Varanasi added as 16th embarkation point for Haj pilgrims

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New Delhi, Nov 12 (UNI) The city of temples Varanasi has been added as the 16th embarkation point for Haj pilgrims from this year as 157,000 Indians will perform the pilgrimage, making the Indian contingent one of the largest to undertake the journey for spiritual cleansing.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that in addition, enhanced use of Information Technology through computerisation of pilgrim location and movement, including those going through private tour operators, was another feature started this year.

Relatives sitting in India could now find out, through the website of the Indian Consulate General in Jeddah, the whereabouts of their relatives performing Haj and communicate with them during their stay in Saudi Arabia, the Minister said in his adddress at the Haj Terminal on the occasion of the inaugural Haj flight.

India would be sending one of the largest contingents of Haj pilgrims 157,000. Of those going through the arrangements of Haj Committee of India, about 59,000 pilgrims would be transported through Saudi Arabian Airlines. Air India would be carrying the remaining 51,000 pilgrims.

''I am happy to note that Varanasi has been added as a new embarkation point from this year, in addition to the existing fifteen embarkation points for the Haj pilgrimage,'' he said.

Besides advising the pilgrims to get in touch with the Indian embassy or Indian Consulate in case of any difficulty, the Minister said the Government is also deputing about 506 administrative and medical staff who along with the officers and staff of the Consulate General of India, Jeddah, would ensure provision of all facilities to Indian pilgrims.

The Government is also facilitating the deputation of about 200 Khadim-ul-Hujjajs being sent by State Governments.

Asserting that improvement in Haj management was a continuous process, the External Affairs Minister advised the pilgrims to demonstrate ''exemplary patience'', particularly during the stoning ritual at Jamarat.

''From the time you leave for Haj pilgrimage till the time you return to your home, you are on the path leading to Allah. Your patience and forbearance would definitely prove rewarding,'' the Minister added.

UNI

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