Travels in Arabia, by John Lewis Burckhardt

Journey to Mekka

September 7th. I set out early in the morning from Tayf for Mekka, by the same road which I had come. There is, as I have already mentioned, a more northern route, by which caravans may avoid the difficulties of passing Djebel Kora. The first station from Mekka, on that road, is Zeyme, short of which, about ten miles, are several steep ascents. Zeyme is a half-ruined castle, at the eastern extremity of Wady Lymoun, with copious springs of run­ning water. Wady Lymoun is a fertile valley, which extends for several hours in the direction of Wady Fatme; it has many date­plantations, and formerly the ground was cultivated; but this, I believe, has ceased since the Wahaby invasion: its fruit-gardens, too, have been ruined. This is the last stage of the Eastern–Syrian Hadj route, or that which lies to the east of the Great Hedjaz chain, running from Medina to Mekka. To the S.E. or E.S.E. of Wady Lymoun, is another fertile valley, called Wady Medyk, where some sherifs are settled, and where Sherif Ghaleb possessed landed property.

From Zeyme, the road to Tayf leads, on the second day, from Mekka to Seyl, a rivulet so called, flowing across a plain, which is without trees, but affords abundance of rich pasture. At Seyl, the road enters a mountainous tract, through which is a difficult and very narrow passage of about six hours. The station of this day is Akrab, situated in the upper plain, at about three hours’ distance from Tayf, to the northward, and on the same level with it: thus a traveller reaches Tayf on the fourth day from Mekka. This route was now impassable, except to large and well-protected caravans, the hostile Arabs of the Ateybe tribe having frequently made inroads on that side, and plundered small caravans.

Not far from Tayf I overtook three Arnaut soldiers, each, like myself, mounted on an ass. At Tayf they had exchanged their money, getting thirteen piastres of the Cairo mint for one Spanish dollar, which at Djidda was worth but eleven; they had, therefore, made a common purse of one thousand dollars, and travelled from Djidda to Tayf, whenever the road was secure, for the sake of the two piastres which they gained upon each dollar. They carried the money, sewed in bags, upon their asses; and having forgotten, perhaps, to leave out any cash for travelling expenses, they joined me, finding that my travelling sack was well stocked with provi­sions, and left me to pay for our joint expenses on the road, when­ever we stopped at the coffee-huts. But they were good-humoured companions, and the expense was not thrown away.

In passing by Wady Mohram, I assumed the ihram, as being now for the first time about to visit Mekka and its temple. The ihram consists of two pieces of linen, or woollen, or cotton cloth, one of which is wrapped round the loins, and the other thrown over the neck and shoulders, so as to leave part of the right arm uncovered. Every garment must be laid aside before this is put on. Any piece of stuff will answer the purpose; but the law ordains that there shall be no seams in it, nor any silk or orna­ments; and white is considered preferable to any other colour. White Indian cambric is usually employed for the purpose; but rich hadjys use, instead of it, white Cashmere shawls, which have not flowered borders. The head remains totally uncovered. It is not permitted to have the head shaved, in conformity with the oriental habits, until it is permitted also to lay aside the ihram.

The instep must likewise be uncovered: those, accordingly, who wear shoes, either cut a piece out of the upper leather, or have shoes made on purpose, such as the Turkish hadjys usually bring with them from Constantinople. Like most of the natives, I wore sandals while dressed in the ihram.

Old-age and disease are excuses for keeping the head covered; but this indulgence must be purchased by giving alms to the poor. The sun’s rays become extremely troublesome to persons bare­headed; but although the law forbids that the head should be protected by any thing in immediate contact with it, there is no prohibition against the use of umbrellas, and with these most of the northern hadjys are provided, while the natives either brave the sun’s rays, or merely tie a rag to a stick, and make a little shade, by turning it towards the sun.

Whether assumed in summer or in winter, the ihram is equally inconvenient and prejudicial to health, particularly among the northern Mohammedans, who, accustomed to thick woollen clothes, are at this period obliged to leave them off for many days; yet the religious zeal of some who visit the Hedjaz is so ardent, that if they arrive even several months previous to the Hadj, they vow on taking the ihram, in approaching Mekka, not to throw it off till after the completion of their pilgrimage to Arafat; and thus they remain for months covered, night and day, only with this thin cloak; [The Arabian historians relate that Haroun Errashid and his wife Zobeyda once performed the pilgrimage on foot, from Baghdad to Mekka, clothed only with the ihram; that at every station of the caravan there was a castle, with apartments splendidly furnished; and that the whole road was covered daily with carpets, on which they walked.] for the law forbids any other covering even at night; but with this few hadjys strictly comply.

