The Independent: Travelling to Mecca as a child, I would shut my eyes as we would approach the boundaries of Masjid al Haram just so I may be able to capture the sense of awe upon arrival. Perhaps it was my heart singing with anticipation, but I always felt something distinct about the air, too, as if infused all of sudden with a kind of sanctity. And then came the first glance of the marbled minarets, and the Grand Mosque, lit up in all its glory, lay before our eyes.
During the last few trips for Umrah (minor pilgrimage), the journey to Mecca has been poignant for all its spiritual significance — the only aberration in sight is now posed by the glittering Abraj al Bait (Royal Hotel Clock Tower), visible to the eye from a distance of a good 30 kilometers. Looming above what was once a desert landscape now transformed into matrix of hotels and plazas for pilgrims, the Mecca Clock Tower is the second tallest building in the world, modeled on Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and London’s Big Ben, and hosting an array of luxury apartments and outlets. For some it has been a sign of modernization; for others a source for great distaste.