If everything goes according to the Central government’s plan, you may be able to undertake the Haj pilgrimage via sea route from the next year.

To revive the sea route to the holy Muslim cities in Saudi Arabia, the Centre has floated tenders for a sea route from Mumbai to Jeddah, said minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Sunday, while flagging off the first batch of pilgrims from the city this year.

“The Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) has dedicated two ships for the Haj pilgrimage 2019. This would make the travel more economical,” he said.

Naqvi said India had earlier held talks with the Saudi government to revive the sea route and received a go-ahead. The sea journey to Jeddah, which was the main mode of travel for Haj, was discontinued in 1995 after the MV Akbari, the ship which was used on the route, was scrapped.

Earlier this year, the Centre ended the Haj subsidy, which caused an increase in travel costs, in line with a 2012 Supreme Court order. “Now, the aim is to reduce cost, which is why this alternative (sea route) has been thought of,” said Maqsood Khan, chief executive officer, Haj Committee of India (HCOI).

Khan said earlier it would take around seven to eight days to reach Jeddah from Mumbai by sea, but with modern technology, travel time could be cut down to three days. Around 5,000 pilgrims could travel in a cruise liner.

The cost of travel by ship wasn’t revealed.In an earlier interaction, Naqvi had informed that a pilgrim travelling by a flight from Mumbai pays between ₹2 lakh and ₹2.4 lakh, including the price of a return ticket at ₹58,000.Meanwhile, a return ticket for the ship will cost half the amount, said HCOI officials. This year around 1.75 lakh pilgrims will travel from India, of which 14,677 pilgrims are from Mumbai. The first flight which left on Sunday morning carried 160 Hajis from Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

Naqvi said 47% of the pilgrims were women. “1,308 Muslim women from India are going for Haj without ‘mehram’ (male companion),” Naqvi said.

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