I came away with mixed feelings visiting Marrakech, Morocco and I’ll tell you why.
It was my first African country. Excited and nervous, I prepared well for my trip or so I thought. I read and reread articles on Morocco and made notes on the dos and don’ts. The articles overflowed with information on beautiful Hammams offering massages with a blend of rose petals, argon oil and clay; suggestions on food like Moroccan cuscus, sweats and mint tea; guides on shopping spices, leather and handicraft goods. But, most important, advice to women on dressing conservatively.
Now, coming from India, I consider myself an expert in dressing conservatively. It felt like I was going to familiar territory.
I was travelling with my husband and he wore shorts and a t-shirt. But mind you, men don’t need to fret about petty details such as dressing conservatively. I wore full-length baggy pants, a loose full-arms blouse, a hat and sunglasses. Only the lower half of my face and hands were visible. I thought it was the unflawed conservative look one can ever sport. I can’t even tell if I was a man or a woman.
It was around mid-October. We travelled from Hamburg, which means a 7° C to 32° C transition. The Sun was scorching hot, and despite my airy clothes, I could feel the sweat dripping in rivulets down my back and the sides of my temples. Suddenly, I notice women walking in shorts and spaghetti tops. No one eve-teased or so much as second glanced them as I was promised by the many articles I pored over. I was confused, what am I to make of this? But, I learn later that the touristy places like Marrakech are safe to dress non-conservatively if there is such a thing.
Strolling through the narrow, dirt lanes of Marrakech, I travelled back home to India. Arrays of shops hugging the crowded streets sold an assortment of products: Moroccan jewellery, handwoven rugs, leather goods, and heaps of spices, among other things. Bright kaftans hung from the stores’ ceilings, and glass enclosures displayed Moroccan lanterns and what looked like brass and bronze artefacts. And the stray dogs wandering through the streets added to the Indian-ness.
However, the one thing that continually reminded me that I was in an Arab country was the architecture, a fusion of Andalusian, Berber and French influence. A blend of bright tile marquetry with floral and geometric motifs, ornate lanterns with tinted glass panels dangling from the ceilings and centrally set marble fountains made up the prominent buildings of Marrakech.
But, the concentration of action happened away from these monuments, that is in and around the Medina – usually an old town or old city of North African countries. The old market square buzzed with men in long robes, and women in headscarves. Locals chattered in Arabic and French amidst the clanking of horse carts against the cobbled stones. Hawkers approached tourists with homemade argon oil, home décor, t-shirts embossed with African map, and whatnot, but left without pestering.
As I wondered at the familiar scene and took in the chaos and charm of it, I suddenly caught sight of what looked like an old friend. I was confused and walked closer to comprehend what I was seeing. An Egyptian Cobra, bang in the middle of the market, coiled and rose its hood prodded by the snake charmer. I then further scanned the place and discovered a chained monkey in a bad shape and a malnourished peacock. That’s when my stomach churned.
I found Morocco, its history, culture, geography, exotic, yet I thought it is not different from India in more ways than one. I did feel like I was in the middle of a touristy Indian city.
Things to do and not to do visiting Marrakech
Not to do
Definitely don’t encourage the snake charmers, monkey handlers or any other animal handlers by taking pictures or offering money. These snakes are usually defanged, which means they can’t produce venom anymore which is important for their survival, to digest their food. Therefore, they don’t survive for long. Similarly, the monkeys are caged and look terrified of their handlers which is not a very pleasant state to be for a wild animal.
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- Explore Djemaa El Fna, the main square where the bustling market gives you a glimpse into Moroccan culture, also, a great place for shopping some souvenirs.
- Visit Bahia Palace, the oldest palace of Marrakech to savour the unique architecture
- Enjoy some interesting Morrocan art at Musée de Marrakech
- The Koutoubia Mosque, the largest and iconic mosque of Marrakech seems to follows you everywhere you go around the city. So you don’t have to make a special trip to admire the monument but do admire
- If botanical gardens are your thing, Jardin Majorelle, which is home to some 300 plant species from five continents, is a must-do
- Saadian Tombs, the ancient royal garden cemetery, is another major attraction known for its stunning architecture
- Maison de la Photographie, an inspiring museum of Moroccan photography. It takes you through the Moroccan history in beautiful, vintage pictures. Definitely a great place for photographers
- Musée Yves Saint Laurent would be a great place for fashionistas or anyone curious, especially, about Yves Saint Haute Couture
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