Deputy chief minister Hemant Soren addresses relatives of Haj pilgrims in Ranchi on Wednesday. Picture by Prashant Mitra
Ranchi, Sept. 26: Direct flight from the capital’s Birsa Munda Airport to King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah has been a boon for Jharkhand’s Haj pilgrims, as a steady rise in the number of passengers heading out for Mecca in the last three years has proved.
This year, 3,256 pilgrims from Jharkhand are going to Mecca, up by 469 from last year. Last year, 2,808 left the state for the pilgrimage, which was 582 more than the 2010 figures.
“Many more are keen to embark on the pilgrimage as a direct flight means less hassles on the way. A good number of the pilgrims are elderly women,” said Md. Anwar Ali, a member of the State Haj Committee that oversees the task of sending Haj pilgrims from Jharkhand.
Of the 3,256 going to Mecca this year, 1,275 are women and 10 are children.
Following the intervention of Union tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahay, a direct flight from Birsa Munda Airport to Jeddah was started in 2010. Earlier, pilgrims from Jharkhand had to travel by train to Calcutta and then take a flight to Jeddah.
Before 2010, the total number of Haj pilgrims from Jharkhand varied between 1,500 and 1,600, and most were men.
The responsibility of flying Hajis to Jeddah and getting them back to Ranchi has been taken up by Air India, which has hired two aircraft from Sovika Airlines Services for the job. While the first flight will leave Ranchi at 5.30am, the second is at 12.30pm. Today, 464 pilgrims left for Jeddah, with each of them paying Rs 1.60 lakh for the entire trip.
The pilgrims began leaving for Jeddah on September 17 and the last group will leave tomorrow. Each group will return after 45 days.
The pilgrims leaving today could not hide their enthusiasm. “We want to learn about the value system of Islamic believers in other countries. We will interact with them and tell then about our life and culture,” said Gulam Rabbani (55), a pilgrim from Hazaribagh.
Pilgrims who have already been to Mecca before said cultural exchange was an important aspect of the trip.
“Apart from religious duties, the Haj pilgrims of Jharkhand will interact with their counterparts from different countries. We tell them about Sarva Dharma Samanay, cultural diversity and democratic values. They wonder when we tell them how democratic values here help us live happily,” said Khurshid Hassan Rumi, a Haji.