Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Lawrence of Arabia in Morocco !

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. Merzouga Desert

7.4.17. Merzouga Desert > Fez

7.4.17. Fez>Chefchouen>Fez

8.4.17. Fez>Meknes>Moulay Idriss>Volubilis>Fez

9.4.17. Fez>Casablanca

Source: saltinourhair.com

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.


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 Rs 18,000. We took Air India flight (6300/- return fare) to reach Mumbai. From there we were to take Etihad flight to reach Casablanca via Abu Dhabai via Rome (normal fare is around 55,000/-.). When we reached Mumbai it was 12.15 pm and our flight was 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 the 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 was 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. Just beside Mahalaxmi there was the famous Dhobi Ghat - where I had 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 without a receipt for going inside - which was obviously declined. 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 a 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 was Abu Dhabi.


We reached Abu Dhabi late at night. It was an 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 was 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 Moroccan Dirham or MAD) to reach Casa Voyager in the Casablanca city. 

1 MAD = 6.5 INR  or 1 Dollar  = 10 MAD

Understand Morocco

In one word Morocco is exotic - straight out of Arabian Nights, yet in many ways - the infrastructure and facilities are comparable with what one may find in Europe and that,too, at an Indian Price !

Morocco is 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 $ 3,000, which is 60% more than that of India ($ 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, now a Sovereign country. The "playboy" (as per New York Times) King, Mohammed VI (from Alaouite dynasty),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.(Interestingly this is almost similar to Jordan, with similar kind of terrain).The Phoenicians established trading colonies and settlements in Morocco as early as the 8th century BC. Phoenicia is situated in the present day  Lebanon, Israel, Gaza, Syria. Mogador or Essouria (in Western Morocco) was a Phoenician colony in as early as the early 6th century BC. They were expert in maritime trading. It was at the same time that Romulus had founded Rome.

Morocco later became a kingdom of the North African civilization 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 (337 AD) it became part of the 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 ibn Abdallah (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 I had fled to Morocco after the famous Abbasids' massacre of his tribe in Iraq (Umayyads were overthrown by the Abbasid family, claimed to have descended from al-Abbas, an uncle of the Prophet). 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 Mauritania, where Anindya Mukherjee from my city (who travelled around the same time) cycled from Rabat, Morocco to Senegal along the sea coast. He faced a lot of racial discrimination in the hands of white moors in Mauritania - where 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)


Moroccan culture is a blend of Arab, indigenous Berber, Sub-Saharan African, and European influences. We must not forget the name of Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1368 ) from Tangier in Morocco. He was a Berber Muslim Moroccan scholar and one of the greatest ever writers and explorers who widely travelled the medieval world. Over a period of 30 years, Ibn Battuta visited most of the Islamic world and many non-Muslim lands, including North Africa, the Horn of Africa, West Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, India and finally to China. Near the end of his life, he dictated an account of his journeys, titled A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling. After his third pilgrimage to Mecca, Ibn Battuta decided to seek employment with the Turkish-Muslim Sultan of Delhi, Muhammad bin Tughluq in early 1300. At that time Tughlaq (back from Daulatabad lock stock and barrel), wanted to build up the prestige of his Court by bringing in learned Muslim. So Battuta became part of the Court. Most of his nobility and senior officials were foreigners - Turks apart from Egyptians and Syrians etc. A good amount of information of those periods was known from his account. Ibn Battuta became afraid of Sultan and fled to China after many adventures. He was almost killed on the way.

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 centres 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 was also going to Casa Voyager. When we reached Casa Voyager, we had to wait to catch the next train of 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 was from Tangier (land of Ibn Battuta) in the North, Nezha was from Agadir, in the South. Raaja is a very modern lady and did not wear hijab. Both of them spoke unusually good English. They work in Casablanca. They (5 of them) were staying in a guest house. 

After spending time with them, we left for the station which was 2 minutes walk from their house. In fact they offered to take us to the famous Hassan II  Mosque. We said since there was only 1 hour time left, we would prefer talking to them. We would 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/MAD (1 MAD = 6.5 INR ) for a 3.5 hour ride to Marrakech. The same ride in Italy would have been priced at least 3 times more. We took second class train - which was pretty good. The train was bit crowded initially , but luckily we got seats. In any case after 20 minutes, many people got down at Casa Oasis. We had been informed before hand, that there was no need to book train tickets. Only 1st class tickets could be reserved. When we reached Marrakech it was around 10.30 pm.

