To Mecca by bicycle: ''No fatigue, a record of 189 km per day in the second week''

A Tatarstan pilgrim-cyclist tells about how to stay warm in the highlands, to cover a desert in high gear and to resist a temptation of wealth of the Arab sheikhs

To Mecca by bicycle: ''No fatigue, a record of 189 km per day in the second week''

Last year, two friends went to Hajj from Tatarstan in an unusual and even extreme way: one by bike, the second by scooter. The journey of the Muslims took four months. What adventures awaited for the Kazan citizens — the initiator of the Hajj by bicycle Bulat Nasybullin told in an interview with Realnoe Vremya. The young Hajji told about in what adventurous stories the pilgrims got in and how they got out of them, how he resisted the Turkish-Arab temptations, as well as about bureaucrats, swindlers, gangsters and incredible miracles.

Sheikh blessed

Bulat, how did you come up with the idea to go for Hajj by bicycle?

I came up with the idea when I was 14-15 years old. I'm 24 now, I have been nurturing the idea for 10 years. Three years ago when I was in Turkey, I said about this idea to one Turkish Sheikh, Muhammad Ibrahim. I only shared my dream, but he replied, ''You need to see Prophet Muhammad.'' I asked, ''How?'' He promised to teach. He started to wake me up for tahajjud (night optional prayer — editor's note), asked to read certain salawats (praise of Allah and the Prophet — editor's note). But while I was there, I did not see the Prophet.

Then, having arrived in Kazan, on Friday morning, I saw him in my dream. After that I started preparation for the Hajj. Two years ago we were not allowed to leave. But this year, in March, the Sheikh came to Kazan and gave a trimmer (razor) and said, ''you're going to need it in Hajj.'' He left and I resolved.

I came up with the idea when I was 14-15 years old. I'm 24 now, I have been nurturing the idea for 10 years

''You're so young, why to perform Hajj? When you have many sins, then do''

What was the route? What difficulties did you have on your way?

I had two options. One route was through Iran, the second, through Turkey. But since after the decision I had only a month, I had to get visas and many other documents, for this reason I chose Turkey because visa is not required here, it was only necessary to execute the documents for Hajj.

We departed three months before the Hajj. The whole route had been calculated. First, we wanted to go immediately to Georgia, but the road was blocked up there. So, we went to Dagestan, from where we went to Azerbaijan, stopped in Baku. Then we went to Georgia via Borjomi, although initially we wanted via Batumi. And then we went to Turkey. At that time the political events we taking place there, the attempt of coup d'état. If we had went through Batumi, the borders would be closed. We travelled all over Turkey, through terrorist threat areas. But on the way from Russia down to Cyprus we have had no problems.

We went by ferry to Northern Cyprus. There were the problems with the bank card. <…>

Egypt now has a military rule now after General el-Sisi seized power. There we were forbidden to travel around by bike. Even by bus it was impossible to get to Sharm El Sheikh, we needed to have a tour package, insurance and to meet many other different requirements. So we had to get by plane, fly to Sharm El Sheikh. From there we called a taxi, found a special person who had some kind of special permission. We passed many checkpoints with him, drove to Nuweiba port. Then we sailed in the free economic zone Aqaba (Jordan). And there it all began…

In Aqaba we were given the visa, we were about to leave when a customs officer said to wait five minutes, which turned into three hours. In the end, customs officers came to us and told that we would be deported. We asked why. They replied in Arabic that that they allegedly did not understand English. Although previously we communicated in English. They put us back on ferry and deported to Egypt.

I just went to the head of customs, we sat down and drank tea. I told him about our trip. He began to persuade me, ''You're still young, we have only old people perform Hajj. When you accumulate sins — then go.''

Having returned to Cairo in secret, we had to call a special person who could take us through all these posts without inspection. At this time, the Hajj operators of Russia stopped accepting documents for the Hajj. What should we do? I started to ring everyone up. I found a man from Dagestan, who asked to wait until the evening if he was able to do something. He called me back that night and said he would make trip tickets for us. <...> For this, we needed to send our passports. But in Egypt there was a military rule, and friends had warned us: if we get caught for transferring a passport, we would be jailed for smuggling. If when checking they did not find our passports, we would be jailed for 15 years as spies. The next morning, the Dagestani man said, ''If you do not bring documents, they you will not have the time.'' I sent my companion, Marat, to the village via the desert so that the police could not find him accidentally. I took his passport, stashed safely so that one could not be found at the airport (because it could be taken as smuggling) and flew to Moscow.

