Srinagar: After nearly two years, the first batch of Kashmiri pilgrims was all set to leave for ‘Umrah’ on Tuesday. However, a sharp increase in Covid positive cases has yet again put off the holy pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
Most of the operators from here have now postponed Umrah to next month and have also kept their fingers crossed.
“After the two-year-long Covid break, the first batch of Umrah pilgrims was all set to depart from here on January 25. However, we have decided to wait for some time now as the safety of pilgrims is paramount. As far as my company ‘Makah Madina Travels’ is concerned, we are now hoping to resume Umrah from the first week of February in case there is no more escalation of Covid positive cases. So far, no batch from Srinagar has yet left for Umrah,” Jammu Kashmir Association of Hajj Umrah Companies (JKAHUC) general secretary Mohammad Younis told The Kashmir Monitor.
Umrah suspended from March 2020
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 visas 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.
Wait gets longer
Even as Makah Madina Travels is hoping that Umrah will resume from the first week of February, others are undecided.
“While our group and a few other operators are now hoping to start Umrah from February, another group was supposed to leave towards January end. In the present circumstances, it looks difficult but they are yet to take a final call,” said Younis.
Intending pilgrims ‘heartbroken’
“I had booked an Umrah package just before the pandemic last year. In fact, I had kept my passport with the travel agent based in Srinagar city only to date. Now, I was excited that I would be able to leave for Umrah on January 25. Unfortunately, the Omicron threat has yet again played spoilsport and now we are heartbroken. I can only hope that Umrah resumes at the earliest from next month,” said an intending pilgrim.
Packages expensive than before
Before the Coronavirus pandemic, an economy Umrah package would cost Rs. 70000 to 80000 but now due to the Covid safety protocols, 15-day packages start from Rs. 1.35 lakh. While the operators suffered huge losses during the past two years, the bookings for Umrah have been on the lower side after Saudi Arabia allowed the resumption of the pilgrimage last month.