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First batch of Haj pilgrims leave Srinagar

November 22, 2006 14:24 IST

The first direct Srinagar-Jeddah Hajj flight carrying 215 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia left on Wednesday afternoon.

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who flew in from winter capital Jammu to supervise the arrangements made for this year's pilgrimage, saw off the Hajjis at the Srinagar airport.

The Hajjis were carried in luxury buses owned by the State Road Transport Corporation from the Tourist Reception Centre.

Relatives and friends accompanied the Hajjis to the TRC, where emotional scenes were witnessed as they bade farewell to their near and dear ones.

Many locals shouted religious slogans on the occasion.

"We have made special arrangements for heating both at the TRC and the airport for the convenience of the Hajjis.

"Arrangements have also been made for ablutions and wearing of the Ahram (special unstitched white robe) by the Hajjis at the airport," Nazir Ahmad, the local Hajj officer told newsmen.

The police and home guard volunteers are deployed in sufficient numbers to load and unload the baggage carried by the pilgrims.

"This year 6665 local pilgrims are going to perform the annual Hajj. They are being carried in 31 special Air India flights that will continue till December 22. The first batch of Hajjis will start arriving back after the pilgrimage from January 5th next year," the Hajj officer said.

Officials said 6000 more pilgrims are also likely to be cleared for this year's pilgrimage as the government of India has increased the Hajj quota for the state following protests by the waiting pilgrims whose names did not figure in the draw of lots.

Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar