Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Best health insurance plans for you

You would typically find sub-limits on very low ticket size policies, but it’s always advisable to go for a health insurance plan that does not have sub-limits



........ A health insurance policy packs in several features and caveats. To give you a ready comparison, we designed Mint Mediclaim Ratings (MMR), which was developed by SecureNow Insurance Broker Pvt. Ltd. The full ratings along with the methodology can be seen here: http://www.livemint.com/mintmediratings.
In the ratings, for family floater plans, we have considered two sum insured amounts (Rs.10 lakh and Rs.20 lakh) and three age categories in each—eldest insured member is 35, 45 or 65 years old. 

For individual plans, the age categories are the same but the sum assured is Rs.5 lakh. The newest edition of the ratings (July 2015) also includes individual plans of Rs.5 lakh, Rs.10 lakh and Rs.20 lakh for a person aged 70 years.
This week, we spotlight individual policies with sum assured Rs.5 lakh, where the person is 45 years old.
.....
Let’s look at sub-limit on room rent. This means that your insurer would have decided the amount that it would pay towards hospital room rent. While some may describe this cap as a percentage of the sum insured, others may describe it as the category of room you would be eligible for. You need to be VERY VERY careful when buying a health insurance plan with sub-limit on room rents because usually other medical expenses are associated to the type of room you take and so you could end up paying the difference for not only the room rent but all other medical costs should you opt for a higher room category than allowed. 

You would typically find sub-limits on very low ticket size policies, but it’s always advisable to go for a health insurance plan that does not have sub-limits. So, policies with no sub-limits get the highest score.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Short tour of Gadiara

15/07/2017

We went to Decathlon (near Uluberia) to buy some trekking materials  (www.decathlon.in). Decathlon  / Quechua sells world class product (French company) at a reasonable price. During my travel outside India, I have seen that every third traveller is probably using Quechua product. Those who know me, will understand that, it must be very special, otherwise I will not travel  1.5 hours to go to a shop. This is my second visit.

After we are done with Decathlon, we decided to go to Gadiara. It will take 1.5 to 2 hours to reach Gadiara from Decathlon. From Gadiara bus depot to Rupnarayan Tourist Lodge , WBTDC guest house (or other guests houses on river front) is 8-10 minutes walk (you can take auto/van).


We had our lunch near Uluberia, since it was getting late.



Get in

1. If your want to come by car, cross second Hooghly bridge, take Kona expressway and then turn  left (do not take the flyover) towards Bombay Road (  NH 16 ) and drive upto Uluberia. Then reach Gadiara via Shyampur . It is possible to go via Bagnan. Do not do that.

2. Regular buses marked "Gadiara" are available from  Esplanade  Bus depot in Kolkata. every 30 minutes from early morning. I am told in the morning it takes around 2.30 hours.

3. Local trains are available from Howrah for Bagnan. From there hire an auto - which will take you to Gadiara


Gadiara is a small town in Howrah District of West Bengal, India. In the 18th century, the British build a fort at this place to guard the entrance by the river against river pirates. However the fort is now in ruins. The river is extremely wide here and the surroundings have a typical village atmosphere.

It is possible to do River cruise in launch/country boats. You can take a ferry to go to Geonkhali or  Nurpur. People can also visit Raichak by ferry,which is available till 5-5.30 in the evening.

This place is the point of convergence of the Damodar, the Rupnarayan and the Hoogli rivers. You will like walking along the river side. You will find some tea stalls on the way. It is better to stay at Rupnarayan Tourist Lodge owned by WBTDC, Govt of WB. Highly recommendable. The added advantage is the rural setting / houses near the lodge.


WB Tourism Deptt lodge







Eat

Good Indian food at reasonable price is available at  the bus stand.

Foods in Rupnarayan Tourist Lodge (run by WBTDC, Govt. of WB) is also good and is open to general public also. 


Sleep

1. Rupnarayan Tourist Lodge, Gadiara, Phone :(03214)263125. AC and non AC rooms available.
Bookings can also be done from WB Govt Tourist Office, 3/2 BBD Bagh (East) Kolkata 700 001 Phone 033 22485917/5168/8271/8272.

NOW YOU CAN BOOK IT ONLINE. CLICK HERE FOR BOOKING


2. Hotel Purnima is also in a very good location, river facing like Rupnarayan Tourist Lodge (though not as grand).


3. New Chalantika Tourist Lodge, AC & Non-AC rooms Rs. 250-350-700,
Reservation from Kolkata Phone 09433585945.
Lodge direct phone: 03214-263108/127; Mob: 09732583213

Get out

Geonkhali, Nurpur, Raichak, Diamond Harbour by ferry.

We left around 5.60 pm by our car for Kolkata and reached home by 9.00 pm.


GOOD RESOURCE/ BLOG:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gadiara

https://www.tripoto.com/trip/top-5-travel-stories-274867

https://taniaroyitsnever2late.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/trip-to-gadiara/

http://mytripmap.blogspot.in/2011/10/gadiara.html


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Lawrence of Arabia !

