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Middle East Comment from a Traveling Journo

Pimp My Hajj

As read in a monologue for Monocle 24 Radio on 6/11/11

If you thought that making Hajj was about hoards of people, traipsing their way across sun burnt plains on their way to a rather hot, inhospitable desert town – think again. The biggest pilgrimage in the world started a few days ago, and for some it’s an opportunity to get spiritual in style. The wealthiest pilgrims making their way to the holy city of Mecca will be pimping their Hajj on the doorstep of the holiest sites in Islam.

Whilst others make do with regular packages which consist of 2 star hotels, rushed visits of the major sites and simple itineraries – one operator insists on its website for example, that ‘sacrifice is not included’ (what a relief!) the more exclusive packages ensure every whim is taken care of.

Raffles’s new Meccan Palace Hotel, which adjoins the Grand Mosque, is one such destination. Describing itself as a ‘discreet yet highly refined residential sanctuary for elite and discerning Muslim travelers,’ high rolling Hajjis can expect an exclusive personal 24 hour butler service, a chocolate room for hand-made bespoke pralines, along with a spa and even a four-story mall. Quite what you need a ‘chocolate room’ for when going on religious pilgrimage is debatable, but touches like these certainly form part of the £1,200 a night Raffles Mecca experience. For a truly other worldly stay, a night in one of the presidential suites would set you back £4,000.

Even better perhaps is the Mecca Royal Clock Tower, just metres from the Kaa’ba. Sitting in one of the tallest towers on earth, and visible from 10 miles away, this hotel boasts a lunar observation centre, giving guests an extra chance perhaps, to communicate with their maker. An Islamic heritage museum is another added bonus, giving the elite Hajj traveler all he could possibly need to ponder the history of his faith.

Humility and modesty aren’t the first words that spring to mind when details of the ‘Super Deluxe Hajj’ are explored, but those things are after-all what the journey is supposed to be about. In its earliest incarnations, the holy trip was fraught with danger and disease, as pilgrims had to negotiate rough seas or looting bandits, and were thus reminded of their insignificance in the greater scheme of the universe.

It is possible that one may be reminded of that, as one gazes through a telescope from the lunar observation centre. But it’s unlikely that the thought would remain for long, given all the delights these 5 star Meccan palaces have to offer. Indeed, one might feel as though death had already come, and that the jewel encrusted beds and marble laden baths were part of a heavenly reward.

But no, these monster hotels are a very definite reality, and as more of them cover the increasingly crowded Meccan hills, it looks like this holy city could soon have more in common with its Gulf counterpart Dubai. From Holy Mecca to Shopping Mecca….not the greatest transformation, I think you’d agree.

Filed under: Middle East

Middle East Comment from a Travelling Journo