global travel shot: uninterrupted storytelling in djemaa el-fna

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Welcome to my blog post series on Morocco. 🙂

I was travelling through Morocco these past three weeks. Exploring its four Imperial cities, camping under the stars in the Sahara Desert, hiking through the Todra Gorge, soaking in the sun, sand and sea in Essaouira, and falling in love with pearl-blue Chefchaouen.

What better way could there be to kick-start my series than by writing a post on Morocco’s most popular city’s most famous site: Djemaa el-Fna.

Nothing has changed in Djemaa el-Fna since 1070 AD, the largest square in Marrakech in the heart of Morocco.

Nothing at all. The uninterrupted storytelling. The cacophonic pantomime acts. The mesmeric snake-charmers. The rhythmic beat of the drums. The magicians and black magic “doctors.” It is where news was, and still is, exchanged and ideas are shared through the spoken word.

When Yusuf Ibn Tashfin, the desert warrior king, laid the foundations of his Almoravid dynasty’s capital city 20 miles from the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, little did he envisage its city square would live on a thousand years. He had christened the city “Marrakech” meaning “land of god,” and the square “Djemaa el-Fna” meaning “assembly of the dead.” The latter served as a site for public executions back then.

As the day weaves into the night, the living sound today, as then, rises to a crescendo only to ebb away briefly before rising again to a fresh set of performances and new audiences. No two days or two acts or two audiences are the same in this vast square. Yet, the oral tradition is constant. Enough to merit it a listing as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity Site in 2008 for holding in its folds unabated oral Moroccan culture.

Wandering on, I saw hundreds of Marrakechi staring up into a large screen, completely engrossed, reading the subtitles diligently. Looking up as well, I found to my delight Shah Rukh Khan’s face [a Bollywood film star] beaming down on me as part of the International Film Festival Marrakech. And I knew I was home, humming to ‘challa ki labda phire’ [what does this crazy wanderer seek?] together with the local crowds swarming around me, listening to storytelling albeit from a different land. 

south africa: travel resources—where, what, why, how

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When putting together my travel plans for South Africa I was unable to find any package that truly covered what I was looking for. They either catered for the passive traveller or did the usual Cape Town/ Kruger combination and nothing else. A bit of a waste, I felt, since there was much more to South Africa. So I ended up travelling solo and independently through the country, doing all the things I really wanted to do, and pleasantly finding it one of the safest and friendliest countries for a woman to travel alone through.

I did some homework and luckily also found great guides whilst travelling. I’ve put together a list of the travel services I used. All of these are still valid as of now. I checked. Continue reading

south africa 10: kruger and the big 5

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Kruger National Park is nearly every South African’s favourite place in the world. It is also part of every tourist’s mandatory itinerary to the country. Covering an area of two million hectares, the game reserve is a realm in itself where wildlife reigns supreme and we humans are the outsiders, satiated with being mere audiences to a world that is complete.

No matter how many times one has been to Kruger, one can just never get enough of it. It is too big. It changes colours and moods with every passing day. Established in 1898 to protect the wildlife of the lowveld in the country, the park contains a mind-boggling number of animal and plant species together with centuries old cultural treasures such as rock paintings and archaeological sites.

I stayed for three days and two nights and, yes, saw all the Big 5. 🙂 Which boiled down to herds of buffaloes and elephants, a leopard smacking away its lips after an impala kill, rhinos marking their territories with trails of urine and dung, and seven lions and a herd of buffaloes battling away on the banks of a stream after the lions had attacked one of the buffaloes. Continue reading

south africa 9: the ‘panorama’ journey

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Guess you’ve heard the old adage—the journey is as important as the destination. My destination is Kruger National Park. The journey is appropriately the Panorama Route. 🙂

I had always wanted to do South Africa’s Panorama Route. One of those ‘have to do’ things in life. Why, you might well ask? It is scenic, on a majestic scale, cutting through the northern Drakensberg Mountains and Great Escarpment to abruptly give way to the plains of the lowveld.

Nature in South Africa is rather grand. Everything a little larger than life, a little more verdant, a little more unique and unduplicated by god. The Panorama Route’s first highlight is the Blyde River Canyon with the Three Rondavels standing sentry on the side; the latter evocative of the huts of the country’s indigenous people. Continue reading

south africa 8: gauteng, johannesburg, the place of gold

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Gauteng, place of gold

Four whole days in Gauteng! I’m a very happy woman. Yes, trust me, there is a lot to see and explore in this concrete jungle that is South Africa’s economic powerhouse. Gauteng actually means ‘place of gold’, a name that is evocative of its history and reason to be. The smallest yet wealthiest province in the country, covering a mere 1.4 percent of its total land area, Gauteng contributes 33.9 percent to South Africa’s GDP and 10 percent to the whole African continent’s GDP. In historical terms its name traces back to the discovery of gold in 1886 in Johannesburg.

I used to live here at one time and enjoyed it fully, that is apart from the traffic which is absolutely crazy. I know, everyone talks about the crime. I have, touchwood, never had a bad experience. And things are even better now with neighbourhood watches, plain-clothes police, and security cameras. Here is my take on Gauteng, not as a resident, but as a traveller. 🙂 Continue reading

south africa 7: durban—sun, sea, sand, and the indian connection


Self portrait—Artist: Me; Location: Golden Mile.

Sun, Sea and Sand and a bit more

Durban is South Africans’ choice domestic holiday destination. It is the most African city in the country. It is also the most Indian city in Africa. Not many foreign tourists come here. Another one of those slips.

The busiest port in Africa, Durban is an eclectic mix of golden sands, colonial architecture, and Indian colour. There is an easy feel to it which makes one feel immediately at home. The pace is relaxed; the smiles are warm and friendly. Life simply revolves around the beach which makes the six-kilometre long golden mile the obvious ‘start’ and at times ‘finish’ to one’s explorations of the city.

Which is what I did as well. An invigorating walk down the paved promenade took me to uShaka Marine World, a themed aquarium park built in a mock-up ship-wreck. At the other end of the day, a sky-car lifted me to the roof of the Moses Mabhida Stadium and windy, stunning views of the sun-kissed city. And somewhere in-between, against a backdrop of children shrieking with delight in the water rides and weathered Durbanites throwing their fishing lines into the waters, soft warm golden sands kissed my bare feet as I chatted with sand sculpture artists from far off Tanzania and Sudan. Continue reading