Marauders in Morocco in 2017

Tour diary




2.4.17. Rome-Casablanca

3.4.17. Casablanca - Marrakech

4.4.17. Marrakech

5.4.17. Marrakech - Dades Valley 

6.4.17. Marzouga Desert

7.4.17. Marzouga Desert - Fez

7.4.17. Fez-Chefchouen-Fez

8.4.17. Fez-Meknes-Moulay Idriss-Volubilis -Fez

9.4.17. Fez-Casablanca

There is no consulate of Morocco in Kolkata. The address in Delhi is :

Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco,10/1, Sarvapriya Vihar, New Delhi-110016 , India,
Tel : (11) 4056 4257 / 52 /53/ 60 Working Days : Monday to Friday , Office Timings : 0900 to 1700 hrs ; Single Entry visa is approximately Rs 2200. You can email at : embassyofmorocco@rediffmail.com

Visa requirements:

The Applicant should have a passport valid for at least 6 months from the desired date of entry into Morocco.
3 visa forms (photocopy allowed). The first form should be completed in original.
3 passport-size colour photographs (3 cm x 4 cm) with white background. 
Photograph should be clicked with applicant wearing a tie.
You must provide travel itinerary for the entire duration of your stay in Morocco
Authority letter from the applicant authorizing the agent to submit and collect the passport on his behalf.
Confirmed onward/ return air tickets.
Onward country visa, if any (when you are going to Spain, say)
Bank statements of the last 3 months (Balance in personal bank statement should be more than Rs 100,000/-) per person
Confirmed hotel bookings with paid vouchers.
Medical insurance is not required. My agent tried to misguide me in this regard.
Processing time is minimum 4 to 5 working days.
Visa fee should be paid in the form of a bank draft favouring "Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco".

I have done it through the same Travel agent in Park street, from where I did  the Visa for Turkey. See Turkey section of my website for details.

1.4.2017

Our tour would not have been possible without the information given by our globetrotting friend from Singapore U May for a very cheap deal at 1/3 rd of the normal fare. We took Air India flight (6300/- to and fro) to reach Mumbai. From there we will take Etihad flight to reach Casblanca via Abu Dhabai via Rome (normal fare is around 50,000/-.). When we reached Mumbai it is 12.15 pm and our flight is at 9.35 pm. So we had some time to go to the "Town" and have lunch at Barre Mian and see the place around Gateway of India. From the Airport itself there is a bus or Auto service , which drops you to Andheri Train station. We had a very ordinary Sheekh Kebab and  awful Biryani over there.

Then we quickly went to see the Gateway of India ( This is my second visit and Mohua's first) and the neighbourhood. After having some famous sugar cane juice nearby, we left for Churchgate to catch a train to go to Mahalaxmi - the just beside Mahalaxmi is famous Dhobi Ghat - where I wanted to go for a very long time and which I missed last time. It is called the world's largest outdoor laundry. In 2013, World Records India and World Amazing Records honoured Dhobi Kalyan & Audhyogik Vikas Co – op. Society Ltd for that. When we wanted to see the place, one person asked me to pay Rs 500 to go inside without a receipt - which I obviously disagreed. So we took pictures from a distance.


Interestingly there is a metro stop (MRT) in Singapore called Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station, a major interchange station on Singapore's Mass Rapid Transit network. I used this interchange number of times in 2011.

Until the early 1900s, the dhobis used water from a clear stream that flowed into Sungai Bras Basah, now Stamford Canal. 

This stream now exists as a large drain beside Handy Road. The ghats, or steps leading down to the stream, were demolished when Sungai Bras Basah was canalised. 
The dhobis would then dry the laundry at Dhoby Green, the open park bounded by Stamford Road, Handy Road, Bras Basah Road and Prinsep Street.

Interestingly there exists a 113 year old Dhobi Ghat in Kolkata, right opposite Maddox Square.

So we came back to the Mahalaxmi station to go to Santa Cruz via Andheri  to catch the evening flight from T2 at 9.35 pm.  Our first destination is Abu Dhabi.


2.4.2017


We reached Abu Dhabi late at night. It is around 3 hours journey. From Abu Dhabi we took a flight to Rome. It is a 7 hour journey. We waited few hours in Rome, before we left for Casablanca by Alitalia.

When we reached Casablanca, it is 3.25 pm. It took some time to do the immigration. We missed the hourly airport express train (at 4 pm) to go to Casa Voyager. We took the 5 pm train (fare 40 Dirham. 1 Moroccan Dirham (MAD) = 6.5 INR  or 1 Dollar  = 10 MAD) to reach Casa Voyager in the Casablanca city. 


Understand Morocco

In one word Morocco is exotic - straight out of Arabian night, yet in many ways - the infrastructure , facilities are comparable to Europe, at Indian Price !

Moroccois a North African country that has a coastline on both the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It has borders with Western Sahara to the south, Algeria to the east and the Spanish North African territories of Ceuta and Melilla on the Mediterranean coast in the north. It is just across the Strait of Gibraltar from Gibraltar ( Gibraltar is a British overseas territory. The British Nationality Act 1981 granted Gibraltarians full British citizenship.They have their own currency ). Morocco has a population of over 33.8 million or 3.38 Crore and an area of 446,550 sq km, which is 5 times the size of West Bengal or 1/7th the size of India and 1/3 rd of population of West Bengal ! The per capita income of Morocco is $ 3000, which is 60% more than that of India at 1800 $.




