Aldagi - The Pilgrims' Road from Najaf to Karbala
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ელ.ფოსტის არასწორი ფორმატი
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Photo and text: Natela Grigalashvili

I first heard about the annual pilgrim march in the holy city of Karbala, Iraq, from my former student and friend, Jeikhun Narzalov. Jeikhun himself is a deep-rooted Muslim and took part in this process for the first time last year. When I heard the news of the pilgrim trip, I knew in my heart that I would definitely go to Iraq with the pilgrims.

During the following march I also joined the pilgrims. However, it was not so easy. But for the good will and help from Jeikhun and the leaders of the Imam Ali mosque in Marneuli, I would have certainly faced difficulties with the trip. We went from Marneuli to Iraq. I traveled with ethnic Azeris living in Georgia. All in all, about three hundred Azeris from Georgia participated in the process.

We traveled through Azerbaijan and Iran to Iraqi cities Najaf and Karbala, where the main Shiite shrines are. There are millions of pilgrims coming to these places every year, mostly from Iran.

From the town of Najaf, where the first Muslim imam and Hussein's father - Ali ibn Abu Talibia are buried, pilgrims walk the one-kilometer route to Karbala. The city of Karbala, where al-Hussein ibn Ali is buried, is one of the main Shiite shrines. Shiites consider Hussein a martyr and the third Imam. It is precisely because of his tragic death that the pilgrimage is made every year.

Azeri pilgrims from Georgia first joined the Iraqi Shiite Muslims who came from all over the world five years ago. There were people in our group who were going to the holy city for the fifth time already.

The road was long, but not tiring, and filled with lots of exciting impressions. I was the only Christian in the group, and during the whole way I felt that I was a welcome guest to my Muslim brothers and sisters - they looked after me and gave me attention. I went from town to town with them, listening to their prayers and visiting beautiful mosques.

We also joined pilgrims in their walk from Najaf to Karbala. The distance between these two cities located in the semi-desert area is 110 kilometers. It is said that 25 million pilgrims arrived in Karbala from around the world that year. People who were coming represented different races and ethnicities, as well as different cultures. Georgian Azeris were proudly carrying the Georgian flag. Because of this flag, we were often stopped and asked where we were from. My fellow travellers were pushing forward and saying, this is a Christian from Georgia, she joined us - she decided to walk this route with us.

The hot desert sun, wind and sand made it difficult to travel, but there were so many interesting things happening around me that I didn't feel tired. I used to go out and often try to find everything, separate from the group, and make it to the assembly at the end of the day. The flow of people on the road stopped neither day nor night. There were private houses of different sizes on both sides of the road. These houses are opened only once a year during the pilgrimages to allow pilgrims to rest or spend the night there.

There were people on both sides of the road preparing food for the participants, distributing water, coffee, and tea. There was also medical help. There were craftsmen who repaired damaged equipment or shoes, and everything was free. A little boy with a glass of water would come up to you and beg you to drink his water. They think it’s real grace they help pilgrims pass this route. We stayed with host families in different cities. They have a belief that pilgrimages are good for them.

We were travelling from Najaf to Karbala for three days. On the third day we came to Karbala after nightfall. We approached the mosques crowded with beautiful people. There was a lot to see around us - performances of various religious content, though it was almost impossible to move around due to the crowds, and it was difficult to see. The next day we had an opportunity to visit the mosques.

On my way back I thought that my first trip with the pilgrims was just about getting to know them, and I decided to go to Iraq once again to walk along familiar roads and learn some new and unknown routes.

I will definitely walk this route again.