MAKKAH (Agencies): On a sunny October day last year, Usman Arshad set out from his hometown in north-eastern Pakistan to do what he had wished for a long time, Anadolu Agency reports.
Over the next six months, undeterred by freezing winds and scorching heat, he walked some 5,400 kilometres (3,350 miles) across four countries to fulfil his dream of performing Hajj, the annual pilgrimage that is the fifth and final pillar of Islam.
“I am very happy. It was my dream to walk all the way to the Kaaba,” said Arshad, 26, referring to what Muslims consider the house of God built by the Prophet Ibrahim and his son, Ismail.
“I chose to walk because I believe this path brought me closer to God,” he told Anadolu in a phone call from Makkah, recalling the breathtaking natural beauty – from stunning mountains to rolling plains of sand – which he encountered on the way.
The university student documented his entire excursion on his social media accounts.
In his videos, he can be seen trudging along seemingly endless roads, an umbrella in one hand, and a large backpack slung over his shoulders with his clothes and other essentials like his tent, medicines, dry fruits, electronics and travel documents.
As Arshad left his home in Okara in Pakistan’s Punjab province on 1 October last year, friends, family members and well-wishers showered him with rose petals, while local news crews lined up for interviews.
His father was initially against the idea, pushing him to take the more convenient and safer option of air travel.
Arshad was adamant and eventually convinced his father, who also helped cover the costs of the journey, around 2 million Pakistani rupees (approximately $7,000).
This was not his first such trip, having walked from Okara to the border with China up in Pakistan’s north, the previous year.
That journey, which Arshad said was a walk for peace, saw him cover some 1,270 kilometres (780 miles) in 34 days.
“Since I had done that within Pakistan, I was sure I could walk all the way here for Hajj, too,” he said.
Arshad spent about 10 months planning his trip, researching routes and meeting government and embassy officials to discuss his plans.
Starting from Okara, he went through 15 cities in Pakistan to reach the Taftan border with Iran in the south-western Balochistan province.
He had initially thought about going from Iran to Iraq, Kuwait and then Saudi Arabia, but changed the route because of visa complications in Iraq and Kuwait, heading, instead, to the UAE from Iran.
The journey was not without its fair share of hardship, from the searing heat that made walking a challenge, to frigid winds that made it all but impossible.
“There was a place in Iran that was freezing. The wind was so chilly it drained the colour from my face,” Arshad recalled.
There were also stretches of hundreds of kilometres devoid of any humans.
“In Iran, there would be no one in sight for 200-250 kilometres (125-155 miles). It was a real problem finding food or a place to stay,” he said.
Over 45 days within Iran’s borders, Arshad travelled through eight cities, occasionally putting up in hotels to recharge his electronics, shower and wash his clothes.
In the more remote regions, though, his tent was all he had for the night.
From Iran, Arshad took a boat to Sharjah, a distance he does not include in his journey on foot.
With many friends and acquaintances in the UAE, he had several homes opened to him as he moved through Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
From Abu Dhabi to Saudi Arabia, Arshad covered a distance of 400 kilometres (250 miles) through vast stretches of desert, coming across several Pakistani truck drivers who gave him food and water as he struggled through the harsh terrain.
He entered Saudi Arabia on 13 March from the Batha border and crossed seven cities to finally reach Makkah.
Arshad plans to return home on 14 July and pick up his studies, stalled for the past nine months.
For his future, he sees himself as a travel vlogger, sharing his adventures with the world.
Recounting his journey, Arshad said he will always remember the kindness extended by strangers he met on the way.
In a cold and largely deserted area in Iran, he set up his tent and was just settling down for the night when a man came up and invited him to his home.
“He lit a fire for me and brought me food. He was so kind. I have many, many stories like these to share,” said Arshad.