Official Language: Arabic, Berber, Darija
Currency: Moroccan dirham (MAD)
Time zone: GMT + 1 . So it is 4.30 hours ahead of India.



Ethnically speaking, Morocco is composed mainly of Arabs and Berbers or a mixture of the two. Sizeable numbers of Berbers live mainly in the country’s mountainous regions.

Morocco's struggle for independence from France ended in 1956. Morocco annexed much of the Western Sahara, a former territory of Spain, in 1975. The King still possesses the actual political power. The press is mostly state controlled, even though there are free newspapers.

The foreign policy of independent Morocco has often differed from that of its Arab neighbours. Throughout the Cold War, Morocco generally sided with the Western European powers and the United States rather than with the Eastern bloc, whereas other Arab states usually chose neutral or pro-Soviet positions.

The major resources of the Moroccan economy are agriculture, phosphates, tourism and textiles.
The Phoenicians established trading colonies and settlements in Morocco as early as the 8th century BC. Phoenicia is situated in present day  Lebanon, Israel, Gaza, Syria. Mogador or Essouria (in Western Morocco) was a Phoenician colony as early as the early 6th century BC. They were expert in maritime trading. At the same time Romulus found Rome.

Morocco later became a realm of the North African civilisation of ancient Carthage(modern day Tunisia)  as part of its empire. By 400 BC Rome had trading post with Morocco. At the time of Constantinople (337AD) it became part of Roman empire. The Muslim conquest started in the middle of the 7th century. It brought both the Arabic language and Islam to the area.  The indigenous Berber tribes adopted Islam, but retained their customary laws. 

Since the foundation of the first Moroccan state by Idris I in 789, the country has been ruled by a series of independent dynasties, reaching its zenith under the Almoravid and Almohad dynasty. Idris ibn Abdallah (Idris I) had fled to Morocco after the Abbasids' massacre of his tribe in Iraq. He convinced the Awraba Berber tribes to break their allegiance to the distant Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad and he founded the Idrisid dynasty in 788. The Idrisids established Fes as their capital and Morocco became a centre of Muslim learning and a major regional power. 

Morocco remained the only North African country to avoid Ottoman occupation. The Alaouite dynasty, the current ruling dynasty, seized power in 1666. In 1912 Morocco was divided into French and Spanish protectorates, with an international zone in Tangier, and regained its independence in 1956. West Sahara (actually it is South of Morocco) is still a disputed area. Further South is Mauritiana, where Anindya Mukherjee from my city (who travelled around the same time) cycled from Rabat, Morocco to Senegal along the sea coast. He faced lot of racial discrimination in the hand of white moors in Mauritiana - where modern day slavery is still practised. There was even a case of stone pelting. Black moors (20% of population) are mostly enslaved and are very nice though. (source: http://www.thebetterindia.com)

https://www.youtube.com
http://himalaya-raja.blogspot.in

Moroccan culture is a blend of Arab, indigenous Berber, Sub-Saharan African, and European influences.


Understand Casablanca


Casablanca  is the largest city in Morocco, located in the central-western part of the country bordering the Atlantic Ocean. It is the largest city in the whole region, as well as one of the largest and most important cities in Africa, both economically and demographically.

Casablanca is Morocco's chief port and one of the largest financial centers on the continent. The  recent census recorded a population of about 4 million in the prefecture of Casablanca. Casablanca is considered the economic and business center of Morocco, although the national political capital is Rabat.


The original name of the city was Anfa, in Berber language, by at least the 7th century BC. After the Portuguese took control of Anfa in the 15th century AD, they rebuilt it, changing the name to Casa Branca. It derives from the Portuguese word  "White House" (branca "white", casa "house"). The present name, is the Spanish version . The city is nicknamed Casa by many locals and outsiders to the city. 


At the airport we met a Moroccan friend Raaja, who is also going to Casa Voyager. When we reached Casa Voyager, we have to wait to catch next train at 6.30 pm to Marrakech. In the meantime we went to her house for chatting. She offered us some wonderful Moroccan cookies and famous Mint Tea. It is a classy replacement of alcohol, mint tea is highly considered a symbol of Moroccan hospitality, culture, and tradition. Mint tea served here is also called as Moroccan or Berber Whiskey.


We were joined by her friend Nezha. While Raaja is from Tangier, Nezha is from Agadir. Raaja is a very modern lady and does not wear hijab. Both of them speak unusually good English. They work in Casablanca.They (5 of them) are staying in a guest house. 


After spending time with them, we left for the station which is 2 minutes walk from their house. In fact they offered us take us to famous Hassan II  Mosque. We said since there is only 1 hour time left, we will prefer talking to them. We will go there on our way back from Fez.
source: http://www.the-wanderlusters.com/africa/casablancas-gem-hassan-ii-mosque/


We took a local train to go to Marrakech. Our train fare costs 95 Dirham (1 Moroccan Dirham (MAD) = 6.5 INR ) for a 3.5 hour ride to Marrakech. The same ride in Italy would have been at least 3 times. We took second class train ticket (1st class was much more) - which is pretty good. The train was bit crowded initially , but we luckily we got a seat. In any case after 20 minutes, many people got down at Casa Oasis. We were informed before hand, that there is no need to book your train ticket. Only 1st class ticket can be reserved. When we reached Marrakech it was around 10.30 pm.


