Marhaba Morocco! 24 hours in Marrakech.

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In a world of real time updates I’m posting a travelogue from 2014. But it doesn’t matter much because the stories that start with ‘Once upon a time…’ are the ones I love most.

I hope you do too.

 

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Once upon a time when autumn was just about leaving its midas touch on the leaves of a maple tree down the street from us, we flew to a far away land – one with a mesmerising melange of cultures – Arabic, European and Berber. Sitting like a crown on Africa and cuddled between Atlas mountains and the Atlantic, we found Morocco every bit captivating.

Culturally ripe Marrakech is unarguably the most popular Moroccan city and Riads (courtyard houses), souks (markets) and hammams (bath houses) are not just integral to it but add a ‘One thousand Arabian Nights  vibe – only there are no magic carpets flying ;). Spending only a little over twenty four hours in Marrakech felt more like a stop over. Far from ideal because it was too short a time Marrakech deserves. As if someone told us to ‘just go and have a look’ and that has left me with a deep yearning to go back for a Grand tour of Morocco. If visa process was any easier, I would be, in all probability, writing about a second trip to Morocco.

 

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A typical courtyard of a Riad where we stayed.

 

Nevertheless, here’s my mini-guide for a mini-tour of an intense multi sensory experience that Marrakech is.

DO

Before heading to the heady souks we stopped by to marvel at a few architectural gems of Marrakech.

SAADIAN TOMBS

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The resting place of members of Saadi dynasty is open to visitors for its intricate carvings that spell blessings for those laid to rest here.

 

 

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The glorious tile work at the mausoleum indigenous to Morocco.

 

 

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The tombs can be seen by a narrow passage created for visitors to go around them.
The Saadian tombs lie near Kasbah Mosque.

 

EL BADI PALACE

 

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The ruins of El Badi Palace.
El Badi stands for ‘the incomparable one’.

 

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What looks like straight out of yellowed pages of an old forgotten book was once gilded with gold and onyx and finest Italian marble.
The marble was bought from Italian merchants in exchange of an equivalent weight of sugar. Along with the fall of Saadian dynasty, El Badi came to its present fate as it was striped of its precious materials.

 

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The skeletal remains of the palace, however, are very picturesque with storks as its new occupants.

 

 

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Although looking desolate and weather beaten, it still retains a lot of its character and has a rustic beauty about it but we did not see as many visitors in this very photogenic place.

 

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However its new inhabitants don’t seem to mind and bask in its glorious past.

 

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A flock of storks overlooking the palace.

 

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A picture perfect short of real eggs while the dish antenna makes up for the missing 😀

 

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Play of lines at the palace rooftop.

 

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A young family of four at the El Badi Palace.

 

 

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It can be quite sunny even during peak season of pleasant weather and carrying a cover comes handy.

 

 

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Although there isn’t a lot left of its crumbling remains, we did enjoy it and certainly recommend it.

 

 

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The earthy palette of El Badi is worth toting your camera to.

 

BAHIA PALACE

A place of vividly coloured ceilings, intricately carved columns, colourful vitrage and marbled courtyards. While El Badi was a summer resting palace, this one was meant for festivities. However, only a portion of this expansive palace is currently open to visitors.

 

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Bahia Palace, in its own words, ‘worn & crumbling vestiges of their former selves still retaining all their majesty’.

 

 

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Through one of the rooms of the palace. Moroccan artists from Fez have blended Moroccan and Islamic styles with utmost skill.

 

 

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Extraordinary craftsmanship in a portion of painted wooden ceiling in the palace making it look more embroidered than painted.

 

 

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Psychedelic mosaics of Morocco in one of the rooms of Bahia Palace.

 

 

KOUTUOBIA MOSQUE

Aka the ‘Mosque of Booksellers’ stands tall and towering over the median quarter of Marrakech and cuts an imposing figure be it day or night.

 

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Koutoubia Mosque

 

 

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Koutoubia Mosque at night.
Equally impressive.

All these places were at a walking distance from our riad style hotel which was located in the heart of medina.

