Our two-week journey started from Casablanca, considered a city of romance. The actual city of Casa, as it is commonly known, is very different from this popular notion. But it is a city with soul and that’s what makes it special.
In Casa, the majestic Atlantic Ocean provides a beautiful backdrop to the stunning Hassan II Mosque, the third largest mosque in the world mosques in Mecca and Medina. This mosque, the brainchild of the late King Hassan II, is undoubtedly a masterpiece of modern Moroccan architecture. Built entirely of material sourced from across Morocco, except for the chandeliers and a small quantity of white marble that came from Italy, this structure will take your breath away.
At dusk this ochre-coloured building turns to gold and looks as if it is emerging out of the ocean. The mosque can seat 25,000 worshippers inside. If you include the open area surrounding the structure, then an astounding 80,000 worshippers can pray together.
… And bustling markets
A three hour train ride from Casa will take you to Fes — a still living medieval city that was once the capital of Morocco. Once inside the majestic gates, we were transported to another era.
There are 9,000-odd alleyways that crisscross the city and stalls that sell everything you can imagine. With rows of butchers, vegetable and fruit vendors, olive sellers, sellers of natural medicines and magic potions, leather tanneries and numerous old riads (traditional Moroccan houses), Fes will overwhelm your senses.
But the city of souqs (markets) is Marrakech, the tourist capital of Morocco. The main square, Djemma El Fna, comes alive as the sun sets. Rows of twinkling lights, smoke from the open ovens, delicious smells and Gnawa music will pull you towards the square no matter where you are. From snail soup to camel meat, almost all local Moroccan food can be found here. The square stays alive way past midnight as shoppers tired from their daylong bargaining join the locals to unwind.
Marrakech is also the city of gardens. You’ll find traditional Moroccan rose gardens lining the famous Koutoubia mosque and the colourful and mysterious Jardin Marjorelle, created by the French artist Jacques Marjorelle.
But a few days of taking in the mayhem of the souqs will leave you pining for some fresh air and quiet surroundings. It was at this juncture that we took off on a two-day trek to the Ourika Valley, part of the High Atlas mountain range. We spent the night at a local village up in the mountains. Our treat after the long climb, apart from the wonderful home cooked tajine and couscous was the fantastic, clear night sky, illuminated with thousands of stars. We followed this up with a visit to the Todra gorges — magnificent rock formations that change colour as the sun rises and sets.
The last part of our journey was to the Great Sahara desert. An hour-long camel ride at sunset took us to our little campsite under the stars. They say that desert nights are spectacular. But sunrise is no less of a spectacle. As day breaks, the sand turns into a rich red. The silence and vastness of the desert calms and humbles you. Like everything else in Morocco, it makes you want to come back for more.
Most major airlines fly directly to Morocco or connect via other destinations in Europe, Asia or Africa. Jet Airways flies directly to Menara (Marrakech), while Air France-KLM connects via Paris.