The first batch of pilgrims from Jammu and Kashmir are on their way to Mecca for Hajj.
About 216 Kashmiris were seen off at the Srinagar airport on Saturday by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who flew in on Friday to see off the pilgrims.
Speaking to the media persons at the airport, the chief minister said he had already given instructions for construction of a Hajj house on modern lines equipped with all facilities including immigration and all other documentation facilities.
Azad added that he had also directed the concerned agencies to complete the ongoing work on the International Airport so that maximum Hajj flights, including International flights, started operating from next year.
The pilgrims were taken in air-conditioned coaches from the city's tourist reception centre to the airport where authorities had made arrangements for wearing of the 'Ahrams' (White unstitched robes for male pilgrims), ablutions, foreign exchange and immigration checks.
With moist eyes, the relatives bid farewell to the pilgrims at the TRC shouting Islamic slogans 'Allah-o-Akbar' (Allah is Great) and 'Allahuma Labaik' (I respond to Allah's beckoning call).
"It is an opportunity for which I have waited all my life. Thanks to Allah, today I am embarking on this holy journey," said one of the pilgrims.
Interestingly, this year's Kashmiri pilgrims include India's youngest and the oldest Makkah bound pilgrims. A 100-year old pilgrim from Anantnag district and a two-year-old baby would perform Hajj along with the mother.
Saturday's batch of pilgrims include those from Srinagar, Kupwara, Doda and Jammu districts of the state. In all, 9306 pilgrims are scheduled to proceed to Saudi Arabia for the holiest Islamic pilgrimage.
"Till December 16, there would be one Hajj flight daily from Srinagar airport. From December 16 to January 1, 2006, there would be two flights daily to carter to the pilgrim traffic," said Nazir Ahmad, a Hajj officer in Srinagar.
For the first time, a website and e-mail facility has been made available free of cost for the Hajj pilgrims of Jammu and Kashmir so that they could contact their relatives while performing the Hajj, he said.