JEMMA EL-FNAA

One of the most famous squares in Africa and a UNESCO heritage site, Jemma el-Fnaa is an eclectic and overpowering mix of people and their craft. Just as people of all kinds and ages cross paths in Jemma el-fnaa, tunes from tambourine, drums and Snake charmers’ pungis ride over another rendering it melange of colours, sights and sounds all calling to your attention at once. Being in Jemma el-Fnaa was like being in a roomful of screaming toddlers! Watch out or else you’ll have a monkey propped up on your shoulder!! Or so I read but did not see any monkey men. Smoke rising from kebab grills, call of the most elaborate headdress donning water sellers and music from pungis and folk artists adds to the atmosphere and transports you back in time. Come sunset and the tempo rises. Hoopla intensifies and the show goes full throttle.

From a tooth puller to sufi mystic, a fortune teller to an acrobat, street food vendor to a pick pocket all had one address back in time and probably there are new professions to add to the list now. All under the Jemma el-Fnaa sky.

 

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Jemma el-fnaa glowing under a stratus sky.

 

 

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Jemma el-fnaa by night gets even busier.

 

Jemma el-Fnaa has to be seen more than once to see all of its elements in action. And from a vantage point of a rooftop café around Jemma el-Fna you could get your money shot of the square just as the grills are fired and the sun has set leaving its gleam in the sky.

 

If all this hullabaloo makes you weary you could escape to one of the gardens in Marrakech – the Menara Gardens fringed by snow capped Atlas in winters and the Jardin Majorelle -a botanical and landscape artists’ garden owned by Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé – the green and blue backdrops of which make for great portraits.

SOAK IN SOUK

Its a major ‘MUST DO’  when in Marrakech, rightfully deserving a post on its own. The bamboo roofed dim lit souks are a ‘honeycomb of interconnecting alleyways’ – Paul Sullivan. Flanked on either side of bunches of metal lanterns and leather babouches (Morrocan shoe somewhat like Indian mojaris/jootis it is more like a dynamic open air museum with it’s treasures waiting to be taken home. Everything but the kitchen sink is sold here (perhaps that too) and for all sized wallets. From embroidered shoes to bejewelled kaftans, spices to perfumes, carpets to turtles (yeah, they were quite popular a while ago), lamps and lanterns, pottery and jewellery. If shopping floats your boat you’ll be swimming through an ocean! If a good composition makes you click you couldn’t be in a better place to take pictures. 

 

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One of the souk streets

 

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Shoe heaven!
Can you guess how many I got?
None!
And it fails me how I resisted only to regret now. I mean how did I even get ‘departed’ stamped on my passport without a pair in my baggage?!

 

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As I said there are no magic carpets flying about neither any Djinns bowing to your wishes but in the right hands these strings definitely would create some magic.

 

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This is where we did part with some dirhams in exchange of two leather bags and handmade leather football.
All things still going strong.

 

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Moroccan traditional pottery -a tajine cook and serve pot would make for a perfect souvenir.

 

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And so many more artsy-quirky things for decor enthusiasts.

 

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A woman embroidering a hat. This was back in 2014. And if I remember these lettered hats were trending for last two summers.
The point I’m trying to make is though these souks are old as time you may find some real trend setters right under your nose.

 

There are somethings to keep in mind while you are here. Haggling or bargaining is the way to go – it is the norm and prices would be quoted expecting you’ll haggle them down. So be polite and keep haggling until you both are in agreement (I meant the shopkeeper and you, partners generally aren’t 😉 ) If you like something you can come back for it after having a look at similar stuff in other shops, it’s not that big of a market space. I’ve read shopkeepers can be very persuasive (which is kind of their job) we did not meet with any aggression that we had to fight off or be disturbed by. Shopkeepers seemed polite, kind and busy chatting away with their neighbours occasionally turning away to lure us in the shop by humming ‘kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai’ (an old Hindi song) – an experience many Indian travellers would recount. Aside from the products already mentioned olives, Moroccan rose and argan oil needs no more advocacy and are things to buy from Morocco. Im not too sold on jewellery (may be I didn’t go to the right places or may be I’m too biased about Indian jewellery) but the leather paraphernalia and shoes you must not come without.

