Despite paying all expenses, more than 500 Kashmiris cannot perform the Haj pilgrimage this year thanks to a local travel agency that backed out at the last moment, the victims say.
Dozens of locals who had paid all expenses to a local travel agency one year earlier for undertaking the holiest Muslim journey to Saudi Arabia gathered at the Press Enclave on Residency Road in summer capital Srinagar Monday to protest against such agents.
"Just when the Haj is less than 10 days away, we are told that our travel documents could not be cleared in time," said Ishtiyaz Ahmad, 44.
"I have paid full expenses for myself and my wife to the travel agents last year for this year's Hajj. It is a tragedy that someone should cheat people in this manner," he added.
It is for the first time since private travel operators started organising Haj packages that such an incident has happened.
The incident has shocked many Kashmiris.
Ironically, most of the denied pilgrims have already held social functions, visited relatives and joined farewell feasts which normally precede the journey.
"This has made a joke of us," said another angry resident.
Meanwhile, the travel agents Monday came out with full page advertisements in some local newspapers expressing "deep regret" at their failure to obtain visas from the Saudi Arabian embassy.
Ironically, the travel agents have said in the same advertisement that they would now arrange for 'Umrah' (pilgrimage to Mecca at any time of the year) instead of Haj.
"How can anyone have the cheek to tell an intending Haji that he would be accommodated for the Umrah instead of the Haj? This is too much," said Shamim Meraj, a local newspaper editor.