We took a Petit Taxi for 30 MAD (the  driver talked to our guest house) and dropped us at Jemaa el-Fnaa (Jema el Fanaa phonetically). On the way the taxi driver picked up another lady. Unlike the Taxis in India, they pick up passengers till it is full. When we reached Jemaa el-Fnaa , a very big and main square / open space, it was full of activity at a scale which I have not come across yet ! 

There is a pick up service by the Riad/house owner or one can walk for 10 minutes to reach the Riad. This is the old part of Marrakech and old town is called Medina. But we preferred to walk. On the way we had some orange juice at the Jemaa El Fnaa for only 4 MAD . One is almost enough for two of us! You CANNOT take a taxi straight to the 'place des épices'. The lanes are small, so you have to walk from Jemaa el-Fnaa. Our first land mark is a small square called "place des épices“ (or spices market) or in arabic "rahba kedima“. On the way to our Riad, we saw the sheer madness of Jemaa el-Fnaa. It is like Durga pujo in Deshapriya Park in Kolkata 365 days a year.

Picture credits : https://www.google.co.in/search


In day time


Our next stop is Derb LFerrane . One gentleman helped us to find our house. They have made a beautiful video to reach their home. 

https://www.youtube.com

We however took another  route to reach their house (not the one given in the youtube). It is a wonderful Riad. We met a couple from Austria at the terrace. They guided us to find a restaurant late at night ! The guy was in Kolkata and stayed near my house near Garcha ! He invited me to their place in Austria.

3.4.2017

Marrakech is the third largest city in Morocco, after Casablanca and Rabat, and lies near the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains. It is also few hours from the foot of the Sahara Desert. Its location and contrasting landscape has made it an enviable destination in Morocco.

The city is divided into 2 distinct parts: the Medina: the historical city and the new European modern district called Gueliz or Ville Nouvelle. 

The Medina is full of intertwining narrow passageways and local shops full of character. In contrast, Gueliz plays host to modern restaurants, fast food chains and big brand stores. We are staying at Medina.

We had our breakfast for 20 MAD each at our Riad. Today we started our day with Medersa Ben Youssef. It is walking distance from our Riad.  It is one of the largest Madrasas (which means theological college) in the North Africa found in 14th Century. Admission fee is MAD20. It is named after the Almoravid sultan Ali ibn Yusuf (reigned 1106–1142), who expanded the city and its influence considerably.  The architecture of the Madrasa is quite stunning and quite different from whatever I have seen till date. The courtyard is a mind-boggling profusion of Hispano-Moresque five-colour zellij walls, stucco archways, cedar windows, and a marble mihrab (indicating the direction of Mecca).





You will see donkey's plying in the alleys.


After visiting the Medersa I bought Djellaba for 100 MAD after lot of bargaining.


Our next destination is Koutoubia Mosque, which is right besides Djemaa El-Fna. It is said what is Eiffel Tower is to Paris , the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque is to Marrakech . The minaret is visible from Gueliz which is connected to the Medina by Avenue Mohammed V. At night, the mosque is beautifully lit. As with most mosques in Morocco, non-Muslims are not allowed inside. We sat for some time near the mosque. 



On the way, I booked tomorrow's tour to Marzouga tour from a travel agent. Since I was wearing Djellaba, they gave me a "good Muslim " price, which is almost 40 % cheaper than standard rate for 2 night 3 days Marzouga tour at 650 MAD per person. The same thing in the internet ranged from 1350 MAD to 2750 MAD !

We had some Thick Moroccan Harira Soup from a road side stall where locals where eating. Abundant with fresh vegetables, lentils and meat, a hot steaming bowl of Harira soup is the first choice of Moroccans to break the fast, during the holy month of Ramadan. It is really cheap - only 3 MAD. Then we had Some Alu Paratha type of thing with Harissa sauce. It is somewhat like our Ghugni.



Our next destination is Saadian tombs. It is within walking distance. Saadian Tombs were not discovered until the beginning of the 20th century. They have been preserved just like they were during the glory days of the Saadian rulers. Unlike the El Badi Palace, they were not destroyed. Inside you will find an overload of Zelij (Morrocan tiles) and some beautiful decoration. Unfortunately when we reached it is already 4 pm and it was closed. So we could not go inside. Entry fee is 10 MAD.


We were told that our next destination Palace de Bahia, is also closed. The palace is well worth a visit and gives a great impression of what it must have been like to be a 19th century nobleman in Morocco. There is a nice garden with banana flowers, tranquil courtyards, and other lovely plants.

So instead we decided to go for a horse ride (caleche) for 100 MAD for an hour. It is a quick and nice and romantic way to see the city. it also passes through European part of the city. The roads in Marrakech can match any European city.