In Moscow, I met a man from Dagestan, gave him the passports, paid in advance. At the beginning, before I arrived, it had been assumed (as agreed with the people) that we were to make the visa for free or at least inexpensively, we could pay in a week. We almost ran out of money after all expenses. But the man said, ''If you do not pay today or tomorrow before nine in the morning, I will not take your passports. And I don't know you.'' What is more, I had not slept for the fourth night after the deportation, because we could not enter the country because of the visa. I was sitting in a cafe ''24 hours'', I didn't know what to do. Who could I call at 1 a.m.? What is more, no one knew that I was in Moscow. I wrote to the Sheikh that I was in a bad situation. His answer surprised me, ''Do dhikr (remembrance of God — editor's note).'' I was up all night doing dhikr, not knowing what to do. The next morning I started calling these people with whom we agreed, no one was answering. Marat suggested that I ran into some scams. He began to call everyone, including friends in Dagestan. They started to check this man: for some reason he misspelled our names, gave false information. He did not answer the phone, answered only in WhatsApp, but he talked very rudely and in the end he said that he would not do visa for us.

I almost believed that I fell across scams, I thought that we wouldn't go for Hajj that year. Now I had to think how to rescue Marat from Egypt, I had his passport with me. If caught, 15 years in prison. Eventually I found a diaspora from Dagestan. A man I spoke to was a simple man, uneducated chattebox who didn't know how to communicate with customers. The elder from Dagestan reached him. He passed for their money our passports, he called me, apologized, made a good discount. I had the money for a ticket to Cairo. Then I rented a room in a Moscow hotel. I had not been sleeping for four nights. As entered the room, I immediately fell down and slept for 28 hours. I woke up, realized that everything was ok. Three days later we did the visa. After receiving it, I flew to Cairo.

Again we had problems in Jordan. We again were told to wait five minutes, they turned into two hours. We suffered a lot (I haven't told everything, just the most difficult) and didn't know what to do. We were ready to agree for everything: if does not work, then fly back. I just went to the head of customs, we sat down and drank tea. I told him about our trip. He began to persuade me, ''You're so young, we have only old people go to Hajj. When you accumulate sins — then go.'' I thoroughly explained him everything. He asked me to give him 15 minutes. Then he said, ''There are two ways. First: you will be unjustly deported. Second: I call a person, and he secretly will take ypu and leave at the border with Saudi Arabia.''

If you go with the help of some travel agency, which is responsible for your safety, they should be no problems at all. And we came individually. Perhaps, because of this

The driver was a bandit

Why did they want to deport you without reason?

We were said that if Russia bombed areas in Syria, there were Syrians or someone else who attacked the Russians. Probably, they were afraid of it. If you go with the help of some travel agency, which is responsible for your safety, there should be no problems at all. And we came individually. Perhaps, because of this.

He called some unknown person. We went out through the back door. There was a large jeep. We put all our stuff here. The man himself was quite weird: covered in scars, like a criminal (as it turned out later he was a bandit). We went. On the way we were making videos, sending to the group in WhatsApp. We reached the border, the driver for some reason registered his car on us, secretly, without consulting with us. By law we were to go with him to Mecca and Medina by this vehicle. But this man started to blackmail, ''Either you're coming with me or I take you to the port, and you will be deported.'' We had no choice. We only had ground-based visa, not air one, that is, we could fly anyway. We had to pay him more than $ 850. Only 15 km left to Medina, when our car and other cars were stopped, passports were taken away. We were told that the road for individual pilgrims since that time was closed. We were sitting for half an hour, we didn't know what to do. After so many obstacles we passed through, I would like to complete. The man said, ''Wait an hour. If nothing happens, then I take you to the port.'' It was very hard.

It started to downpour heavily. Out of despair I came out and gave hands to Him and prayed, ''O, Allah, I am a sinner. Wash away my sins with this rain and allow me to enter the sacred Mecca.'' I sat in the car, after a few seconds, a police officer came and gave us the passports, saying the driver ''sorry, I misread the information''. All the cars were allowed.