We took a Petit (in French it means small) 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 had not come across yet ! 

There was a pick up service by the Riad/house owner (700 years old) or one could walk for 10 minutes to reach the Riad. This was the old part of Marrakech and the old town is called Medina. We preferred to walk. On our way we had some orange juice at the Jemaa El Fnaa for only 4 MAD . One was almost enough for two of us! I had one of the best orange juices of my life in Morocco. The lanes were small, so you have to walk from Jemaa el-Fnaa. You Could NOT take a taxi straight to the 'place des épices' (or spices market) or in Arabic "rahba kedima" .  It is a small square called "place des épices" . On the way to our Riad, we saw the sheer madness of the gathering at Jemaa el-Fnaa. It was like Durga pujo in Deshapriya Park in Kolkata, but here it could be seen all the 365 days of a year. This madness can be seen in the super hit, wonderful, hindi movie made by Anurag Basu - Jagga Jasoos, based on Purulia arms drop case !

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

In day time

Our next landmark was Derb LFerrane . One gentleman helped us to find our house. They had a beautiful video with street directions to reach their home. 


We however took another  route to reach the house (not the one given in the youtube). It was a wonderful Riad. We met a couple from Austria on 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. The lanes reminded me of lanes in North Kolkata.


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 a 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 were staying at Medina.

We had our breakfast for 20 MAD each at our Riad. We then started our day with Medersa Ben Youssef. It was walking distance from our Riad.  It was one of the largest Madrasas (which means theological college) in the North Africa, founded in 14th Century. Admission fee is MAD 20. 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 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 a lot of bargaining.

Our next destination is Koutoubia Mosque, which is right beside Djemaa El-Fna. It is said what is Eiffel Tower to Paris , the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque is to Marrakech . The minaret is visible from Gueliz which is connected to 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 next day's tour to Marzouga from a travel agent. Since I was wearing Djellaba, they gave me a "good Muslim " price, which was almost 40 % cheaper than the standard rate for a 2 nights 3 days Marzouga tour ( 650 MAD per person). The same thing on the internet ranged from 1350 MAD to 2750 MAD !

We had some thick Moroccan - Harira Soup from a road side stall where locals were 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 was really cheap - only 3 MAD. Then we had Some Alu Paratha type of thing with Harissa sauce. It was somewhat like our Ghugni.

Our next destination was Saadian tombs. It was within walking distance. Saadian Tombs were not discovered till 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 could find an overload of Zelij (Moroccan tiles) and some beautiful decoration. Unfortunately when we reached it was already 4 pm and was closed. So we could not go inside (Entry fee was 10 MAD).

We were told that , our next destination Palace de Bahia, was 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 (lasts 1 hour). It was a quick nice and romantic way to see the city. It also passed through the European part of the city. The roads in Marrakech can match any European city.

After we were done with our ride, we decided to go to Palace de Bahia. There was 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 Bazaar of Turkey.

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 transforms 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 bell peppers and tomatoes. I had sausage.

Mohua also bought some stuff at the numerous stalls at the square. We watched musical performance, 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 traditional Gnawa musicians (which is a very popular here).
My good friend Isabella from Italy used to run a guesthouse in Marrakech. They have finally sold it off due to intense competition. Our very own Oberoi group has opened a hotel in Marrakech. This place is very popular to Europeans , because of its close proximity to Europe.


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

Our first destination was 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, almost double the height of Kalimpong) for a photoshoot , past rural Berber villages and finally at Ait Ben Haddou. It was 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, Cleopatra, Gladiator, Game of Thorn.

We took a guide at Ait Ben Haddou for 20 MAD per person for our group. We were told that only 10 families still lived 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 also saw Ouarzazate , nicknamed The door of the desert. It is a city and the 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 at the west of the city .

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


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 was still day light at 7.30 pm) , where we spent our night. The location of the hotel was quite spectacular.

In dinner we had Couscous. 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.


After breakfast at our hotel in Dades Valley, our journey started with a drive to Tinghir ( or Tinerhir). We were joined by a nice Berber guide who could speak many languages. We got down from our car and trekked for quite some time to go to a Berber house to see live demonstration of how they weave the Berber carpet and also saw the 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 of a stunning view.

