A PhD-level scientist, Sankar Chatterjee possesses the passion for traveling worldwide to immerse himself in new cultures and customs. His most recent (2016 - 17) essays appeared in The Vignette Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Missing Slate, Scarlet Leaf Review, The Drabble, Funny in Five Hundred, Friday Flash Fiction, Ad Hoc Fiction, Subtle Fiction, Quail Bell Magazine, Travelmag - The Independent Spirit, Three Drops from a Cauldron, and forthcoming in 404 Words and DEFY! anthology (Robocup Press).
Beauty around the High Atlas Mountains, Morocco
I along with my family was exploring Morocco, a country rich in geopolitical history and cultural heritage situated at the tip of Northern Africa. Our youthful local guide Hassan from Adrar Travel would suggest that besides visiting the country’s famous cities, we should also take a road trip through the valleys and gorges of the High Atlas Mountains. He would promise that the trip would provide us with not only the natural scenic beauty of the mountains from the distance, but also a chance to appreciate spectacular canyons, carved out of the mountains by the rivers formed from the molten historic glaciers. Accordingly, after visiting historic Marrakech, we set out to travel on National Route 9 towards our next destination. The winding mountainous highway took us through Tizi n’Tichka (difficult mountain pass, in local language), the highest mountain pass in this part of Africa at an elevation of 2260m. The first road here was built by the French military in late 1930-s. The surrounding natural scenery with gorges, sheer cliffs as well as the view of winding cork-screw highway from higher elevation was breathtaking. However, one of the unfortunate causalities of human invasion here was the extinction of Barbary lions that used to inhabit the region. As our journey continued, the snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas Mountain range soon appeared at the distant, making one of our travel companions to comment “Yes Virginia, it even snows in Morocco!”
As we continued on the road, fertile valleys dotted with indigenous Berber villages along with the tower of the village-mosques also came to view.
After a few hours, we took a break from our journey at Ait Benhaddou, a UNESCO World heritage site. The site contains remnants of a fortified village (ksar in Arabic) with mud-brick architecture. The place existed along the former caravan route between Marrakech and the beginning of Sahara. After crossing a bridge over a semi-dry river, we entered into the historic section dotted with remaining structures, nested on a small hill. From the top of the hill, a spectacular panoramic view of the surrounding nature with the snow-capped High Atlas Mountains at the horizon appeared. It was mentioned that Ait Benhaddou had been utilized as a set in several international movies and TV shows, including Gladiator and Game of Thrones.
After visiting Ait Benhaddou, we continued our journey through the valley and stopped at a small town for the night. Next morning, we resumed our journey to arrive at the small town of Tinerhir from where a spectacular view of the shearing of the mountain involved in a gorge formation, under a clear blue sky, came to view. We parked the car to walk on the narrowest end section of the gorge, known as Todgha Gorge.
As we entered the canyon, we found a flat stony track to walk on, while a narrow stream of water was flowing gently along one side. The sheer mountain walls on both sides measure to be more than 500ft at several points. On the other hand, current tiny stream of a river originating from a glacier in the High Atlas Mountains seemed to be a misfit, but the enormity of the gorge gave the impression how mighty the historic river might had been flowing through here!
From there, we headed towards the town of Merzouga to start an overnight camping trip amidst Sahara desert. But, that adventure needs to be told in next occasion.
(Phot credit: Shelley Chatterjee)