The call of the desert | A road-trip through Morocco
After my first visit to the Thar desert [Rajasthan - India] in 2012, I knew I had to return somehow. Although I call myself a water baby [being a native of Goa] the desert somehow seemed more peaceful, than all the time I'd spent by the beaches across India.
Maybe it's because there's hardly a 'secluded' beach left anymore in India!
Some Indian tourists that throng Goa,
in their knickers, wearing 'weird' swimsuits, has somehow killed the 'Goan' charm for me! I still do visit, only to stay away from the maddening crowd.
Beaches are still dear to me - but maybe getting to a desert isn't easy and that's what makes it worthwhile. A few travelers, the ship of the desert, miles of sand - and pin-drop silence!
I did know before I left, that 'The Mummy' and the 'Gladiator' was filmed in several locations in Morocco, and I had intentions to visit them. However, after my visit to a Game of Thrones location, I didn't have high hopes, as I had realized how extensively CGI is used. Nevertheless, Ait Ben Haddou did seem factual, and I knew I had to pencil that it in my plans.
A visit to the Sahara - literally 'desert' in Arabic was turning into a road trip through Morocco and I couldn't have been more pleased.
As I've previously mentioned in one of my articles, because we haven't got a chance to renew our licences as yet, the road trip had to be one wherein we didn't do the driving ourselves - and that suited us!
Mubarak was to be our driver, and I was glad to have a local accompany us along the way. I was cheeky to blurt :" Mubarak - so does your family wish you - Eid Mubarak, Mubarak, when it's Eid? "Mubarak means Blessed, and a very common way to wish each other on the occasion of Eid is by saying 'Eid Mubarak'.Mubarak chortled and I instantly knew we couldn't have had anyone better accompanying us!
We set off early morning and started our drive though the Atlas mountains. Winter was late to arrive in Morocco last year and the peaks of the Atlas mountains had tiny specs of snow, insufficient for all the skiers that had skipped visiting that year.
The Atlas mountains engulfed us in every direction. We wound our way through snaking roads and dangerous turns. I did ensure to stop every so often to check the knick-knacks on offer by the road-side. Word of advice: If you did check out my article on haggling in the souks of Marrakech, ensure you haggle excellently if you wish to buy stuff from road-side vendors! The vendor asked for 200 MAD for a stone he claimed to be pure Amethyst.
It seemed fishy but I purchased the rock for 20 MAD!
My intuitions were right as Mubarak informed me later. They're white stones, painted from inside!
After a couple of hours on the road, I realized how heavily dependent the locals are on tourism. Another realization that dawned : People are hard-working with limited opportunities, due to which many youngsters are found to stand aimlessly by the road for hours - or in Mubarak's words - watch live television!
The rugged countryside in varied shades of brown spread infinitely in all directions. After a couple of hours, after we had passed Tizi Ntichka port, the highest point in the country, we stopped for some mint tea and to watch women engrossed in extracting Argan oil, at 1 of the many women co-operative societies. In a traditionally male-dominated society, this provides Berber women with equal opportunities and helps in reforestation initiatives. It is fascinating to note that Berber women tribes have exclusive rights to manufacture and sell Argan products, as it is part of their heritage.
It was a 5 hour journey to Ouarzazate, our first pit-stop. The whole experience was a unique one, but what had me excited was visiting Ait Ben Haddou. Ait means 'family' so we were in other words, visiting the family of Ben Haddou! Although the whole road was dotted with kasbah's and Berber villages, none were as massive as the kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou - A World Heritage site. There are no entrance fees, and we proceeded to take a leisurely walk through the narrow alleys.
The kasbah was almost in ruins and conservation projects were ongoing. Apparently, there are upcoming plans to convert the kasbah into a luxurious hotel, in turn saving the kasbah - and drawing hordes of tourists. So if you're planning to visit, now is a great time!
After spending a few hours, we were off to Ouarzazate to spend the night.
We continued our journey to the Sahara. The journey involved admiring the Atlas mountains yet again and noticing details that we could have missed if we were not accompanied by Mubarak.
Many years ago, locals who were not keen on building kasbahs, used caves and carved windows for ventilation. I would have disregarded the windows as holes in the mountainous terrain, but I couldn't have been more wrong!
As we finally reached the outskirts of the Sahara, Mubarak pointed out the region was stacked with fossils. A few minutes were spent collecting some and then the highlight of the journey awaited us - a night in the Sahara!
After dropping our belongings at the hotel and collecting only essentials, we headed off to experience 1 of my most memorable adventure's ever!
The tent was comfortable but the excitement to awaken the next morning, the cold and my fear of scorpions, kept me awake. The night was full of stars and the sunrise was breath-taking, the next day. It sometimes does pay off to awaken early morning!
A hearty breakfast later, it was time to bid adieu to the desert and take a detour to return to Marrakech. We proceeded via the magnificent Todra Gorge towards Dades valley.
It was a long road and Mubarak politely answered all the questions I had about Moroccan food, customs and traditions.
It's amusing to notice many road hazards exist in Morocco, beyond donkeys laden with mint.These include camels, and Berber taxi's that transport humans and animals alike. The animals get the privilege of traversing on the upper deck!
At Erfoud, we stopped at a fossilized marble furniture store. Villagers ensure locally available commodities are put to their maximum use, thus ensuring occupation for them. It was interesting to note: tables, chairs and any furniture that could be made of marble was being exported from the store!
We reached 'Monkey's legs' by evening. Thinking about movements that happened in the Earth's terrain, years ago, that caused such marvelous and enthralling natural wonders to appear, is intriguing!
Berber's are fond of music and that night at the Babylon Dades, the staff at the hotel put up a wonderful performance, as they sang Berber tunes accompanied with percussion instruments.
The road trip through Morocco was finally nearing it's end. It was time to explore Marrakech next!
As we were driving along the 'One thousand kasbah road', I realized the people in the villages were disconnected from the world and were content. A lot of them did not own a cellphone and were happy about it. Women spent their spare time in the evenings, catching up with their friends and neighbors, after chores were complete.
1 school was being shared between villages in most cases and the lengths that children went to, to get an education was very touching.
As we were finally nearing Marrakech, I finally realized the night in the Sahara was not the only pinnacle of my trip, the whole journey was!
PIN FOR LATER!
A Road-trip through Morocco
- You could drive by yourself in Morocco, however do keep in mind hardly any rules and regulations are applicable! Hence, be careful!
- We opted for Sahara 4x4 for our trip, and started off from Marrakech. The staff is very reliable, friendly and pleasant.
- There is no entry fee at Aït Benhaddou
- You could opt to stay at Riad Bouchedor if you stop in Ouarzazate for the night
- It is necessary to book camel rides to get to the desert and back, and for a stay in the desert, in advance.This can be done by getting in touch with any hotel in Merzouga.Kasbah Mohayut is a great option. You can opt to drop your luggage at the hotel and proceed to the desert or atay an extra night at the hotel.
- Ensure you have a rucksack if you plan to stay in the desert to carry essentials for the night. Luggage is to be left at the hotel
- No entry fee applicable at the Gorges du Todgha or at the Dadès Valley
- Babylon Dades is an amazing hotel to stay in the Dades Valley!
If you're looking to head on a road-trip in a different part of the world yet get the same experience, why not visit Nepal? Here's a list of the best treks!
Which has been your favorite road-trip till date? :)
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