Then we left for Todra Gorge. Todra (or Todgha) Gorge is one of the most beautiful gorges in Morocco. Being stuck between rocks is a sublime experience in our visit to 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 a few minutes there, for some tea, we left for Merzouga. Gradually we saw how the terrain changed as we 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. We 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 bare minimum things to spend the night in a 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 drum beats. 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 was no toilet in the desert. So I took the opportunity of having my nature's call attendedin 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/


We were told that a car will be provided for us and other tourists (on payment basis) to go to Fez. Actually most of the tour companies 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 , after waiting for quite some time [with the hope that our bus might be fixed. But alas, that never happened] finally we called two cars (old Mercedes) with the help of people. 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 moved from a desert like terrain to a 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 was almost 9 pm. Our co-passengers had already got down somewhere else. Our Riad was 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 did 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 was 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 rulers of 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 to 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 till 1925. Rabat 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 founded 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 a unique experience. 

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


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) . Our plan was to go to Chefchouen. We bought  tickets to Chefchouen. Thankfully I did not buy the ticket online. There was no need to buy CTM (the best bus company in Maroc or Morocco) bus ticket. It was the only ticket which you can buy online. Moreover it was quite far from our Riad. There are other bus companies which goes to Chefchouen too. 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 was no bus to go back to Fez. I told Mohua , to enjoy the tour first. I would work out something or other. There was 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 were enhanced by the contrast of the brightly painted medina (old town). It is 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 plantation region in North Morocco. Drugs are widespread and somehow tolerated. Chefchaouen 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. The influence of European architecture is more visible here.

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 were coming down from the main square. They were 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 was no seat left for buses going to Fez, the main reason being the time to be the school holiday season. We were told that we could go to Tetouan   (1.5 hours) and then come back to Fez (5 hours). It was 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 could hire a taxi and share the cost. Initially I was a bit hesitant to follow him. But later I was convinced. I had already purchased the ticket to Tetouan ( 25 MAD each), lest that would also be occupied ! So 50 MAD went to drain ! We had to get down after 1 hour at Ouazzane (pronounced as Wazzan) . From there we had to change for 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 was 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 was going to Fez. We had great difficulty in telling them, that we wanted to go to Fez in a shared Taxi. None of the Taxis wanted to go to Fez with half filled up passengers. We had another passenger only, who wanted to go to Fez - but he could 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 had already lost hope, we found a group who were also going to Fez at around 6 pm ! When we reached Fez it was around 8 pm. We covered a distance of 150 Km in 2 hours ! Since Chefchaouen 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 had 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 were 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 sitting against the backdrop of the mosque was a heavenly experience.


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 we could find near the bus stand. It took 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 is still evident .

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 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 is directly across from Place Hedimthe medina's main square. From there we hired a horse for an hour to see the city. The horse  started with the coachman calling "Irr-zir " and when the horse needed to go fast the coachman said " Zigo".

We got down at Meknes Royal Golf Course. This place was absolutely marvellous. The gardens were beautifully kept and it was 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 was Habs Qara opposite to the Golf Course. A huge underground prison where Moulay Ismail allegedly kept prisoners - which was probably not correct according to the signboard.

After we were 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 Chefchaouen 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.

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, as I had never imagined such place. I did not know this amazing colour of the town.

Though we had gone almost to the top , we could not find the exact panoramic view point. For lack of time, we had to come back, to our Taxi stand and leave for Volubilis. The ruins of the Phoenician and Roman city of Volubilis were 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 had 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. Orange juice is really cheap and tastes very good in Morocco. Orange trees can be seen anywhere, just as 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 in India, from another leather shop. The leather product of Morocco is very famous and world class.

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

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


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

Inside Casablanca station
The train took a longer time than we had thought and therefore we had to drop our idea of going to Hassan II mosque. In the meantime we got to know that Nezha was still in Agadir and Raaja was in Marrakech and would reach Casablanca a little late. So we could not meet our friends, as we had 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.


Tech IT Solutions said...

Wow looks like you have had a terrific tour experience, I can tell from the lovely pictures. Also, thank you for explaining the whole procedure so we can also consider giving it a go. Keep up the good work.

Multi Activity Tower said...

Hello Sir,

I am from Multi Activity Tower. I read your post this is really interesting. and amazing article your wrote here.

Thank You.

Chronological order