After we are done with our ride we decided to go to Palace de Bahia. There is a synagogue nearby. We met a person who took us to a private synagogue. Since they asked for money we decided not to go inside. By that time it was already dark. We went to one of the numerous Souks/ Markets to buy some stuff. It reminded me of Grand Baazar of Morocco.


We had some Moroccan Cookies on the way. Mohua got an orange picked by a policeman for her from a tree. But it turned to be very sour. There is orange trees all around Morocco. They are really good. 

Then we went to Jemaa el-Fnaa. It is famous for its snake charmers, acrobats, monkey tamers, henna artists, musicians and story-tellers. At night the square transform itself into an electric atmosphere.


We decided to have food at one of the numerous food stalls at Jemaa el-Fnaa. We had Mixed Vegetable Tajine . Vegetable dishes in Morocco aren’t uncommon. The traditional meal served for the first course, a tajine, is usually vegetarian and contains almost always consists of bell peppers and tomatoes. I had sausage.


Mohua also bought some stuff at the numerous stalls at the square. We watched musical perofrmance, acrobatics in the square. It is almost impossible to take picture without paying them. I had to pay some MAD for taking pictures with some Gnawa musicians.






4.4.2017

Today the driver picked us from our Riad at 7 am. Then we converged to a Minivan (Tempo Traveller kind) waiting with other tourists. There are 6 Italians, Moroccan and Portuguese in our group.



Our first destination is Kasbah Ait Ben Hadou through Tizi N tichka pass, the high Atlas Mountains and past rural Berber villages. We got down at Tizi N tichka pass (2260 m) for a photoshoot , past rural Berber villages and finally at Ait Ben Haddou. It is quite cold there in Tizi N tichka pass.

Tizi N tichka pass



Ait Ben haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a spectacular fortified village (called Ksar). Haddou is a surname of a Berber tribe. It also served as a set for various Hollywood blockbusters like Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopetra, Galdiator,Game of Thorn.



We took a guide at Ait Ben Haddou for 20 MAD per person for our group. We were told only 10 families still live in Ait Ben Haddou. Initially 150 families used to live there.

We had our lunch just beside Ait Ben Haddou.



Then we left for Rose valley and spent some time there. They make perfume, cream from the Rose - which is for sale at the place, where we stopped. The view of Rose valley is very nice indeed.

On the way we saw we also saw Ouarzazate , nicknamed The door of the desert. It is a city and capital of Ouarzazate Province in Drâa-Tafilalet region of south-central Morocco. Ouarzazate is at an elevation of 1,160 metres in the middle of a bare plateau south of the High Atlas Mountains. To the south of the town is the desert.

The town is chiefly inhabited by Berber-speakers, who constructed many of the prominent kasbahs . Ouarzazate is a base for excursions across the Draa Valley and into the desert. The fortified village (ksar) of Ait Benhaddou is west of the city .

We got down at the place and listened to some Berber Music.

videos/





The Ouarzazate area is a noted film-making location, with Morocco's biggest studios inviting many international companies to work here. Films such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Hanna (2011), Game of Thrones.


Then we continued along the Dadès River , where the ruins of ancient kasbahs lie among the traditional Berber villages. Along the Dades, one can admire beautiful scenes of orchards, before reaching Tamlalt, about nine kilometres after Boulmane. Here we saw unusual rocky outcrops the “monkey fingers”. This geologic curiosity is particularly enchanting at sunset. We reached there around Sunset.




Finally in the evening we arrived at Boumalne du Dadès at around 7.30 pm (there is still day light at 7.30 pm) , where we spent our night.The location of the hotel is quite spectacular.


In the dinner we had Couscos. Also known as ‘Seksu’, couscous is a simple white pasta dish traditionally rolled by hand. In Berber tradition, couscous is served with a bowl of buttermilk.


5.4.2017


After breakfast at our hotel in Dades Valley, our journey started today with a drive to Tinghir ( or Tinerhir). We were joined by a nice guide who speaks many languages. We got down from our car and trekked for quite some time to go to a Berber house for live demonstration of Berber carpets including famous Picasso carpet.


On the way we saw poppy cultivation. The guide made some beautiful structures with palm leaves - which is akin to origami.





Again we started moving along the road of 1001 Kasbahs to the oasis of Tinghir ( or Tinerhir) and got down from the van for a photo op for a stunning view.



Then we left for Todra Gorge. Todra (or Todgha) Gorge This is the most beautiful gorges in Morocco. Being stuck between a rock and a hard place is a sublime experience in the Todra Gorge, where a 300 m-deep fault splits the orange limestone into a deep ravine





After spending some time there we left for our lunch at a wonderful location beside the river. As we started moving we felt the beginning of the Saharan oasis of Tafilalet, and we stopped at (Ksar) Touroug , after relaxing for few minutes there, for some tea we left for Merzouga. Gradually we saw how the terrain changed as reached Merzouga (a small village sitting on the borders of the Sahara Desert)

Upon arrival at the edge of Erg Chebbi dunes at 5 pm, we left our heavy luggage in the Minivan and met our camel caravan and rode our camels for almost 1 hour 30 minutes through the amazing color-changing sand dunes with the sunset in the horizon as a backdrop.





