wear masks, especially in crowded areas. Disposable wipes and tissues should also be used instead of handkerchiefs. Bring along a few rolls of toilet paper and extra plastic bags and ziploc bags just in case.
Invest in a pair of practical and comfortable shoes. This is very important as you will be on your feet for the better part of this five-day pilgrimage.