A record number of pilgrims from the
Sultanate of Oman are expected to perform Haj in Saudi Arabia early
next month, Gulf News learnt here yesterday. The Saudi embassy has
extended by two days the granting of Haj visas for those going to the
Kingdom by road, while air travelers have four days at their disposal
to complete the formalities.
"Today was the last day for visas for resident expatriates going
by road, but we have extended it by two days to cope with the growing
rush of applicants," an embassy official told this correspondent.
Last year, he added, more than 7,000 visas were issued and the figure
is going to be bigger this time, although there are more restrictions
than before on expatriates here on a visit visa wanting to go for Haj.
"We are doing our best to help the faithful perform Haj."
Most of the people are going by road via the UAE and in groups. The
result is that the road transport business is flourishing. The
state-run Oman National Transport Co (ONTC) is plying thirty 49-seater
luxury coaches on the route, with the last one due to depart after two
days. "We are already fully booked," said Ramazan bin Jan
Mohammed Al Zedjali, ONTC's transport manager.
The return fare by luxury coach is RO110, but the ONTC is also
offering a complete package of 345 riyals which includes boarding,
lodging, and other allied Haj expenses, but not counting the price of
animal to be slaughtered to mark Eid Al Adha. Transporters belonging
to the private sector are vying with each other to woo customers.
Charges vary from 70 riyals to 40 riyals.
Gulf Air, which is partly owned by Oman, is flying only to Jeddah, as
usual, but has spared three of its aircraft, two of which are
wide-bodied, for chartered Haj flights arranged by some Omani
entrepreneurs, including Salim bin Said bin Salim Al Hakmani.
"Both our chartered flights are fully booked for Madinah",
said Al Hakmani. The package costs 550 riyals. The first chartered
flight is to leave on Thursday, Feb. 22, and the second on February
Oman Air, the Sultanate's national carrier, has come out with a
special Haj fare to Jeddah of 263 riyals valid for two months, as
against 215 riyals for 14 days only. An official at the Ministry of
Religious Affairs and Awqaf, when approached, said some 13,000 Omanis
are expected to perform this year's Haj. Omanis don't need visas to
enter Saudi Arabia.
Already, a high-level, well-equipped advance mission, including
doctors, nurses, Royal Oman Police personnel, journalists and scouts,
have reached Saudi Arabia to serve Omani pilgrims and those from other
countries, in co-ordination with the Saudi authorities, in order to
make the task of the two parties easier, according to an official
announcement published by local newspapers yesterday.
Source: Gulf News