We reached our Sahara desert camp nestled in the middle of nowhere; just before darkness. After spending some time to admire the sand dunes and the surrounding landscapes, we got ready for a Moroccan dinner served in our tent next to the camp fire. We took water with us and some bare minimum things to spend the night in an camp (Nomad berber tents). Interestingly our group had tajine from a single big bowl, served for all of us. It was a new experience.

Late at night, local nomad hosts entertained us with their drums. After spending some time at the bonfire in front of our tent , we went to sleep on the bed of sand (of course a bed sheet was given to us) !

There is no toilet in the desert. So I had the opportunity of having my nature's call in the desert ! Early monring before sunrise we left for Merzouga .

Some good tour companies : 

1. https://www.viator.com/tours/Marrakech/3-Day-Desert-Tour-to-Merzouga-from-Marrakech-Including-Dades-Valley-and-Erg-Chebbi-Camel-Trek/d5408-7674MERZOUGA

2.     https://www.marrakech-desert-trips.com/tours/group-3-days-desert-tour-from-marrakech/


5.4.2017

We were told that a car will be provided to us along with other tourists (on payment basis) to go to Fez. Actually most of the tours come back to Marrakech from Merzouga. There is hardly any company which goes to Fez , instead they come back to Merzouga. We had our breakfast at Merzouga and then left for Rissani. There was however one Mini van which was going to Fez from Merzouga , at a much inflated price. So we decided to go to Rissani and catch  a bus. Our van dropped us at Rissani. But it was a mistake ! The holy town of Rissani is the birthplace of Morocco’s ruling royal family and the age-old capital of the Tafilalt region. Normally most people take a bus to go to Fez from Rissani. After waiting for an hour a bus came and we left for Fez at around 10.15 am. There we met a German couple, who were also going to Fez like us.

We went past Errachidia and Midelt and then suddenly the car broke down. We all got down and waited near a petrol pump. At the petrol pump finally with the help of people we called two cars (old Mercedes), after waiting for quite some time [with the hope that our bus might be fixed. But alas, that never happened]. We are a group of 8 foreigners (2 Polish, 2 Germans, 2 Chinese and 2 Indians) and paid 1400 MAD for 2 cars. The route from Rissani via Errachidia, Midelt,Azrou  and Ifran is absolutely picturesque and you will regret if you do not take this route. Gradually we saw from a desert like terrain to completely different terrain with lot of greenery. We saw numerous small towns. But all of them are picture perfect , not like what you will normally expect in Africa or India !

The two cars were following each other closely. When we reached Fez it is almost 9 pm. Our co-passengers already got down somewhere else. Our Riad is near Medina and very near to Quara-ouiyine  Mosque. The direction of our Riad did not mention this. So we had great difficulty in finding it. Our problem was compounded by the fact that our driver do not speak English. A local person helped us to reach the locality. He was saying "Mushkil" to the driver, number of times. We laughed at him and said we know the meaning of Mushkil (problem) - which is an Arabic word incorporated in our language. There Mohammad , caretaker cum Manager   came to pick us up from the Taxi stand (locally called Wad Zhoun), It is only 5 minutes walk from the stand. 

Understand Fez

Fez is the medieval capital of Morocco founded by Idris I in 789, founder of the Zaydi Shi'i Idrisid dynasty and a great city of high Islamic civilization. His son, Idris II (808),built a settlement on the other side of river bank. These settlements would soon develop into two walled and largely autonomous sites, often in conflict with one another : Madinat Fas and Al-'Aliya. Madinat Fas and Al-'Aliya were united in 1070 by the Almoravid dynasty.The capital was moved to Marrakesh . Like many Moroccan cities, Fez was greatly enlarged during the Almohad Caliphate.Under Almohad rule the city grew to become the largest in the world between 1170 and 1180.

In 1250 Fez regained its capital status under the Marinid dynasty.After the fall of the Marinids, the city remained the capital of Morocco under the Wattasids. However, in the 16th century, the Saadis, based in Marrakech, would attempt overthrew the Wattasids. In January 1549 the Saadi sultan Mohammed ash-Sheikh took Fez and ousted the last Wattasid sultan Ali Abu Hassun. 

The city became independent in 1790, under the leadership of Yazid (1790–1792) and later of Abu´r-Rabi Sulayman. In 1795 control of the city returned to Morocco. Fez was the capital of Morocco until 1925. Rabat then remained the capital even after Morocco achieved independence in 1956.

Arab emigration to Fez in 817–818 gave the city its Arabic character and  people converted to Islam. They came just after Hazrat Mohammad found Islam in Saudi Arabia.

Fez has the best-preserved old city in the Arab world. Fez is the second largest city of Morocco, with a population of 1.1 million or 11 lakh. Fez is now the capital of the Fès-Meknès administrative region. The city has two old medina quarters, the larger of which is Fes el Bali. It is listed as a World Heritage Site and is believed to be one of the world's largest urban pedestrian zones (car-free areas). Within the medina, transportation of goods is provided by donkeys, mules and handcarts. University of Al Quaraouiyine, founded in 859, is the oldest continuously functioning university in the world. The city has been called the "Mecca of the West"




Mohammad, our caretaker cum Manager helped me to find a restaurant late at night, to buy some food for dinner and bring it back to the Riad. We basically  had panini. We were told it is a 700 year old Riad. It is really an unique experience. 

