Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Myriad of Colors - Westonbirt Arboretum

We have come to Westonbirt Arboretum, Tetbury, UK  in autumn 2010 purposely for the colors. The Arboretum is said to have a spectacular collection of over 17,000 trees from all over the world. It feels magical to see the shades and hues of colors surrounding us and the feeling is so overwhelming. There were many elderly citizens strolling in the wood and the kids were busy collecting the colorful foliage on the ground.

Basically the woods is divided into two parts; the old picturesque area near the cafe and the younger Silkwood area. The entrance fee is 8 pound....pricey but worth the money for such stunning beauty. 


Green in Autumn

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tizi-n-Tichka Pass

Tizi n Tichka (2260 meters) built by the French in 1936 links Marrakech to the pre-Sahara oases. Well constructed with stunning views of the winding way up to the Atlas Mountains. From Ouarzazate we drove up through the barren peaks of the Atlas and the arid regions of the pre-Sahara. I shot these pictures from our moving vehicle...there was not much space on the roadside to stop anyway!  

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shopping Time in Jaffe

Ahaaa...this is how you buy chicken in Jaffe
We just got out of the desert and back on the road to continue our journey to Skoura. After a brief stop at the fossil factory in Rissani, we came across this little desert town, Jaffe.  It was about 10 am on Wednesday morning and the morning market was packed with people shopping for food and daily supplies. The main road was congested and it took awhile to get through the traffic. 

But the road congestion was a blessing and we had a good view of this pretty interesting desert town. Truly Morocco is a diverse country, not only for its landscape but also food, culture and population. Everybody seemed busy doing their shopping and I watched the bustling market came to life with the smell of food, women in miftah, sellers calling to their customers and the traffic honking one another.  

Camel Trekking in Sahara I

The Journey Begins.....

The top Sahara destinations are Merzouga (Erg Chebbi Dunes) M'hamid (Erg Chegaga Dunes) and Zagora (Dunes of Tinfo) but we chose to camel trek Erg Chebbi since it's supposed to be the easiest. It was about 7 hour-drive from Fes crossing the Middle Atlas with few stops for lunch and photography. As we approached Merzouga, we felt lost and empty, our vehicle drove through the barren landscape and the unpaved stony surface got real bumpy. No sign post was spotted and it would be impossible for us to survive this route without a guide.

We finally arrived at the edge of the dunes but we were slightly behind time. Most of the groups were busy organizing themselves. A man in blue robe and turban approached us and he was talking in a serious tone to Ahmed and Mostafa. Though I could not understand Berber, I could tell that Ali, our desert guide was complaining, we hurriedly load our bag packs, water and fire woods on our camels (dromedaries). Ali was busy preparing our camels and he insisted that we should be departing just before sunset.

My dear camel
I can't help the feeling of anxiety and fear of riding this animal for the first time but as the chemistry between us sparks :) the ride got better though uncomfortable. Ali kept reminding us to lean back whenever our camel descended the dunes or slopes. Riding a camel isn't that comfortable but doing something out of my comfort zone is a wonderful experience. As our camels trailed the edge of the sand dune craters, I closed my eyes...it felt like the camel's thin legs would collapse and I would tumble down deep into the sand crater!

In the vastness and stillness of the desert, only the footsteps of our camels were audible. To break the stillness, Ali chatted and thought us some Berber words and we got to know his culture and tradition. We stopped for a while to watch the beautiful sun vanished among the mountain of dunes. Under the stars and moonlight, Ali amazingly guided us into the darkness to our camp for the night....the desert must have been so familiar to him! Not too long, we arrived at the Berber camp. That night, it was a candle light dinner under the countless zillion of itnar (stars)...something I had never seen in my life.

Sunset in Sahara
Chicken Potatoes Tagine in the desert!
Our Hotel - The desert shelter

Beds laid on the golden sand
Our "fluorescent" lamp
Along the way

The wind engraved the sand
Ali Baba and the gang

The beauty is beyond words

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Dream - Al Qarawiyyin

I have always wanted to visit the famous Al Qarawiyyin Mosque cum University because it was the home of some inspiring great scholars in the Muslim world. Founded in 859 by the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Kairoun, Tunisia, Fatima al Fihri vowed to spend all her wealth to build a medrasa for her community. From a place of worship, the place developed into religious institution and in 1957, King Mohammed introduced the teaching of mathematics, physics, chemistry and foreign languages. Al Qarawiyyin library housed the famous Al Muwatta of Imam Malik written on gazelle parchment and original copy Ibn Khaldun Al 'Ibar. The Quran, Fiqh and modern sciences are taught here. Among pioneer scholars attached as students or lecturers were Ibn Maimun (Maimonides), Ibn al-Arabi, Ibn Khaldun and Ibn al-Khatib. The medrasa was upgraded to University in 1947.

The impressive architecture of Al-Qarawiyyin was extensively extended in 1315 during the rule of AlMoravid ruler, Sultan Al Ibn Yusuf. Andalusian architects were employed and that explained the resemblance with Andalusian architecture in Al Hambra, Granada, Spain. We took the opportunity to pray and spend some time admiring the beauty of the mosque. The non-Muslims are not allowed to enter but thousands came to steal a glance and peek into the Mosque from the main entrance.

Resembling the intricate Andalusian artwork
Elegant Architecture
Fine Kuffic Caligraphy
The bab (door) of the mosque
The women's ablution fountain has existed since the 10th century

Monday, October 11, 2010

Back in time...Fes

Sharing the alleys with donkeys
Transportation in Medina

Soon we arrived at a car park which has got to be Ain Zelteen. The driver spoke to a man in Arabic and swiftly the man transferred out baggage into a cart and we were instructed to follow him. He was fast pushing the cart while we tagged along through the little alleys in the medina. This town looks strange...it's like back a few hundred years ago. Squeezing ourselves among the dwellers of this ancient town and the overloaded donkeys in the narrow streets is a wonderful experience.

After all the twists and turns...we finally arrived at the house. Graham, the owner of Dar el Menia was there welcoming us to his charming dar (traditional house). The 5 bedrooms dar is all ours for the two nights. It was a peaceful stay with lots of privacy. I love every aspect of Dar el Menia and I think the owner did a fabulous job restoring the house and keeping every intricate details of the d├ęcor. Its location which is just off Ta’ala Kabira, the main street in Medina makes everything within easy reach.

Graham asked us about our plans for tomorrow and we ambitiously told him that we’re going to explore the Medina on our own. His quick response was, “You’ll surely get lost!” and we all broke into laughter. In the end, we settled for a guide in the afternoon and stick to our original plan to explore the Medina with 9000 winding alleys and tiny streets in the morning. Surely that was fun and Graham was absolutely right!

The bedroom in Dar El Menia
The beautiful copper sink
Utensils in blue - Fes theme color
Rest area in the second floor bedroom

From Fes to Merzouga

As we drove from Fes to Merzouga, the landscape began to change dramatically and the first sight of Middle Atlas was breathtaking. We stopped to take a view near Zabaal Tunnel (200m passage) cutting through the Ziz Gorge on the main road to Erfoud. The tunnel, also known as Tunnel du Legionnaire was carved in the 1930s by the French to open a passage to the south.