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KABUL: A pilgrim from southeast Afghanistan, who caused a stir on social media when he embarked on a cycling trip to Mecca last month, has reached Saudi Arabia, it was announced on Wednesday Afghan authorities, after his expedition took a series of unexpected turns, including a sponsored plane trip.

Noor Mohammad set out from his home in Layeq village, Qarabagh district of Ghazni province in early May, planning to travel more than 6,000 kilometers to reach the Islamic holy city by July and perform Hajj.

As he cycled through Afghanistan, a Taliban scholar offered to help him get a plane ticket, but the 48-year-old declined, wanting to go the extra mile to fulfill the sacred obligation .

Little did he know that help would soon be needed when after three weeks he found himself stranded in Iran, trying to obtain an Iraqi visa in the border town of Khorramshahr.

“My Afghan friends promised to get me the Iraqi visa there,” Mohammad told Arab News, describing his renewed attempts to get a Kuwaiti visa instead. Again, to no avail.

It was then that he decided to reach out to the scholar.

“I had no other way. I contacted Shaikh Hammasi via WhatsApp,” he said. “He introduced me to an Afghan businessman who helped me stay in Iran and return to Kabul.”

In Kabul, he was immediately accepted for a Hajj preparation course, where officials arranged for him to leave. His theft was reportedly covered up by acting interior minister Serajuddin Haqqani, a close associate of Anas Haqqani – the minister’s brother and senior Taliban figure – told Arab News.

“The Hajj Ministry processed my passport urgently,” Mohammad said, just days before leaving for Saudi Arabia.

He flew from Kabul on Tuesday, after all his travel documents had been processed.

“His name was put on the first flight after that,” said Mawlawi Israrulhaq, an official with the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs. “He traveled to Jeddah from where he will join other Afghan Hajjis in Makkah.”

Mohammad was preparing for his flight days after a deadly earthquake ripped through eastern Afghanistan, killing around 1,150 people last week.

He prayed for the victims and said he would remember them too when he reached Makkah.

“As soon as I arrive in Makkah, I will pray to Allah to make life easier for families who have lost loved ones and their homes,” he added. “I will ask him to solve all the problems of the Afghans.”