Srinagar, Mar 18 (ANI): After this year's directive of the Saudi Arabia Government allowing only those to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina who have valid international passports, scores of pilgrimage aspirants queue outside the Regional Passport Office (RPO) in Srinagar to submit application forms for passports for past few days.
Until now special pilgrimage passes used to be issued for the annual pilgrimage and Haj Committees used to invite applications from Muslim devotees and make the final selection through draw of lots.But after the Saudi Arabian government's announcement, the pilgrims will be able to use their passports for Haj pilgrimage and other trips abroad.
"Earlier it was pilgrim pass. It was valid only for Saudi Arabia for a period of three months. Now what they require is a regular international passport. Once you obtain this passport you can go on Haj pilgrimage also and you can use this passport for other purposes also. There will be no difference at all between Haj pilgrimage pass and regular international passport," said B. S Manavalan, Passport Officer, Kashmir.
People from far flung and remote areas are visiting the office with their applications to get their passports made and are quite happy that the cost of the special Haj pass and the international passport is the same at rupees 1,000.
"They charge 1,000 rupees which has to be deposited later. Here they are verifying the nationality of the applicants whether they belong to Kashmir or not," said Mohammad Subhan, a Haj pilgrimage aspirant.
The registrations for the passports are on till March 31 and a lottery would decide the names of the people who would be eligible for the passports.
The Holy Quran directs the faithful to undertake Haj at least once in a lifetime.
The Haj involves weeklong celebrations and takes place nearly seventy days after the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Over two million pilgrims undertake Haj each year from all over the world. By Pervez Butt (ANI)