Some descriptions of the Hajj CaravansA description of Ibn Batuta's Hajj Caravan:http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200004/the.longest.hajj.the.journeys.of.ibn.battuta.part.1-from.pilgrim.to.traveler.tangier.to.makkah.htm
Although the journey was arduous, there was little fear of getting lost: The way was visibly worn by the sandals of all the moveable world of that age: traders, pilgrims, servants, poets, camel-tenders, menders, soldiers, singers, ambassadors, clerks, physicians, coiners, architects, stable-sweepers, scullery boys, waiters, legalists, minstrels, jugglers, beekeepers, artisans, peddlers, shopkeepers, weavers, smiths, carters, hawkers, beggars, slaves and the occasional cutpurse and thief. Under way for six to seven weeks, the Hajj caravan was a small city on the hoof, with its own kind of cruise-ship economy, which always included several qadis for the resolution of disputes; imams to lead prayers; a muezzin to call people to prayer and a recorder of the property of pilgrims who died en route. That year, Ibn Battuta's caravan was protected from bandits by Syrian tribesmen, and he was befriended by a colleague, another Maliki qadi, in the genial and collegial fraternity of the road.
From: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2000/473/special.htmPROPHETIC RELICS AND PALANQUINS:
In Istanbul, Damascus and particularly in Cairo, the departure of the pilgrims constituted a momentous event and an occasion for extensive celebrations. The Ottoman traveller Evliya Celebi, who lived in Cairo for a decade in the 1670s, was closely acquainted with imperial ceremonial procedure. His important account of these festivities is related by Faroqhi. "The high point of the departure ceremony came when the caravan commander appeared on the square of Kara Maydan... He was accompanied by a numerous suite of soldiers and officers, while the band played, and Janissaries and other soldiers saluted their commander. The caravan commander then visited the governor of Egypt [the Pasha] in his tent, which must have been put up in this place for the occasion. Now artillery was brought to the square, presumably the cannons which the commander was to take along with him on his desert journey. The flag of the Prophet, a major relic, was paraded about the grounds along with the palanquin [Mahmal] symbolising the sultan's presence, which was to accompany the caravan to Mecca; the palanquin was carried by a camel. At the formal audience, with all the notables of Cairo present, the Pasha asked the caravan commander whether he had received the money he was going to need -- subsidies for the Bedouin sheikhs along the desert route and for the Sherif of Mecca, donations to the people living in the Holy Cities, and ready cash for all the other needs of the caravan. The caravan commander formally acknowledged that everything had been handed over 'down to the last grain and the last cloak', certain gifts taking the shape of clothing. The Pasha instructed a judge to record the matter in his register and then with a ritual invocation of God rose from his seat and walked up to the camel carrying the palanquin. After rubbing his face and hands against this symbol of the Sultan's presence, he once again invoked God and took the camel's silver chain to lead the animal around the Kara Maydan [thus proclaiming himself the Prophet's camel driver, i.e. his humble servant]. In the meantime the soldiers in a loud voice invoked the intercession of the Prophet. Then the Pasha turned to the caravan commander, affirming that the Ottoman Sultan controlled Mecca and Medina, acting as servitor of the two Holy Places. He, as the Pasha, was at once the Sultan's representative and the ruler's slave. Acting in his official capacity... the Pasha now handed over the palanquin to the caravan commander and commended the pilgrims to the protection of God, wishing them a victorious and safe return. The Pasha then returned to his seat in the tent and now it was the turn of the caravan commander to parade the palanquin. After that, the caravan set on its way."
The return of the caravan was celebrated with equal pomp: "When the caravan had reached Birkat Al-Hajj, the last stop before Cairo, the commander stayed in this locality overnight and gave a feast to the notables and officers of Cairo. The soldiers fired their muskets and cannons and at the end there were fireworks... The next morning's principal event was the ceremonial entry into the city. The notables of Cairo and the palanquin preceded the commander, who stopped at the tents of various officers to salute them. At the entrance of the city, by the gate of Bab Al-Nasr, the governor's soldiers awaited the returning pilgrims. Leaving his suite behind, the Pasha galloped ahead to meet the arriving palanquin. He then dismounted and for forty or fifty steps ran beside the camel carrying the symbol of the sultanic presence. Invoking the prayers of the Prophet, the governor kissed the palanquin's covering. The caravan commander now welcomed his illustrious visitor with military music and dismounted to rub his face against the foot of the Pasha, who thereupon honoured the new arrival with a gown of honour lined with sable. In response the caravan commander kissed the ground, then entered the city by the gate of Bab Al-Nasr." TRAVELLERS IN DANGER:
From the seventh century AD on, a multitude of pilgrims from very diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds began to flock to Mecca. By the 15th century, the pilgrims visiting the holy site would have included Arabs, Iranians, Turks, Tatars, Central Asians, Indians and Africans.