When the ancient Arabs performed their pilgrimage to the idols at Mekka, they also took the ihram; but that pilgrimage was fixed to a certain period of the year, probably autumn; for although the Arabs computed by lunar months, they inserted one month every three years; and thus the month of the pilgrimage did not vary in its season, as at present. The intercalation of a month, established two hundred years before Islam, was prohibited by the Koran, which ordained that the same pilgrimage should be continued, in honour of the living God, which had before been performed in honour of idols, but that it should be fixed to a lunar month; thus its period became irregular, and in the space of thirty-three years was gradually changed from the depth of winter to the height of summer.

The person covered by the ihram, or, as he is called, El Mohrem, is not obliged to abstain from particular kinds of food, as ancient Arabians, who, during the time of wearing it, did not taste butter among other things; but he is enjoined to behave decently, not to curse, or quarrel, not to kill any animal, not even a flea on his body, nor to communicate with the other sex. The ihram of the women consists of a cloak which they wrap completely about them, with a veil so close that not even their eyes can be seen: according to the law, their hands and ankles must be covered, but this rule they generally disregard.

Although my companions, the soldiers, were going to Mekka, as well as myself, they did not think it necessary to take the ihram, which, as I have already said, the law prescribes at all times of the year to every one travelling towards the sacred city.

We remained an hour on the delightful summit of Djebel Kora, and towards the evening descended the mountain. A shower of rain obliged us to seek shelter in a spacious cavern by the side of the road, which is used on similar occasions by shepherds of the Hodheyl tribe; and we arrived after sun-set at the coffee-huts, before mentioned, on the mountain-side, where the caravans from Mekka alight. Here we kindled a large fire, and hired an earthen pot of the Arabs, in which we boiled some rice for our supper. The long day’s march, the rain, and my light covering, brought on a slight fever; but I kept myself well covered during the night, and was in good health the next morning. The change of air, during my journey to Tayf, and the comparatively cooler climate of that place had already completely recovered me from the effects of my severe illness at Djidda. During the night, the Kadhy of Mekka arrived from Tayf.

September 8th. At day-break, I went to visit the Kadhy, whom I found smoking his pipe and drinking coffee; availing himself of the privilege granted to travellers in Ramadhan, of dispensing with the fast. According to our agreement at Tayf, I was to join him here on his way to Mekka; I could not therefore avoid joining him; but I was extremely averse to continuing with him, because he would probably carry me to his house at Mekka, where I should be again placed in a situation similar to that which had proved so uncomfortable at Tayf. He seemed, however, willing to avoid the trouble and expense of a guest; for when I expressed some appre­hensions that my tired ass would be unable to keep pace with his fine mule, he immediately answered, that he hoped, at all events, to meet me again at Mekka. I departed, therefore, with the soldiers, leaving the Kadhy to repose a little longer. We passed the mid-day hours at the coffee-hut called Shedad, where several Bedouins were amusing themselves by shooting at a mark. They gave proofs of great dexterity, often hitting a piastre, which I placed at about forty yards’ distance. Except coffee and water, nothing is to be procured in any of the huts on this road; the coffee is not served up in single cups, as usual in most parts of the Levant; but, whoever asks for it, has a small earthen pot of hot coffee set before him, containing from ten to fifteen cups: this quantity the traveller often drinks three or four times a day. These pots are called mashrabe. (See their form in the outlines annexed.) [Illustration not included].

Into the mouth of the pot is stuck a bunch of dry herbs, through which the liquid is poured. I have already noticed the immoderate use of coffee in this part of Arabia, and it is said to prevail still more in the south, and towards the vicinity of the coffee country.

On the road from Shedad, which lies along the lower plains, between sharp mountains, we were surprised by a most violent shower of rain and hail, which obliged us to halt. In a very short time the water poured down in torrents from the mountains and when the hail ceased, after about an hour, we found that the rain, which still continued, had covered the Wady Noman with a sheet of water three feet deep, while streams of nearly five feet in breadth crossed the road with an impetuosity which rendered it impossible for us to pass them. In this situation we could neither advance nor retreat, knowing that similar currents would have been formed in our rear we therefore took post on the side of the mountain, where we were sure of not being washed away, and where we could wait in security till the subsiding of the storm. The mountains, however, soon pre­sented on their sides innumerable cascades, and the inundation became general; while the rain, accompanied with thunder and lightning, continued with undiminished violence. I saw the Kadhy, who had quitted Shedad soon after us, at some distance, separated from our party by a deep torrent, while several of his women, mounted upon mules, were also obliged to remain at a distance from him. We continued in this disagreeable situation for about three hours, when the rain ceased and the torrents soon diminished; but our asses could with difficulty be brought to attempt the slippery ground still covered with water, and we were at last obliged to alight and drive them before us, till we reached a more elevated surface. The Kadhy and his whole party were under the necessity of doing the same. Night now overtook us, and the cloudy sky involved us in complete darkness; but after an adventurous walk of three or four hours, stumbling or falling almost at every step, we reached the coffee-houses of Arafat, to the great satisfaction of my companions, the soldiers, who had entertained apprehensions for their money­bags. I was not less pleased myself, being much in want of a fire after such a drenching, with only the scanty covering of the ihram.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31