Hyderabad: Despite the rise in airfares, Hyderabadis are queuing up to perform the Umrah in the summer as the holy month of Ramzan is coinciding with the school vacations this year.
Over 10 per cent families are taking their children along for the Umrah. Given the demand, many tour operators have already met their booking targets.
The Haj and the Umrah, pilgrimages to Macca, are both important for Muslims. However, there are significant differences between the two.
The Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Every Muslim who is physically and financially capable has to perform the Haj at least once in a lifetime. It is performed from the eighth to the 12th day of the last month of Islamic calendar, Zill-Hajjah.
The Umrah, on the other hand, is not obligatory and can be performed at any time of the year.
In both pilgrimages, pilgrims have to wear the Ihram, an unstitched two-piece attire, and perform the Tawaf i.e. walk seven times around the Ka’bah, and the Sa’yi, a walk between the Safa and Marwah hills. Pilgrims are required to cut their hair prior to embarking on either of the pilgrimages.
An increase in the number of Umrah pilgrims has been noted in recent years. A number of families have begun performing the Umrah every year, for which they pay additional charges for visa processing; the Saudi government has imposed an additional fee of Saudi Riyal 2,000 for repeat pilgrims.
Airlines have increased the fares for return tickets, considering the heavy rush.
One airline is charging Rs 36,000 for a return ticket against Rs 32,500 earlier. It is expected to surge to Rs 49,500, especially for late bookings.
More than 100 tour operators in Hyderabad offering services for the Umrah, and a number of individuals work as sub-agents for major tour operators on a commission basis.
Mr Habeeb Abdul Quadar al-Hamed of Bismillah Tours and Travels said that the steep increase in airfares and accommodation charges had compelled tour operators to enhance their package rates.
Tour operators who were previously charging around Rs 55,000 to Rs 58,000 per pilgrim are now charging up to Rs 72,000, and have priced their deluxe packages at about Rs 80,000.
He said that while the usual Umrah package covers a 13- to 15-day stay in the holy cities, most tour operators provide a special 29-day package during Ramzan and charge anywhere between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 1.10 lakh, depending on the quality of the accommodation and food.
Mr Syed Sajid Ali of Mehdipatnam said that people had lately started performing the Haj and the Umrah in groups under the supervision of the disciples of spiritual leaders and theologians. This had resulted in a substantial increase in the number of pilgrims.
He added that the parents' mindsets seemed to be changing, considering that they were now focusing more on religious activities than previously, and encouraging their children to become practising Muslims....