Near a pavement at Lodhi Road off the Nizamuddin Dargah in southeast Delhi, 30 buses are parked in a long line while its occupants get down to explore the city. Scores of men, women and children amble across the busy road. Some stop to buy shawls and socks from vendors who mill around them while others can be seen sitting down on mats spread on either side of the pavement and eating.
Saimun Khatun, a Madhesi Muslim from Nepal’s Dhanusa district, said she paid Rs 7,000 for a seat on a bus to make the annual journey to Ajmer-e-Sharif to commemorate Sufi saint Fariduddin Masud Ganjshakar’s death anniversary. A Kabaria from the community of fruit and vegetable sellers, Saimun has been making the pilgrimage to India for the past four years. “I saved through the year for the 12-day Urs festival from the money my husband and I make from our crop,” she says, stirring the pot of rice she and her daughter are cooking on a pavement.
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Buses filled with hundreds of men, women and children — from across the sub-continent and states such as Bihar and Jharkhand — have been travelling to Ajmer through the capital this month for the festival. Many of them make the stretch under the Lodhi Road flyover their home for a day.
Arif Khan (50), a farmer from Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, says, “The Urs pilgrimage is our way of saying thank you to our Baba for all the blessings and prosperity he has bestowed upon us. We also ask for our muraad (wishes) to be fulfilled.” He adds that the bus has been his mobile home for the last one week.
Unlike Saimun, who can afford only one trip a year, Arif and those from the country’s northern belt make two trips — the first to commemorate saint Fariduddin’s death anniversary and the second to commemorate sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti’s death anniversary. As saint Fariduddin’s mausoleum is in Pakistan, pilgrims visit Moinuddin Chishti’s tomb in Ajmer during both pilgrimages.
The pilgrims’ progress across the northern belt includes stops at dargahs in Lucknow, Bareilly, Devasharif, Behrai, Panipat and Delhi, before they reach Ajmer.
Clothes, gas cylinders, stoves and bags full of rice and vegetables make up each man’s luggage on this trip. But most have to find a way to use their mobile phones judiciously during their long road trip. “I switch on my phone only to make a call home and then I switch it off. I save enough power till I reach a city where I pay Rs 10 for an hour to charge my phone,” says Ishaq Khan, from Jharkhand’s Lohardaga. Mohammad Aftab, from Bihar’s Motihari, interjects saying he carries a power bank. While the faithful take a break from their long journey in Delhi, many of them complain about the lack of toilet facilities and food.
“There are only four toilets in the Sulabh complex nearby and there are hundreds of men and women,” says Amina Khatoon (40) even as the stench of urine and rotting food hangs heavy in the air.
“The authorities have not been cleaning the pavement for days, forcing us to sleep and eat in the dirt. The government never sets up transit camps to accommodate us. If we refuse to drive away quickly, police deflate tyres of our bus,” says Doma Kabari, who works as a contractor.
Special Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Sandeep Goel said a few additional personnel have been pressed into duty to manage traffic in parts of the city where Urs pilgrims have been camping. However, he said no traffic diversions have been made.
Salmi Nizami, who says he is a descendant of Nizamuddin Auliya and a member of the Office, Dargah Sharif, Nizamuddin, says the scores of buses parked carelessly throws traffic out of gear for days during the Urs. He added that sometimes, the crowd too is difficult to control.
“Police cooperate with the faithful. But when things get out of hand, they have to take strict measures,” says Nizami.