ISLAMABAD: Pakistani student Usman Arshad entered Saudi Arabia this week after walking over 4,000 kilometers with the aim to reach Makkah ahead of this year’s Hajj, finally completing the “dream journey” he started in October last year.
Carrying a small backpack and umbrella, and wearing a pair of trekking shoes, the 25-year-old student’s pilgrimage, which started from his hometown of Okara in Pakistan’s Punjab province, took him across several countries, before he arrived in the holiest city of Islam.
“It took me around five and a half months to enter the Kingdom and see the first roadside board of Makkah inside the holy land,” Arshad told Arab News in a phone interview from Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
The idea to travel to Makkah by foot came to him in 2021, when he covered 1,270 km during a 34-day-long walk from Okara to the Khunjerab Pass on the border with China to promote a soft image of Pakistan.
After finalizing his plans for the Saudi pilgrimage, he spent another nine months in preparation and saved approximately $6,800 with his family’s help to cover his expenses.
“I remember leaving home on October 1, 2022, in scorching heat. Then [my] journey continued in both extreme heat and extreme cold,” Arshad said. “Surely, Allah is with those who are patient.”
Arshad said his original plan was to travel from Pakistan to Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and then to Saudi Arabia on foot but he had to alter his itinerary along the way due to difficulties in obtaining visas.
“I had requested help from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in obtaining visas before starting my journey, but was unable to obtain a visa for Iraq,” the pilgrim said.
Along the way, Arshad said he encountered many people who helped him once they learned of his mission:
“During my journey, I have had the pleasure of meeting many individuals who have shown me tremendous respect and hospitality, particularly after learning that I am traveling on foot to Makkah to perform Hajj.”
When Arshad started his journey last year, Hajj visas were not yet being issued by the Kingdom which is why he said he had entered Saudi Arabia on a visit visa. This year’s Hajj will fall in late June.
“I now plan to seek approval from Saudi authorities to perform Hajj on this visa, or to change its category,” Arshad said, calling on Pakistan’s foreign and religious affairs ministries to assist him in this matter.
“I will pay the Hajj fee and [any] other expenses because I could not wait for the opening of Hajj visas as I would not have been able to reach my destination on foot within the given time frame otherwise,” he added.
In an interview to Arab News last October after he had set out on the voyage, Arshad said the journey was changing him and shaping his future plans. He had completed his studies in media and communications at the University of Okara but now planned to travel full time.
“Earlier, I wanted to join the media,” he had said, “but now I have plans to continue traveling in the future, and tell people about different places and countries by visiting them either on foot or otherwise.”