It was around 9 PM when we reached the Medina and the whole place looked very different and a bit scary. The huge wall surrounding the whole Medina – the old city of Marrakech – looked formidable and claustrophobic at the same time. We could see people looking at us as if we were aliens and we even thought if we had made a mistake in choosing Morocco as a holiday destination. We checked into our Riad (a traditional Morrocon house) and triple confirmed with the owner if the area is safe to walk around at this time of the night. Mustering all the courage, we went out to have dinner and safely returned back. The first impression of Marrakech wasn’t as good as we had thought. But all this was going to change the next morning.
We had an early start the next morning as we had booked a 2 day desert trip to Zagora with an overnight stay at the camp. To our surprise the Medina looked so different in the morning. For one, it wasn’t looking scary. It looked like a scene straight out of Arabian nights. We could visualize Aladdin jumping from one street to another. We saw similar doors and arch shaped architecture, the narrow lanes in the day light and souk owners setting up their shop for the day. The Medina looked much charming and lively.
The journey was quite long as it took us a good 8 hours to reach the desert. We were quite excited at the thought of riding the camels and sand dunes and all that which helped us in getting through the journey. The driver played music from a band called Tinariwin on repeat (or maybe all the songs sounded the same to us). We passed by the dizzying high Atlas Mountains filled with snow, the desert oasis of endless palm trees and barren deserted land with unique Moroccan houses. Finally after enduring motion sickness and boiled vegetables in Morrocan spice water (it’s called tagine), we reached our destination.
Our camel owner guided his two camels to the camp with we sitting on them. After such high expectation, frankly we were a bit disappointed not to find sand dunes. For us, a desert should look like the ones we always imagined, with sand all around us and huge sand dunes in front of us and the sun setting over the high dunes. But Zagora was a flat desert and there was not much sand in the first place, let alone the dunes. We tried to hide our disappointment when the driver asked how we liked the desert and the camel trip. So as to not spoil the rest of the time, we decided to enjoy whatever was available to us. The people at the camp were very welcoming and we were quite amazed by the facilities available in the camp. After a sumptuous dinner and traditional Morrocan music around the campfire, we gazed at the innumerous stars and the constellations along with it, wondering if there is someone out there in the galaxy wondering the same.
The next morning we started early again after a good breakfast and this time we decided to walk the camels instead of riding them (and hence saving ourselves from the butt pain). The camels walked energetically and made weird noises all along. Later we found out that it was their mating season and the noises were all the adrenaline.
We headed back to Marrakech, listening to the same Tinariwin music on a loop. Even though the desert trip did not live up to our expectations, we still managed to enjoy the experience deciding to make our own memories. On our way back we visited the film studios and Ait Benhaddou – a fortified village with literal translation meaning Family of (Ait) Son of (Ben) Haddou. The film studio had sets for The Mummy, Gladiator, the Game of Thrones and a couple of Bollywood movies. The driver was happy telling us about how much Morrocans love Bollywood and shahrukh Khan and how they call Morrocan movies as Mollywood. It was funny to see how all everything was made of Styrofoam and looked so real. Ait Benhaddou looked extraordinary. Everything was made of mud, looked ancient and had so many shops set-up selling art, carpets, jewellery among other things.
The Medina of Marrakech is pretty huge and the souks come alive around midday and continue until the late evening. Bargain hard and don’t hesitate to walk away if the shop keeper doesn’t budge. Typically start negotiating for 1/3 of the price and work your way up to around 45 percent of the initially quoted price. You can find anything from carpets, decorative lights, ceramic items to snake charmers, henna artists, fruit sellers, juice makers (not the cuisinart ones but the human ones) and too many restaurants. The old charm of the Medina will definitely impress you and you are bound to get lost in the labyrinth of the streets. The antique shops, vegetable markets, people trying to sell you anything and everything ( even the hair dresser will invite you to have a haircut if your eyes meet his), high walls around the Medina will definitely take you back in time.
The beautiful Ben Youssef Madrassa definitely can’t be missed. The architecture is beautiful and hiring a guide can be helpful to know a few details, which could otherwise be overlooked.
Food was something that we got bored with in just a few days. Being vegetarians is a curse in this part of the world (for that matter everywhere) and we did not have many options. Tagines and couscous with vegetables were the only Moroccan vegetarian food available and we had to resort to Italian food from time to time to break out of boredom. Orange juice and oranges were available in plenty and we had a great time devouring the cuties.
We stayed in a few different Riads over the course of our trip and loved Riad Spa Sindabad the best. It had such a cozy feel and the spa was so relaxing. We usually never indulge in pricey hotels, but after our stay at this Riad, we have decided to try more such places in future.
It was a good experience at Marrakech and we definitely had a good time baring a few disappointments. Marrakech is a must visit destination if you have been brought up purely in a western world. For us Indians, well we grew up in similar situations 😉