Suraiya Faroqhi, professor of Ottoman Studies at Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, has pored over travellers' accounts of the period pre-dating 1517 in order to reconstruct the history of the pilgrimage in mediaeval times. In Pilgrims and Sultans, The Hajj under the Ottomans (IB Tauris, 1994), she relates the stories of those who made the voyage then, and were wise enough to consign their impressions to their diaries.
The poet Nasir-i Khasrow is one of those who left a detailed account of his experience. Originally from Afghanistan, he moved to Egypt during the Fatimid era and embraced Shi'ism before undertaking his voyage to Mecca in the year 1047, a time of drought and famine that badly affected the Hijaz as well as other Muslim countries. For this reason, very few caravans ventured on the pilgrimage trail that year. "The Fatimid ruler dispatched an embassy, no more, to escort the covering of the Ka'ba, which even in this early period was sent every year from Cairo and Nasir-i Khasrow formed part of this embassy. After crossing the Red Sea, the travellers visited the Prophet's mosque in Medina, then followed the pilgrimage route through the desert. They found the Holy City all but abandoned, but as the time for the Hajj had just arrived, Nasir-i Khasrow was able to perform the rites of the pilgrimage," writes Faroqhi. Although he stayed a very short time -- two days in Medina and not much longer in Mecca -- he left a description of geographical locations, with details of the walls that close off the wadis leading to Mecca and other important sites surrounding the city. He also provided ample information on water supplies, possibly to help future pilgrims.Ibn Jubayr's experience was slightly different.
A courtier and secretary in the service of the governor of Granada and well-known for his literary talents, Ibn Jubayr travelled to Ceuta in Morocco where he embarked on a ship that took him to Alexandria in 1183. He then journeyed to the Upper Egyptian port of Aydhab. His negative impression was probably formed by the poor treatment meted out to pilgrims who embarked from this port: "The ships on which [they] were made to cross the Red Sea were always perilously overloaded, so that the passengers were squeezed together like chickens in a basket. In this fashion the owners of the boats attempted to maximise their earnings without any regard for the safety of the passengers: some even said... that the owner only provided the ship, the responsibility for safe arrival resting on the passengers alone," comments Faroqhi. Disheartened, Ibn Jubayr warned pilgrims to avoid this route at all cost and advised travellers coming from the western Mediterranean region to head toward Baghdad via Syria and continue their journey with the Baghdad caravan. He also offered an alternative, shorter route near the coast, leading from Egypt to the Sinai and the port of Aqaba and from there to Medina. This second path probably corresponded to the itinerary Egyptian pilgrims took in the 17th century. Ibn Jubayr himself returned by way of Baghdad, so ghastly had he found his experience at sea: "Shortly before landing in Jeddah, his ship was caught in a severe storm and swept off its course, so that eight days were needed to cover the short distance between Aydhab and Jeddah," recounts Faroqhi. Nor was his arrival in Mecca, which was at the time a modest settlement of houses built of reeds, a more propitious event. The inhabitants of Mecca, complained Ibn Jubayr, were mostly intent on exploiting the pilgrims ruthlessly, depriving them of their food and money. Worse was to come, however: "The amir [of Mecca]... viewed the pilgrims as no more than a source of revenue... and when Sultan Salaheddin's grant [a yearly donation of money and foodstuffs, forwarded by the rulers of Egypt to Mecca in order to provide for both the pilgrims and the inhabitants of the city during the pilgrimage season] was slow to arrive, the wealthy traveller from Andalusia seemed as good a substitute as any," wrote Faroqhi. "Ibn Jubayr was detained and he and his companions were made to serve as hostages to guarantee the continuing prestation of Egyptian wheat and money."
