| Customers at a makeshift stall on Hardinge Road in front of Haj Bhavan in Patna on Wednesday. Picture by Ashok Sinha |
Haj pilgrims who forgot something essential during last-minute packing need not worry. All essentials are available on Hardinge Road, in front of Haj Bhavan.
Some 50 makeshift shops have come up near Haj Bhavan, the last post before pilgrims proceed to Gaya airport for a direct flight to Jeddah on their way to Mecca and Medina.
The makeshift shops are doing brisk business. “This is a place every Haji (as the pilgrims are called) will visit to collect important travel documents before going to Gaya. All the things they would require are available here, and all under one roof,” said Mohammad Rehman, a shop-owner from Patna City.
Be it Ihram clothes (that Hajis wear), hijab for women, towels, airbags, passport bags, rosary beads, prayer mats, air pillows, miswak (twig to clean teeth with), skullcap and slippers, everything is available at these shops. Even small items like scissors, nail cutter, notebook, pen and non-scented soap are available. Even pocket-sized Quran and a book explaining the Haj rituals are available. Some cellular network companies, too, have set up stalls to help pilgrims stay connected with their family members.
The place does not face traffic problems on other days but because of the makeshift shops it looks no less than a shopping hub now and the stretch witnesses jams during peak hours (5pm to 8pm). Last year there were 32 makeshift shops, but seeing the response of buyers, the number has gone up this year. Another shop-owner, S.P. Ansari from Biharsharif, said, “This is the only time when we do brisk business. We charge a little extra, otherwise there is no use sitting here all day and night. But, we ensure customers do not feel the pinch. The that products are reasonably priced.”
The best thing about these shops is they are open round the clock. Pilgrims reaching Haj Bhavan any time of the day can buy their essentials. The place comes alive in the evenings, as pilgrims get busy in purchasing what they need.
Muzaffarpur district’s Abdul Sheikh, who will fly out on September 27, said, “No doubt the makeshift shops have come in so handy. I was in a hurry before coming to Patna and could not pick up some essentials. There was so much work, I was not sure when I would find time to buy them. But as soon as I reached here, I saw these shops, and my worries disappeared.”
Every day, around 400 to 500 pilgrims reach Haj Bhavan and once the formalities are over they take a special bus to Gaya. This will go on till the last Haj flight takes off on October 9. After that the makeshift shops will move out. Till next year.