Part 2 [To Makkah]: Travelling by road from Kuwait to Holy City of Makkah (Mecca) for Umrah
The journey by road in a bus to Makkah proved to be a rather strenuous one for us especially with the time it took us to cross over to Saudi Arabia. But thanks to the a wonderful driver and a fantastic bus, it relieved us of lot of extra headaches. But first a note about the bus service of KPTC and the staff. The bus journey for Makkah began at the central KPTC depot behind Al-Awadi tower. The buses, yes there were 5 of them travelling in a group are fantastic. Very comfortable, absolutely new and ofcourse manned by a fantastic driver and a mechanic. We were lucky to have these two great guys as they proved helpful in the most unusual of circumstances for us.
We began our journey at around 2.30 pm from Kuwait City and reached the Kuwait border by 4 pm. There was a bit of rush over at the Kuwait border [Al-Salmi] with it being Thursday and lots of movement of buses and private cars towards Makkah for Umrah. Now usually it takes around half an hour to process exits from Kuwait border but we got stuck with the rush and we managed to leave the Kuwait border by 6.30 pm. But this was just the beginning of our woes because the worst was yet to come at the Saudi border. Over at the Saudi border it was absolute chaos as hundreds of cars and nearly two dozen buses were waiting for clearances. To make matter worse Saudi border post was totally understaffed and with whatever staff they had in hand, it took them ages to process everyone. One of the other reasons for being stuck there was that at Saudi border they do photo id and fingerprinting of every non-GCC resident passing through. Thanks to our wonderful driver and the mechanic who stood with the Saudi authorities and helped in getting everyone processed as quickly as possible. But even than with all that it took us nearly 5 hours to get through the first part of processing. Now here I would like to mention that, if you;re planning to travel across the border by road, make sure you stock up on food and water. Although water is available in all the places but there is no grocery store, food joint on either of the borders, And considering the time it takes to process, they should have some sort of outlet. With kids in our tow we’d stocked up our food supplies from Kuwait, and it really came in handy for us.
One of the other problems we faced at the Saudi border was lack of bathrooms. There were only 2 bathrooms one for men and another for women, and it was a nightmare to get through to them with the influx of nearly 700-800 people in the vicinity. And ofcourse the bathrooms were messy ones. Once we got through our fingerprinting, we took a sigh of relief, but didnt know that there was another border stop few meters away. This was for the customs. Now the way they handle customs is another sad story. Everyone has to get out of buses and cars with their entire luggage. And then open up all the bags and wait for the customs to frisk through them. Even the buses have to go through x-ray seperately. This took us another hour or so. Overall what should have been an hour or two process for crossing over from Kuwait to Saudi took us nearly 7-8 hours. And these extra hours extended our entire journey to Makkah from 18 hours or so to nearly 30 hours.
Although we were delayed initially, the bus did stop over at various places especially during prayer times. All these transit stops look similar with a large grocery store, a mosque, traditional arabic food joint and petrol station. We had to pray all our salaats on route, and finally after Miqat stoppage [80 kms from Makkah] we touched down at our hotel in Makkah at around 9 pm the next day [Friday]. We were put up at Hotel Safir al-Deafa hotel which is around 1 km from Masjid Al-Haram. Onc could actually walk to-from the Haram to the Hotel in say 10-15 minutes. The hotel was a 3 star, very well maintained and great location right in the middle of the main markets. Rooms were excellent, and as we’re 2 adults and 2 kids, we has asked for 3 beds, but ended up getting 5 beds in the room. Ofcourse there was no one else in our room, but with bachelors they try to accomodate them in single room with multiple beds.
Even with all the stressful journey, we had come to the city for one thing and that was Umrah, so finally after checking in we left for the Masjid at 10 pm. One of the great things about the hotel was its 24 hours bus service to drop and pick guests to the Masjid. Their mini buses would ply every 15 minutes or so round the clock. We finally made it to the Masjid, and amazingly all the pain and stress of the past 30 hours of journey just vanished in the sanctity of the holy land. We completed our Umrah by 2 am early in the morning and finally made it back to the hotel to catch on much needed sleep. One thing I would add here is that as we had 2 small kids with us, we immediately took a wheel chair so we could seat them both, and it cost us only 50 SAR [around 3KD]. Without the wheel chair it would have drained us out completely to carry the kids around or to make the poor guys walk for the Umrah would have been even worse.