Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fascinating Ksar Ait Benhaddou

Going to Ait Ben Haddhou was another drama we didn’t totally expect. Having read about this UNESCO World Heritage place, I swore to myself -- I MUST VISIT HER.

We were speechless when we saw Ksar Ait Benhaddou for the very first time.

Persuasion powers needed

We first went to Ouarzazate which I will write about in a separate entry later. Had lunch there and spent a couple of hours checking out the kasbah and the medina. The next plan on the agenda was to quickly visit the Film Studio and then we will be on the road to Ait Benhaddou which is about half an hour away. But ADHD driver said we can only visit 1 site as we don’t have enough time left and we must return back to Marrakech before dusk to avoid being caught driving in the dark on the zigzagged Tichka cliffs. Since we are near to a film studio, much to my dismay, we all somewhat agreed to go there. Fine.

When we arrived at the film studio, we were told that we have to wait for half an hour for the tour guide to arrive. Now that gives me ample time to voice out to the group and convince them that since we are pressed with time, and with the so-called ‘time does not exist’ concept in Morocco – never trust them when they say the tour guide will arrive in half an hour because they never come in time, I explicitly suggested to go to Ait Benhaddou instead. Blondine pitched in to make the proposition stronger.

The group finally came to an agreement except that the driver told us, ‘If you have seen a Kasbah (we visited the Kasbah Taourirt in Ouarzazate), you have seen them all!’ The Algerian girl who was adamant in visiting the film studio camped on his side.

‘We’ve come to visit the real Morocco, not some fake film studio.’ the Catalan couple blurted out. The Swiss couple joined in, and I and Blondine pressured the driver – WE MUST GO TO AID BENHADDOU! DARN IT. NOW.

Speechless Ait Benhaddou

Outnumbered, the driver hesitantly got back inside the mini-van and we all drove in silence to Ait Benhaddou while the Algerian girl was sulking like a little kid, heaving deep sighs and clearly showing her disagreement and apathy to the rest of the group. I mean, hello? This is why I hate group tours. This road trip is turning into a real drama, lol. Anyway, everyone ignored her.

Upon arriving at Ait Benhaddou we quickly alighted and driver told us—Half an hour only! We agreed sheepishly but wondered if we can keep the promise. The Algerian girl, as selfish and childish as she is, remained in the mini-van with her French boyfriend, sulking and pouting like a 5-year old. Too bad for her, she missed the highlight of this road trip.

Donkey ride retour costs 20DH while entrance to the kasbah is 10DH.

Six of us walked to the direction of the river not knowing what is waiting for us out there. I have only seen Ait Benhaddou on pictures and honestly I was a bit worried that it might be a disappointment as I have dragged everyone here, lol. But my cares disappeared like bubbles into thin air when we saw the magical Kasbah emerge in front of us. We were speechless....! We literally stopped on our tracks and stood there in awe. WOW.

WOW! We were mesmerized by her ancient beauty!

Now, it would have been charming to ride on top of the donkeys transporting tourists to the other side of the river but we saw the Swiss couple took off their shoes, folded their trousers and started crossing the river barefooted. Oh now, that is a good idea. Why not? So we followed suit.

The entrance to the Ksar is 10DH (€1,00). Most of the town's villagers have migrated to live in a more modern village at the other side of the river; however, ten families still live in the old Ksar village.

Typical Moroccan architecture, high walls, small windows, with geometrical details and sometimes inscriptions. This kasbah now part ruins is all made up of straw and hardened clay.

Ait Benhaddou is a conspicuous exemplar of the southern architecture of Morocco, a traditional pre-Saharan habitat comprised of mud and stone buildings with high walls. Because the Kasbah is made of clay, during rainstorms it constantly incurs damages.

Several films have been shot here including: Lawrence of Arabia, Jesus of Nazareth, The Living Daylights, The Man who would be King, Jewel of the Nile, Time Bandits, Alexander, The Mummy, The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun, Gladiator, The Sheltering Sky.

The narrow street above reminds me of one of the scenes in the movie, Jesus of Nazareth when Jesus passed by sitting on a donkey. Who know, if the scene was actually filmed on this same street?

Views to the River and the New Town

The view from Ait Benhaddou down to the river and the new town across.

Entering the Kasbah truly brings you back in time, back in the A.D. I was in high spirits exploring the primordial place, climbing the mud steps that are now hard as cement, peering into cracks, sliding into small openings and venturing into narrow alleyways. I don’t think I was not alone in this exploration journey as everyone seemed to have lost track of time.

Time really freezes when you are inside the Kasbah. Did the driver say half an hour? Bwahahaha – he can wait!

We also saw donkeys moving about and the Jesus of Nazareth movie, the scene when Jesus came back to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday riding on top of a small donkey was brought up in front of me, a very vivid image I guess, I had to blink my eyes to bring myself back to reality.

I am such a sucker for villages and anything ancient for that matter. Thus I am immensely elated to have visited the ksar and experienced it.

Our souvenir picture of beautiful Ait-Benhaddou.

Travel Period: April 2009
Destination: Ait-Benhaddou, Ouarzazate (Drâa-Tafilalet), Morocco

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