The country is blessed with balanced weather and the people are friendly and welcoming.

Visiting Morocco has been on my bucket list for more than a decade. That’s obviously long before the North African nation came to the limelight as the semi-finalists of the recent FIFA 2022 World Cup.

Right from the time my Middle East stint started in 2010, my wife and I have been contemplating the trip which was not happening for some reason. For one, Morocco is not even close to the Middle East – it’s a full 7 hours 30 minutes flying time from Bahrain where I was working (never mind the psychological proximity to GCC where Morocco is often mentioned as the next member if and when an expansion of the Body were to happen), plus the language was Greek and Latin… err, French and Arabic to us English speaking tribes.

Now retired, I decided to at last bell the (Moroccan) cat – incidentally plenty of pretty kittens all over the country – all the way from Mumbai, India. At last, we were savoring the amazing panorama that makes up Morocco for 10 days this month (6th to 16th March).

We were four: I along with my wife and our friends (another couple) in a minivan.    The tour was arranged by a Morocco-based tour operator through their Bahrain counterpart.

Landing at Casablanca, we had been to the usual suspects in the tourism field of Morocco – Rabat, Marrakech, Fes, Chefchaouen (who coined this tongue twister?), Volubilis, Merzouga, Tinghir, Ouarzazate (another tough nut to verbally crack!), Essaouira, Ifrane, etc.

We hardly met any other Indian tourist during our 10 day cross country race. Hence, in this country with immense love for and awareness about Bollywood, we got the exclusive attention to be welcomed by strangers on streets and hotels with famous Bollywood songs.

I must admit feeling high as a couple of them addressed me as ‘Shah Rukh Khan’ after the much loved Bollywood super star. SRK would have filed a defamation suit against me if he were to be privy to this gross misidentification!

It is worth noting that awareness of Morocco as a tourism destination is very low in India. I for one don’t even know any friend, relative, or neighbor who has been to Morocco!  The primary reason is the absence of a direct flight. Facilitating one shall help bring many upper middle class Indians who are willing to splurge on foreign junkets. It would also be a shot in the arm for Bollywood aspirants in Morocco, not to forget the rich cultural traditions and geographical diversity India too can offer.

Vast Opportunities: Underutilized

But wait! Morocco itself has to be spruced up immensely to attract individual tourists. Currently, European herd tourists who may consider Morocco as a relatively cheap destination with sunlight are flocking to the country. Choosy tourists may find places other than Marrakech below par.

We stayed in four-star hotels at five places and five-stars in one. All of them leave much to be desired. Basic courtesy or international practice of providing a small bottle of drinking water and kettle with some tea bags/coffee is not done. English speaking room boys or even counter staff is scarce. Quality of bathroom fittings and towels also not as one would expect.

The most underwhelming experience was reserved by an expensive dinner/show in Marrakech. Each performer right from the welcoming horsemen was pleading for tips. There was no professional management of the event. They don’t even accept credit cards.

Hence if you don’t go with wads of cash, you have to come back. It was a flop-show in a nutshell. I should add that they have people, resources and a concept… what is lacking is a professional event manager.  Also, the staff seems to be highly underpaid given their greed for tips (virtually not leaving the hand unless money is handed over!).

In contrast, I should mention that a luxury hotel at Merzouga in the Sahara desert was very well organized with limited physical infrastructure. The sunset and sunrise of Sahara leave one mesmerized.

Vast Landscape: Not Tapped For Tourism

The most unknown aspect about the country was the rugged terrain and mountains closely resembling the Grand Canyon (GC) of the US. Those have great hidden potential there to develop like GC.

There should be a helicopter service that flies the tourists above this scenery and the adjacent lake with blue water (reminiscent of Swiss alpine lakes). This gem of a landscape could be polished and presented to the world – the pitch should be “why travel to America when you have a GC right here in Africa,”  and to Americans “come to see our answer to GC!”).

Some of the historical forts/edifices are in a state of ruin. Even where the tourism guys are collecting money – Volubilis, for example – there are no paved approach roads, no washroom with water and no boards highlighting the features of the monument.  Preservation has taken a backseat, it appears.

Good Weather: Great People

The country is blessed with balanced weather –at least when we were there– and the people are friendly and welcoming.

Special mention to be made about Chefchaouen – the blue town. Its people are the quintessence of being tourism friendly, opening the doors  to strangers and more. I felt the narrow alleys are in contrast to the broad minded inhabitants. I haven’t seen anything this unique anywhere. A very quaint place needing better publicity to attract more tourists.

While scope for improvement is immense, varied landscapes (desert, snow capped Atlas mountains, Atlantic coast, lofty crags) and friendly people make Morocco a must see destination. Vistas, buildings and even bathrooms decked up with zellige patterns of mosaic art shall steal the hearts of art lovers.

Argan Oil, Goats On Trees And Harissa

Scouting for argan oil and its products was one of the stated goals of my wife prior to our departure to Morocco. While she could buy them at a women’s co-operative, we came face to face with a hitherto unknown (to us) fact about tree-climbing goats.

This is entwined with argan as that’s the favorite tree for them to climb up or to be ‘placed on’ as it appears in reality! Well, animal rights activists frown upon the ‘forced occupation’ of the trees by the goats as a shepherd-made spectacle meant to entice tourists.

A couple of trees that we visited, adorned by goats, did appear to be ‘custom-fitted’ to keep the goats perched at different levels. The animals also had a rehearsed posture with all looking at us – hardly any leaf or argan fruit was left on the tree for them to taste after all. But they didn’t look debilitated.

Animal torture as the activists allege… maybe.  But I feel this is a minor transgression compared to abominable cruelty inflicted on various animals across the world in the name of sports, fun or fur.

Harissa was another discovery. This spicy paste became our favorite “must-have” item with every meal. Indians love their food to be spicy and this red paste came in handy for each of us to spice up our tagine meals.  We ultimately carried pots of harissa back home along with the mandatory tagine pots.

I can’t conclude this without remembering the inviting orange orchards, one of them we went in to take photos of the succulent fruits embellishing the trees in rows.  Many streets also have footpaths laced with orange trees.  And they were sweet – so sweet to beckon one back to their homeland!

Source : Morocco World News

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