I think the chapter on shopping in Marrakech would be incomplete without the mention of Ensemble Artisnale – a government run shopping complex akin to Central Cottage Industries in India – if you want to steer clear of souk that is.

This article is a good guide to some upscale and mid range shops in Marrakech.

 

A trip to the souks, regardless of shopping, is exhausting, more so if you try to fit in a flight and all that followed during the day and therefore our feet took us nowhere but a cafe.

 

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And mint teas were poured.

 

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And mint teas were had.

 

 

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At Café des épices, if not for the heat we would be sipping teas on the terrace looking over Jemma el-fnaa

 

STAY (in a Riad)

A riad is a traditional moroccan house with a central courtyard or a garden with rooms opening to it. Staying at a riad is a MUST DO. It could be high end luxury one or getting close to the locals at a family owned and run riad. With so many choices, each one better than another, it would be a task in itself to pick just one for you.

Or why pick one? Why not do Riad hopping and enjoy each one’s unique ambience and lush spas or repose in the courtyard with a mint tea.

 

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At La Sultana Marrakech

 

We stayed at La Sultana Marrakech and enjoyed our stayed completely. A restful peaceful calm descends as soon as you enter the dark, cool and quiet courtyards and immediately feel awash with gratitude for all the shade from the sun. All the chaos and bustle of the city suddenly seem million miles away.

 

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The terrace looks over everything from neighbouring rooftops to the zig zag Atlas mountains in distance.

 

 

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A water outlet at La sultana with a jolly bunch of famous Moroccan roses that fills up the corridor with its intoxicating fragrance.

 

 

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One of the warmly enkindled corridors of La Sultana

 

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Matching steps with Marrakech! I never knew I’d almost camouflage and not just ‘mix in’.

Dressing up respecting the country’s customs and tradition would be really polite and even helpful in keeping any unwanted spotlight off you which is to say covering shoulders and knees would be appreciated. Loose cool natural fabrics would keep sun away and style intact 🙂

 

EAT

Almost all hotels/Riads welcome all guests with the customary mint tea served with certain Arabic sweet meats. Do relish the refreshing tea which a few sips later may get a bit too minty but nevertheless would be the first thing you’d be offered in Morocco. The accompaniments are no less amazing. Do try it all!

Just as many blogs that I read on Bruges begin with the mention of movie ‘In Bruges’, the ones of Morocco, I found, began with oranges! Organs blossoms, orange trees, orange juice – you name it. To my amusement and naiveté I did not know oranges were so bloody famous (pun intended). But neither of us being a fan of OJ we gave it a miss also we were not visiting during ‘orange season’ so I did not even spot many a vendors of the same. But by all means, do try it.

 

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I should have understood seeing this on the bedside.
Silly me 😛

While you are there do make your acquaintance with ‘Tajine’ – a dish of Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian origin that is named after the pot in which it is cooked and served. Typically a Tajine dish is a savoury stew made of meat or vegetables.

 

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Featuring veggie Tajine served in the lower half of the Tajine dish.

 

 

 

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A nondescript street in Marrakech.

 

I found Marrakech so exotic and yet familiar in many ways. Some parts, streets and by lanes were like those of a town in India (only cleaner) with burnt sienna mid-size houses with scooters and bikes order defyingly parked outside. Small square shops with its shutter rolling up and no doors, people and flies welcome alike. Traffic flows as though it has a mind of it’s own missing each other only by a hair. Busybodies moved about with a sense of urgency but also seemed to suddenly halt to gawk at a street show. And then there were parts like that of a growing budding city inching towards modernity with its wide roads, high end cars and swanky malls with designer stores. While the souks sounded like a buzz of thousand bees, we passed some streets that had the quietude of an Indian summer afternoon.

Like wise this very absorbing kerfuffle leaves one exhausted and rewarded with a deep dreamless restful slumber. A sleep so important as we drove next morning to a hideaway in Atlantic coast of Morocco.

In the following part.

 

 

Comments

  1. Too good

  2. Awesome snaps & the write-up….. Quite tempted to visit Morocco!!!