The world’s second largest Muslim pilgrimage took place in Dhaka last weekend. A congregation of three million – including over ten thousand foreign devotees from 105 Muslim countries- showed up in the northern part of the city about five miles from where I live. They came by boat, rickshaw, train and bus but mostly by foot. I’m used to crowded cities but nothing prepared me for this. The mood was very social and most of the men welcomed me with “Asalam Walekum” translated as peace be on you. Besides everyone all coming together to pray, I had the distinct feeling that this was just as much a social gathering. Giant tents were set up to provide shelter for sleeping at night and protection from the sun during the day. Men stood around gigantic vats of food and bathroom facilities had to be in place. Some people were even camping out in empty concrete slabs of building still under construction.
On the final day of this weekend long gathering I went to shoot some video and fortunately brought two of my students along. The moment the prayer ended at 1:30 the floodgates opened and everyone made a beeline back to the center of town. It was a mad rush and luckily we were towards the front of the crowd. Try and imagine a sea of a three million people for miles on end. We hitched a ride in a police truck (sincere thanks!!!) that was accompanying some VIP’s. By foot it would have taken five or six hours to reach home. Several trains passed us with what looked like thousands of people piled on the roof. Later in the day over 200 men were injured on one of those trains when passengers saw sparks on the tracks and jumped off as it was moving. Most were taken to a nearby hospital.