Nearly two million pilgrims in white robes, symbolizing purity set off from the Muslim holy city of Mecca Monday for the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
By early evening, the pilgrims reached a tent city in the valley of Mina. They will spend the night there before traveling to Mount Arafat Tuesday. The official Saudi press agency, SPA says despite the large numbers of cars and pedestrians, the first day's passage was "smooth and safe."
A pilgrim from the western U.S. state of California, Hisham El-Khatib said it is amazing to see such a huge and diverse gathering of Muslims.
The grueling five-day ritual poses logistical and health challenges for Saudi authorities, who say they are taking precautions against bird flu. The deadly H5N1 strain of the virus recently killed birds on a farm in Al-Kharj 80 kilometers south of the capital, Riyadh.
According to SPA, the government ordered the culling of 13,500 ostriches in the area.