In the 2-3 days leading to the commencement of hajj, all the pilgrims will have gathered in Mecca. Be prepared for a crowd of massive proportion. It will be nearly impossible to go inside the Kaaba, or to get food, but you will want to do both at some point. Here are a few pointers for dealing with the crowd:
If you’re in a hotel, don’t go out there unless you have to! Because of the mere number of pilgrims, a large perimeter outside the Kaaba falls into the jamaat (praying in congregation) area. Some of the hotels closest to the mosque also come within this boundary, as the rows of pilgrims extend to beyond the hotel buildings. That means even if you are inside your hotel room, you are a part of the jama. Feel free to pray in your room. For your convenience, there are prayer rooms in the hotels too.
If you do decide to venture outside, give yourself time. Don’t wait until the last second to go out for a bite or down for prayer. You will not be able to get an elevator. The mad rush to get down on time brings out the worst in people. I have seen people close doors on others when there was still room, not to mention all the pushing and shoving.
If you are camping outside, make camp in the alleys between the hotels. It will allow for some shade, you will be close to food and drink and you will be within the jamat boundary.
If you (women) have to go through the crowd, remember that it will mean brushing past at least 10,000 men to get from point A to point B. I had my husband walk behind me with his arms around me. That way, I didn’t touch the men, and if we had to get past women, I would move ahead. This is a highly recommended strategy.
Granted there is a lot of pushing and shoving, there is no concept of lines, no one holds the door (or elevator) for anyone or steps aside for someone to pass. Everyone is just trying to get ahead of everyone else. But for all this pandemonium, you will be surprised to know that if you politely (but firmly) ask someone not to do any of the things mentioned above, they won’t. I experienced this countless times. Waiting in line to get food, I have asked big, burly men who spoke languages I had never even heard of, to step aside and get into line, or to stop cutting ahead, or to step away from the women’s line. And believe it or not, they always sheepishly obliged. (“Excuse me, line!” while pointing emphatically.) I even had people squeeze in together to make room for others in elevators when people preferred to ‘leave the rest behind’ and not let the elevator stop on its way down. (“Move back, move back, make room, come in, come in, move back!”) Hardly any of the people spoke English. It didn’t matter. They got it. Have faith in people, they will surprise you.