We were told tomorrow some other guests are going to the bus station early in the morning at 6 am.

6.4.2017


Today we reached the bus station by a Taxi along with our people from our Riad and paid only 10 MAD for our 10 minutes Taxi ride for 2 of us .

Today our plan is to go to Chefchouen. We bought the ticket to Chefchouen. Thankfully I did not buy the ticket online. There is no need to buy CTM (the best bus company in Maroc or Morocco) bus ticket. It is the only ticket which you can buy online. Moreover it is quite far from my Riad. There are other bus companies which goes to Chefchouen. It takes around 4 hours to reach Chefchouen. We left at 7.10 and and reached there around 11.10 am. On reaching we got to know there is no bus to go back to Fez. I told Mohua , to enjoy the tour first. I will work out something or other. There is no point spoiling the tour now.

Understand Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen is situated in the Rif Mountains. The city was founded in 1471, as a small fortress which still exists to this day to fight the Portuguese invasions of northern Morocco.  In 1920, the Spanish seized Chefchaouen to form part of Spanish Morocco. Spain returned the city after the independence of Morocco in 1956.

Chefchaouen or Chaouen, as it is often called by Moroccans, is a popular tourist destination because of its proximity to Tangier and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. The beauty of Chefchaouen's mountainous surroundings are enhanced by the contrast of the brightly painted medina (old town). It's no wonder that tourists flock here — this humble town is the embodiment of almost every Moroccan cliché. The picturesque medina, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Rif Mountains, is filled with white-washed homes with distinctive, powder-blue accents.
Tourism in Chaouen is also driven by its reputation as centre of the marijuana plantations region in North Morocco. Drugs are widespread and somehow tolerated. Chefchouen is to the North of Morocco - which is basically the European part of Morocco. The Spanish enclave is still there in the North of Morocco - where you  need a Passport to  go. So the influence of European architecture is more visible.

From the bus station you have to catch a Taxi (10 MAD) to reach the medina . It is the focal point of interest for most visitors to Chefchaouen. Walking around the town with its whitewashed walls, originally decorated in this style by Jewish immigrants, can be a unique experience. Initially the Christians were barred entry to this city.

When I was planning to go to Morocco I had no idea of this place. When I saw this place I was waiting in excitement to come here. We started with going to a small museum at the main square of Medina. The view from the top of the museum is quite stunning. After spending some time there we saw one of the most colourful Octagonal mosque of Morocco. However you cannot go inside. Then we started walking along the different steps which are coming down from the main square. They are all white washed with powder blue accent.








 It is really stunning. After taking numerous pictures and taking random routes through the staircases , it is time to buy some souvenir. Then we left for the bus station by Taxi.

When we reached the bus station we found there is no seat left for buses going to Fez. The main reason being this is school holiday season. You were told that we can go to Tetouan   (1.5 hours) and then come back to Fez (5 hours). It is a  very bad option. Though Tetouan itself is an amazing place, worth going.

Then we met a local guy (Tax consultant) who suggested that we can hire a taxi and share the cost. Initially I was bit hesitant to follow him. But later I was convinced. I have already purchased the ticket to Tetouan @ 25 MAD each, lest that will also be occupied ! So 50 MAD went to drain ! We have to get down after 1 hour at Ouazzane (pronounced as Wazzan) . From there we have to change another Taxi (old Mercedes) to go to Fez. First we went to a local taxi stand with him for which he did not charge us anything. Then we took 2 different taxis - because there is not enough space to accommodate all three of us. We  were supposed to meet after getting down. But we never met. probably he got a taxi after getting down which is going to Fez. We had great difficulty in telling them, that we want to go to Fez in a shared Taxi. The reason being none of the Taxis want to go Fez with half filled up passengers. We have only 1 more passenger, who want will go to Fez - who does not speak English. They wanted us to hire the whole Taxi - which would have been quite expensive (and pay for rest 3 passengers). Luckily when we were losing hope, we found a group who are also going to Fez at around 6 pm. When we reached Fez it is around 8 pm. We covered a distance of 150 Km in 2 hours. Since Chefchouen is in RIF mountain area, the route is very picturesque.

We walked all the way to our Riad through this labyrinth of small alleys. We bought some Moroccan cookies. We walked almost 30 minutes to reach our Riad. On the way we took many pictures of the famous Medina of Fez - Fes-el Bali. We saw numerous mosques, Medersa on the way - all very colourful.








In the Riad while Mohua chatted with some Italian tourists (who are from Florence) , I left with Khaled for having dinner. We had Bissara (Soup) with Olive oil. Khaled also had it. I really liked it. Having Bissara at the backdrip of the mosque is a heavenly experience.


7.4.2017

Today we left for the bus station to go to Meknes, Moula Idriss and Volubilis. But the bus left late, after waiting for passengers for quite some time. We made a mistake. We should have taken a shared taxi- which is near the bus stand. It takes around 1.30 hours to reach Meknes.

