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But for hajj, which takes pilgrims across Mecca and Mina - two cities in western Saudi Arabia home to the holiest sites of Islam - the pods were also inspired by the rising popularity of car- and bike-sharing.

Hajj 2018: Religious significance and main rituals During the five days of Hajj, the devotees perform a series of rituals.

'It's the ultimate journey.

In this August 16, 2018, photo taken with a long exposure, Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba as they pray at the Grand Mosque, ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The government has also introduced apps for on-the-spot translation and emergency medical care.

Hajj season started on Sunday with the Day of Tarwiyah ritual with 1,966,461 pilgrims.

Some pilgrims carried bright umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun as temperatures rose above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) after an evening of thunderstorms and high winds.

Thousands of buses and vehicles carrying the pilgrims lined the eight kilometre road from Makkah to Mina. There are five pillars or duties of Islam and Hajj is one of them.

Muslims traditionally slaughter sheep for the three-day Eid al-Azha, a tribute to the prophet Ibraham's sacrifice of a lamb after God spared Hazrat Ismael, his son.

The S92 aircraft of the security aviation. — SG
The S92 aircraft of the security aviation. — SG

"This is the first time I see the Grand Mosque and the Kaaba".

"I came for umrah (minor pilgrimage) in 2007 and today after 10 years of registering and waiting, I am here", said Najwa, 59, from Tunisia.

The pilgrims undertake the short journey to Mount Arafat at the very dawn of the second day of Hajj.

Saudi authorities have said Qatari pilgrims were welcome at the hajj and last week denied it was blocking them from travelling to the kingdom's holy sites.

Around sunset, pilgrims will head to an area called Muzdalifa, which is 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) west of Arafat.

They gather pebbles to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil on the eve of the Eid al-Adha feast.

The oil-flush kingdom ended its ban on women driving in June and has boosted female employment in a male-dominated society.

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