With the arrival of Salaheddin's gifts, Ibn Jubayr and his group were released and he left a much more positive account of the rest of his visit.THE CAIRO CARAVAN:
Abdel-Qader Al-Jazari was able to draw extensively on his personal experience as well as that of his family in compiling his mid-16th century account of the pilgrimage caravan, for he and his father were both involved in its administration as scribes to the caravan commander. Until 1407, there was no fixed order in the Cairo caravan, which resulted in much confusion when crossing the narrow desert passes. When the number of pilgrims increased, it became necessary to create an order of precedence in the procession; this, however, had the disadvantage of favouring the rich, who were able to secure faster mounts, wrote Al-Jazari. The caravan commander (Amir Al-Hajj), who usually joined the caravan in Ajroud, not far from Suez, was in charge of assigning the pilgrims their places. The caravan was then divided into subsections. At the very head travelled the guides -- usually Bedouins thoroughly familiar with the route -- followed by the water carriers and the notables. Next came the cash supplies, gifts and donations carried by the caravan to be distributed to the inhabitants of the holy cities, as well as subsidies to be paid to the Bedouins for various services rendered to the pilgrims. These contributions were provided for by public foundations established by the Mameluke sultans. The cash was guarded by troops of soldiers and the caravan's artillery. Next came another treasury, also provided by the Mameluke sultans and meant to cover the ordinary expenses of the caravan. Sharpshooters armed with bows and arrows and torchbearers were responsible for this section. Merchants carrying valuable goods travelled alongside the treasuries, while ordinary pilgrims made up the rear.
"Among the numerous officials accompanying the Cairo caravan," wrote Al-Jazari, "the commander's secretary occupied a key position. He had to be consulted whenever important decisions were taken and he was responsible for the payment of subsidies to the Bedouins who travelled with the caravan and thus insured its safety. A qadi settled disputes among the pilgrims...[he] was accompanied by a number of subordinates: pilgrims wishing to conclude contracts or make their wills needed men of irreproachable lifestyles to act as witnesses...Other officials were in charge of supervising the camels and horses as well as the official stores of food, fodder and water."
From http://www.salaam.co.uk/hajj/caravan.phpThe Damascus Caravan
An account 1741 is an excellent description of the dangers, the fervor, the organization, and the discomfort to be found on these vast caravans.
" In the month of Shawal the pilgrims assemble in the city of Damascus, and the Pasha of Damascus is always appointed by the edict of the Emperor of Turkey, Meer Haaj, or conductor of the caravan of Makkah. Without a considerable escort it would be impossible to pass the desert; and even when the caravan is strongly guarded and the pilgrims are very numerous, the wild Arabs hang in such a manner upon their march, that if any straggle from the caravan, they are sure to be plundered. Another advantage from the appointment of the Meer Haaj is that by obliging everyone to pay implicit obedience to the regulations for marching and halting, the confusion is prevented, which would otherwise be unavoidable amongst so large a body without a head. The following are some of the regulations for the caravan. Every one has his station assigned him in the line of march, which he must preserve during the whole journey. The people of Iran, and their camels, always form the rear. When the caravan the halts, a particular spot is assigned for every string of camels, and where the master of them is allowed to pitch his tent. No one is allowed to infringe any of these regulations. When the stages are very long the caravan travels day and night; stopping an hour at each of the times of prayer, when the camels are allowed to lie down with their burthens upon their backs; and at midnight they halt in like manner another hour. In order that those at the rear may know at night when the caravan is going to halt, the Meer Haaj lets off a rocket…. The troops of the Meer Haaj guard the caravan on all sides… When the caravan arrives at Musseeret, the third stage from Damascus, they purchase necessaries for passing the desert, which the wild Arabs bring to that place for sale: after having bought what they want, they pursue their match. The stage of this journey are longer than what are travelled in any other country, insomuch that the camels of Syria, which are larger and more powerful than those of any other place, are fatigued almost to death. At the same time, the zeal of the pilgrims who go all the way on foot, keeps up their spirits, and they perform the journey with surprising ease and alacrity.