Malcolm Billings of the BBC reprts for the “From Our Own Correspondent” on the Hejaz Railway.
The Hejaz Railway was built 100 years ago to carry pilgrims from Istanbul to Medina but was blown up by Lawrence of Arabia during World War I. Stretches of the line are still used today by passenger and goods trains with engines and carriages from another era.
The railway was also used to maintain Ottoman rule in more distant provinces
My first encounter with the Hejaz Railway was in clouds of steam along with a pungent smell of hot grease, at Kadem station in Damascus.
A veteran steam locomotive built in 1914 chuffed past, hauling a goods train towards the Jordan border.
From the driver’s cab, two soot streaked faces leaned out to see the iron road ahead.
It was like stepping back a century in railway history.
But I had to remind myself that this was not history, this was now!
Listen to the program (mp3).
The stoning ritual at Mina, outside Mecca, is one of the most dangerous aspects of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Thursday’s stampede, in which atleast 262 people died, happened on the entrance ramp to the Jamarat Bridge as pilgrims thronged to cast stones at three pillars representing the devil.
The two-tier bridge – which allows access to the pillars on both levels – has seen many lethal stampedes in recent years. After 251 people died in 2004, the one metre diameter cylindrical pillars were replaced by short walls.
This was to improve crowd flow and allow more people to stone the pillars at one time.
A five level version of the bridge is planned and work was due to begin at the end of the 2006 Hajj.
Mina is one of the key sites of the Hajj and pilgrims camp there for several nights, turning the area into a city of tents.
Saudi Stories: A series featuring remarkable interviews with people from the closed and often secretive society of Saudi Arabia.
Bill Law has made many trips to the kingdom, which is takingtentative steps towards greater openness. This time he succeeded ingaining access to reformers, officials and many of those people caughtup in the ongoing struggle between traditionalists and modernisers at acrucial time in the country’s history.