Arrived. Many people in Medina knew that we were coming. Three years ago I was there for Umrah — minor Hajj, and I had been already familiar with some of them. In addition, there lived the disciples of the Sheikh who was waiting for us. We arrived and rested. The last part out from Medina to Mecca left, which we were to overcome by bike. We could find a scooter for Marat, we had to leave his transport in Konya (a city in Turkey — editor's note) because transportation was expensive, it was cheaper to buy a new one. But in Medina, the scooter could neither rented nor bought because it was not popular. I sent my friend by bus, it wasn't easy. It was also impossible to move by bicycle without permission. Then we wrote a letter to the governor of Medina. In the evening, he invited me to the reception and the first thing he did with me was a selfie, they are all obsessed with social networks. Then he wrote an order to allow me to travel to Mecca and provided support and security.

Many people in Medina knew that we were coming. Three years ago I was there for Umrah — minor Hajj, and I had been already familiar with some of them. In addition, there lived the disciples of the Sheikh who was waiting for us. We arrived and rested. The last part out from Medina to Mecca left, which we were to overcome by bike

The last part was the most difficult one

Did you communicate with the Governor in English?

Yes. All their officials speak English well. Ordinary people know nothing but civil servants at any level are fluent in English.

Remarkably, in the course of the journey, I was never sick. Even when I was going though Turkey, where the height are 3 thousand meters above sea level, in summer the water freeze. When the night comes, you feel the cold wind. You just run out of energy, and you fall on the asphalt. At the last second you think: tomorrow I will not wake up, die of frostbite. Then you sleep for three hours, wake up, warm, full of energy, sit on the bike and continue your way. No disease happens, even cold. I'm still surprised that I was able to cycle it all, I am not an athlete. I travelled a thousand kilometres from Kazan, I was feeling good, or two thousand, ok. No fatigue at all. In the second week, I made my own record of 189 km per day. Allah gave me strength, I was surprised, I just wasn't tired.

But when I was to go to Mecca and dress in ihram (special clothes for Hajj — editor's note), my temperature rose to 38 degrees. Everyone rushed: at the destination people from the Ministry of Hajj were awaiting for me, the television. After midday prayer I left, all red I reached the miqat (the place where you wear the ihram before Hajj — editor's note). I travelled 60 km, all dry inside, nose sored, runny nose, light dry, it hurt to breathe. At night — 46 degrees on the street. I couldn't go. But I had to overcome more than 100 km a day in order to reach. I stopped, raised my hands and asked Allah to facilitate the way. You won't believe it, after 15 minutes, the temperature gone, no dryness, and on the street it was like 25 degrees. I even began to feel some cold. For three days I overcame more than 500 km. For a night I travelled 189 km — also a record. Mountains, hills — I just didn't feel them. I was just cycling. At the last 100 km there was not a single cafe, I drank 4 litres of Arabic coffee, and ate a kilo of figs that were given to me by accompanied police officers from Medina to Mecca, they were changing every 50 minutes not to fall asleep. Having watched on TV a report about my trip, I met a lot of people. Someone just wanted to say hi, someone was giving me food. It turned out that I was one day early (it was not Saturday, but Friday).

In the Hajj that year there were many of our friends. There's also Kamil Samigullin. I sent Marat to the valley of Mina (it's Sunnah), but I had to rest at least one day. The most important thing — Day of Arafah. I wanted to my people, Tatars. But I met the pupils of the Sheikh in the crowd, those were looking for me for four days. <…> There was a 67-year-old man who has performed Hajj for the 47th time. That is, since aged 20 every year he performs Hajj.

So was there a group of travellers to the Hajj from Turkey?

Yes, from Turkey. I did not feel the hot weather. All people heavily sweated, and I had a kind of block. Everything was unexpectedly easy for me.

I stopped, raised my hands and asked Allah to facilitate the way. You won't believe it, after 15 minutes, the temperature gone, no dryness, and on the street it was like 25 degrees

Earthly temptations

It is a very interesting history.

When we performed additional tawaf (Editor's Note: going around the Kaaba) after the Hajj, one Turk sat next to me and asked whether I was married. I said I was not but I was going to solve this question on arrival. The man took his phone, showed his daughter and said: ''Allah is the witness, I gave you my daughter in front of the Kaaba. When you come to Turkey, I will build you a house, give my flat in Istanbul, car if you study and serve Allah. I will maintain you both.'' I said: ''No, thanks.'' Next day I was in a café having a cup of coffee. One Arab sat next to me. He saw me in the group of Turks and said I did not look like a Turk. He was explained I was from Russia. We are exotic for Arabs: they still think we have communism, and only either Christians or atheists live there, though they got used to people from Dagestan and Chechnya. That Arab was very excited having heard what I said and wanted to call his secretary (he turned out to be a functionary from Riyadh, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). He said: ''I am buying you a ticket, you will go with me to Riyadh. I am giving you 100,000 rials (Editor's Note: 3,090 USD). I said I would accept them. But he did not calm down: ''Let me present you to sheikhs. You will become rich.'' I said I did not need it. Then he rushed to buy some presents. I stopped him and said I would not accept them. He took his ring off and said to take it as a memento.