Meknes is one of the 4 Imperial cities of Morocco, located in northern Morocco . Founded in the 11th century by the Almoravids as a military settlement, Meknes became a capital under the reign of Sultan Moulay Ismaïl (1672–1727), the founder of the Alaouite dynasty. Using European slave labour, Sultan Moulay Ismaïl turned it into an impressive city in Spanish-Moorish style, surrounded by high walls with great doors, where the harmonious blending of the Islamic and European styles of the 17th century Maghreb are still evident today.

After walking for some time we reached the main square of Medina - Place Hedim: this square is a poor cousin of Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech. We saw Ostrich, monkey, horse in that square. Then we went to see Dar Jamai. It is an old palace is located at the back of Place Hedim. It now houses the Museum of Moroccan Arts, which is currently exhibiting artifacts, jewels and old copies of the Qur'an. Dar Jamai is a gorgeous museum with exquisite gardens on the outside. Then we went to a nearby souk (market). From there we went to Bab Mansour. Bab Mansour is the largest and most striking of Meknes' many gates (27 gates). It's directly across from Place Hedimthe medina's main square. From there we hired a horse for an hour to see the city. The horse  starts with the call "Irr-zir " and when the horse needs to go fast the coachman say " Zigo".






We got down at Meknes Royal Golf Course. This place is absolutely marvellous. The gardens are beautifully kept and it is entirely surrounded by palace walls. They have opened it to the public , so now it's possible to slip in to have a peek.

There is Habs Qara opposite to the Golf Course. A huge underground prison where Moulay Ismail allegedly kept prisoners - which is probably not correct according to the sign Board.

After we are done with our tour of the charming city of Meknes, we hired a Taxi (Mercedes) for 200 MAD for 3.5 hours to go Moulay Idriss and Volubilis for want to time. We could have gone by a shared taxi or bus to Moulay Idriss. Moulay Idriss came as a pleasant surprise to me.

Moulay Idriss is spread over two hills at the base of Mount Zerhoun. The holy town of Moulay Idriss holds a special place in the hearts of the Moroccan people. It was here that Moulay Idriss I (He was the great-great-great grandson of the Prophet Mohammed) arrived in 789, bringing with him the religion of Islam, and starting a new dynasty. In addition to founding the town named after him, he also initiated construction of Fez, continued later by his son, Moulay Idriss II.

The town itself is compact, and its narrow streets will feel familiar to anyone who has spent time in the medinas of other Moroccan cities. Just like Chefchouen is a Blue town, this is a whitewashed green town. Just off the main square is the Mausoleum of Idriss I, a sacred destination that is open only to Muslims. It is said in Morocco that 6 pilgrimages to Moulay Idriss is equivalent to one Hajj to Mecca. Also of note is the round minaret at another mosque in town, the only one in Morocco.
From   a distance Moulay Idriss looks really pretty. It reminded me of Uchisar Castle of Turkey.
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Since I was very hungry I had some kefta/ kofta from the square and took one of the stairs to go up for the panoramic view point. Moulay Idriss is famous for kefta grilled over the hot coals. The city came as a real surprise to me. I did not know this amazing colour of the town.







Though we went to the top almost, we could not find the exact panoramic view point. For lack of time, we had to come back, to our Taxi stand and left for Volubilis. The ruins of the Phoenician and Roman city of Volubilis are located just 5 kilometers away. It is commonly considered as the ancient capital of the kingdom of Mauretania. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, It is almost similar to Izmir we have seen in Turkey. So we saw it from outside. Then we came back to Meknes.

We were lucky to get a share taxi to go back to Fez. At the Taxi stand, we had some refreshing orange juice. ornage juice is really cheap and very good in Morocco and it seen everywhere, apart from Olive tree.

After reaching Fez, we walked around the Medina (old town) and bought some souvenirs and things which we wanted to buy in Morocco. We went to a wonderful leather shop to buy some unique bags. I bought some amazing shoes at a price much cheaper than India, from another leather shop. The leather product of Morocco is very famous and world class.


We bought some other sourvenirs at Attarine souk. Later I understood that it is souk, where perfume or Attars are sold. Actually the word Attar is an Arabic word.  Today we splurged at a good restaurant (Dar Tagine) recommended by Mohammad - where there is a set meal. We went there since there is Pastilla. It is a delicacy in Morocco. They served Pigeon Pastilla along with a set meal. The food is really good.



There were only European customers there. Mohammad told me that they (restaurant owner)  will drop us our Riad, otherwise we will be lost in the Medina.

8.4.2017

Mohammad told us that there are plenty of trains to Casablanca. We took 7.40 am train to go to Casablanca. The train station is little far from our Riad. So we left by metred Taxi and paid 16 MAD to the station. We bought the ticket after reaching the station. 

Inside Casablanca station
The train took longer time than we thought and therefore we had to drop our idea to go to Hassan II mosque. In the meantime we got to know that Nezha is still in Agadir and Raaja is in Marrkech and will reach Casablanca little late. So we could not meet our friends, as we planned, nor could we go to Hassan II mosque. We hope to come to Morocco again and catch up with them. Inshallah ! Moreover we have not been able to places like Essouria, Rabat, Tangier, Ceuta, Tetouan.

Chronological order

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