I had recently travelled to Iraq for a pilgrimage trip to participate in this year’s Annual Arbaeen Walk. If you don’t know about the Arbaeen Walk yet, go check out my article on Affinity Magazine’s main website here.
I took my DSLR with me, so here are some photos I took as well as a quick summary of the tour (all photo credits to @aitchzee):
I was traveling with my family — my mother, father and two sisters. Since we were so close to Iraq at the time, we decided to enter the country by road, and so we did. It took a few hours, and I got to see really amazing sceneries along the way.
Nevertheless, we reached Najaf on Nov. 7, which was supposed to be the day we started our three-day walk to Karbala — a city at a distance of almost 82 km from where we were at that point. The usual routine of all the pilgrims and the visitors who wished to take part in the Arbaeen Walk was to arrive in Najaf a few days earlier than the date, so they were able to stay in Najaf for some time and visit the Holy Shrine of Imam Ali (a.s) before starting in the walk. We couldn’t do that, as we had already arrived late; staying any longer in Najaf at that point meant we would be late and never make it to Karbala on Arbaeen. So we started walking right away.
The entire walking path was divided into a total of 1,452 poles for the guidance of the pilgrims. There was some distance we had to cover before reaching the first pole of the walk, where we would be on the outskirts of Najaf. During the time we took to reach the first pole, we stopped at a beautiful mosque for afternoon prayers and had a van drive us to pole number one, where the official walk started. All along the walkway, one would hear the words “Welcome! Welcome!” said by local men and women standing at the side of the walkways, offering free food, water and articles of necessity.
I met my uncle, grandmother and cousin at pole 300. We decided to walk together with them from there. My father had segregated from us earlier, so it was the seven of us walking together. These are the pictures of some of the common sights from the setting:
The mobile signals became very poor once we were out of Najaf. It was difficult to connect to mobile data, if not impossible at times. There were free Wi-Fi booths installed at places, but due to the big crowds around it, I didn’t feel like struggling to connect. I was quite happy with taking pictures with my camera instead.
We rested at an Iraqi mawkab (free accommodation/food camp) that night. Sleep came as soon as I lay down on one of the mattresses they had laid down inside a hall for those wanting to rest for the night. I probably dreamt of biryani or pizza. The morning was horribly cold. The type of cold that keeps asking you to not wake up for five more minutes. Plus, someone had even pushed the hall’s main door wide open — I was almost shaking with cold. I’d been praying for clean toilets during the walk ever since we decided to take part back home, and I was lucky to actually find them. We freshened up and went out to continue the walk and get breakfast. Boiled eggs, bread, Iraqi and Iranian tea were among the commonly served breakfast items available at mawkabs.
Here and there during the walk, we’d see groups of people holding the flags of the country they were from, so a good amount of different flags were seen. At one point, people also hung their flags on a line drawn across the path for recognition.
I didn’t eat Iraqi food much, except for shawarmas. I would eat only when it was a sandwich, cake, fruit or shawarma that was being offered. Internally and secretly, I’d been craving biryani. We landed on an Indian mawkab for rest that day. Pakistanis like me are often stereotyped to have hateful feelings for Indians. There, I got the chance to bond with a lot of Indian people; it was an overall good experience, and some of my cravings to be in an environment of people with South Asian culture were also satisfied. We left after my grandmother had a foot massage, and we had dinner and chai.
Next morning, my grandmother told us that it was getting difficult for her to walk and that she wanted to cover some of the distance on a vehicle, so we went to the adjacent road to get us a bus or a rickshaw. We were lucky then, because an orange bus just came there and took us from around pole 500 to pole 1086 for free. We continued our walk from there. I had hot chocolate milk for breakfast, and the others of my family drank tea along with other items. Everything was served for free.
Every time we stopped that day, it was either all of the others waiting for me to come back from taking pictures or to get us some food or water from mawkabs or to rest. This day went smoothly, as well, and we even landed on a Pakistani mawkab, where I finally had biryani for dinner. I slept well feeling so grateful that night.
We walked on and on the next day, and I also came across statues and moldings arranged to depict scenes from the battle of Karbala, among others. One particular setting showed the court of Yazid, where he was seeking service from a black slave of his.
And just like that, after the continuous cycle of eating, sleeping, walking and taking pictures, we reached pole number 1452 — Karbala on Nov. 10, 2017. The service we received all along the journey was a result of the resilience and enthusiasm of the providers — usually Iraqi people — who were all volunteering and providing free necessities for the pilgrims, dedicating it to Imam Hussain (a.s).
We stayed there in a hotel for some days, taking part in religious gatherings before leaving to visit other holy sites in the suburbs and neighboring cities and finally flying back home.