Many people would not withstand such attention and accept the gifts, you know. Why did you refuse? There was nothing sinful there.

I knew that Most High Allah tested me somehow. I just remembered one story. Anu Hanifa walks in the street. A heavy rain starts. His pupils are standing under a tent, see it and invite the teacher. He looks at them, continues to walk and reaches his destination completely wet. His pupils approach him and ask why he did not shelter from the rain with them. He answers: ''There were many people in the street. But you invited me. And you did it because I am your teacher. I am not a person who use his position''. Every time I had such offers, I remembered Abu Hanifa.

So did not you accept the ring?

I did. The ring was simple, he presented it to me. He gave the ring as a memento ''at least you will perform dua''. Remembering Aby Hanifa, I refused. If I went there as a usual pilgrim, nobody would offer me anything. It is better to get an award from Allah than something earthly from somebody.

We started the trip on 8 June. We were back in October. It took about four months

''Oh, you are Tatar. Everything is clear here. Pass''

How did you return?

By plane, though it was necessary to obtain a special permission, which is very difficult: the documents must go through five authorities. We did it within a week. I visited Medina to deal with this issue.

I went to Turkey first to acclimatise, so that I would not face cold weather immediately. I had a rest there to not to be ill. I visited thermal wells. We went home in a week.

Tell us about your fellow Marat.

Marat Fayziev is my friend, he is 29. He is a businessman from Tatarstan, Kazan. I had a group in WhatsApp. We wanted to go to the Hajj officially on behalf of the republic two years ago. He was not in the group then. I informed all people all of a sudden: ''those who want to go with me let's go''. Fine, I am not married. Some people have a family, work, somebody is 60 and over. Nobody could just up and go. I was preparing when Marat came and said: ''I won't let you go alone, I will go with you.'' I had only one condition: ''If something happens to me, if I die on our way, you will bury me right near the road and finish this road on your own. If something happens to you, I will do the same.'' He stood still, thought for five minutes and agreed.

We started to prepare. We needed to buy many things and order from Europe within a month.

How much time did your trip take?

We started the trip on 8 June. We were back in October. It took about four months.

Except one bandit who drove us, we met only good people on our way. I just did not tie it with a rope. We left them near tents

Did anybody go to the Hajj by bicycle before you?

Some people in the world did it. A group from America and we were going to start a trip at the same time two years ago. We could not do it, neither did they because there was a conflict in Syria. There were people in history who went by bicycle. An old man from Dagestan went to the Hajj this way 8-10 years ago. The thing is that nobody from our region did it. I just had a desire: to repeat the path of our ancestors. There are books about pilgrimage to the Hajj, I read them.

Where did you leave your bicycle? Did not people try stealing it?

No, except one bandit who drove us, we met only good people on our way. I even did not tie it with a rope. We left them near our tents. If we stayed in hotels or somebody invited to stay overnight, I took it inside. Marat was always afraid they could be stolen, of course. Probably I am too trustful, and he is too wise.

Did you count the total distance of your trip?

I covered about 4,500 km by bicycle. The total distance, including by plane, is over 7,000 km in one direction. I did not count the return trip because I went by plane.

Did not you have to bribe customs workers or other people whom the fate of your trip depended on?

We had this kind of problems, of course. We did not need any state plate for a scooter in Russia. On arrival to Azerbaijan, they cavilled because Marat did not have any plate. He stood on the border during the night, they did not want to allow him to pass. He managed to find the head of the Customs. He read their law, compared it with ours, so he was allowed to pass. When we were leaving Azerbaijan, we were bluntly said: ''We won't let you pass''. They cavilled at the plate again. A customs worker directly said him to give money to be able to pass. Marat answered: ''No, I won't give you money. I am a Muslim Tatar.'' The man heard he was Tatar and said: ''Oh, you are Tatar. Everything is clear here. Pass.'' It happened only in Azerbaijan. The easiest process was in Georgia. We did not have problems in Turkey. Nobody stopped us in the country. So I think the trip was quite successful. The most important thing is that I went to the Hajj and went home.

By Timur Rakhmatullin. Photo: Bulat Nasybullin