Srinagar: After two years, the first batch of Kashmiri pilgrims finally embarked on Umrah from here on Sunday.
Though the Omicron threat had caused a significant dip in bookings, a batch of 43 pilgrims left to perform the holy pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
Stating that around 100 pilgrims are expected to embark on the pilgrimage on a weekly basis as of now, Valley based operators are hoping that the numbers will increase once the Covid threat subsides.
“Yesterday, 47 pilgrims left for Umrah and another batch of 49 pilgrims is leaving later this week. The same number of pilgrims is expected to leave from Srinagar every week now and we are hoping that the numbers will be back to normal once the Covid positive numbers come down,” Jammu Kashmir Association of Hajj Umrah Companies (JKAHUC) general secretary Mohammad Younis told The Kashmir Monitor.
Umrah from the Valley had been suspended in March, 2020 after the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Last month, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia allowed licensed and accredited tour operators from six countries including India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt and Pakistan to issue Umrah visa and design packages accordingly. While the government of India had officially eased travel restrictions for commercial tourism and commercial flights were allowed to operate from December 15, the Valley based Umrah companies had since remained busy in completing the formalities.
The JKAHUC general secretary said despite the Omicron threat people in the Valley were keen to perform Umrah and urged intending pilgrims to get themselves registered with accredited companies only.
“Alhamdulillah, due to the efforts of the JKAHUC, Umrah has been made possible in trying circumstances. Even though several operators had postponed Umrah to next month due to the Omicron threat, people are keen to perform Umrah and we appeal to them to go for the pilgrimage with registered companies only. There are no restrictions now,” he said.
However, he said the pilgrims will have to first remain in quarantine for five days and that the Umrah companies had appealed to the Saudi authorities to reconsider the decision.
“Umrah companies across India and outside have jointly appealed to the Saudi government to do away with the five day quarantine for pilgrims as it will have a bearing on the cost of packages,” he said.