Flying into Delhi was a journey of two halves. The first half was only half capacity, I had the middle row of three seats to myself, in a very new, comfortable aircraft. Passengers on this flight were British Muslims headed for Mecca. Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to the holiest city in the world for Muslims. Since this flight connected to New Delhi via Jeddah our path took us just 70km from the site.
During the six hours airtime many of the men on board changed from ordinary clothes of jeans, shirts and shoes into the traditional white Ihram robes particular to Hajj. The females were already dressed in the black equivalent. The idea is to minimise the distraction of others attention. This checkerboard spectacle was quite the opposite viewed in one sweep of the plane, like a game of chess gone on holiday.
Arriving at Jeddah I was lucky enough to snuggle down in the snooze lounge of the Saudia Air business class customers. A little persistence and a friendly smile goes a long way. The scene upon passing through security some hours later was an exploded replica of the flight. Scores of men in white robes and women dressed in black were seated in neat rows. The unique dress of the Saudi Arabian man adding a touch of variation to proceedings with the addition of a red and white Keffiyeh, like a gingham lions mane offering protection against the heat and the dust.
Home From Hajj
I sat to meditate in a quiet corner of the terminal, leaving just the right amount of time to join the tail end of the queue for boarding. The melee of this line was significantly Indian. The men were again, traditionally dressed in the white robes expected at Mecca but the women were dressed in every possible colour, pattern and style. These were Indian Muslims on the return home from Hajj.
Once boarded I was second last to be seated. A fellow Westerner, Leon, a 25 year old student from Berlin had taken his sweet time too. We were sat together at the door seats with the maximum leg room. No attention was paid to our tickets, simply ‘here are two seats, please take one and be happy’. A typically pragmatic Indian attitude to tickets, systems and protocol.
Leon and I immediately struck up conversation. We’d smiled knowingly on the long wait in the coach transfer from the terminal to the boarding area, waiting many minutes for a melodramatic thunder storm to shower its praises on the desert. An old lady garrotted up a long string of green phlegm, Leon looked disgusted, amused and accepting all at once.
We spoke on the flight of our respective journeys. Leon had been living in Istanbul for a year, navigating the challenges of a long distance relationship with his girlfriend based out of Amsterdam, figuring out what was next. His challenges felt familiar. I nodded, smiled and listened.
As beginnings of journeys go, being sandwiched between the two legs of the worlds biggest pilgrimage seemed fitting. Leaving the West and all the trappings of that life to again explore the country of Vipassana made even more sense. Synchronicity at work.
A little side note for the music fans out there: Kula Shakers album Pilgrims Progress is well worth a listen, check out Modern Blues; and the track Synchronicity II by the Police, see if they resonate.