The Old Caravan Route to Telouet
A large number of travellers en route from Marrakesh to the Sahara desert cross the Tizi N’ Tichka Pass and then follow the main N9 road towards Ouarzazate passing straight through in one long drive. We on the other hand had decided to enjoy the beauty of the Atlas Mountains for a few days and took the old caravan route to Telouet. We planned to get a closer look and feel for this remote area of Morocco that is often ignored by the tourist groups – apart from perhaps brief stops for lunch or to take some photos. I had found a small guesthouse, in a Berber village near Telouet, a Glaoui which historically was an ancient slave community, that thrived on the management of the close by salt mines and passing camel routes over the high passes.
A Bouncy Drive
A few kilometres after the col of the Tizi N’Tichka Pass we turned off the main road onto a more bumpy part paved part dirt track, lined with potholes. This side road was a second less direct caravan route in the past leading down to the Sahara and the Draa valley parallel to the main route that has now become the N9. The bouncy less well maintained road meant we did not make very fast progress towards Telouet, somehow we did not mind as the ever-changing stone desert landscapes kept us occupied throughout the journey.
Mesmerising Stony Desert
It was mesmerising to discover just how colourful the stony desert is, at times it resembles a vast watercolour painting with soft pastel colours in wide ranging hues. Vegetation was expectedly sparse, the tuffs of low grass looked like hair toupees left on the hillsides, scrubby bushes hung low and windswept. Small villages and hamlets intermittently changed the scenery. The mud coloured huts blending into the mostly barren countryside, except for the schools, which stood out among the houses with their cheerful, painted walls. Here and there, near the limited water and springs, oasis sprouted stubby date palms and other trees in the stony surroundings.
Passing through Telouet we noticed the difference to the Berber villages we had passed, there were some restaurants and cafes catering for the tourists and signs advertising lodgings at local guesthouses. Telouet has attracted an increasing number of independent visitors thanks to its partially renovated Kasbah (fortified trading post) over the last few years and we were looking forward to explore the Glaoui Kasbah the following day. Our destination was the next main village on this old caravan route so we followed the windy road through the village and up over the next col between rocky cliffs.
Driving on towards our guesthouse on the other side of the col we stumbled onto a group of cars leaving a sidetrack and noticed a small sign advertising a “Salt Mine” just a few kilometres after exiting the Telouet. The boys in the family had never visited a salt mine before, while I had the chance to explore one in Germany during my childhood. They had always been keen on discovering a salt mine and we therefore made the instant decision to delve into the depths of Morocco’s mountains and spun the car round.
An Abandoned Saltmine
A crumbling Kasbah must have once been a stop off point in the prosperous region and had been left to decay when the salt mine closed down. It was perched high on a crag and below by a small stream we found the turn off onto an even bumpier dirt track where the other cars had exited. At the end of the dirt track we found a shack beside a dark opening into the mountain, the entrance to the abandoned salt mine.
Inside the Cave
A group of visitors had just left after exploring the old mine and advised us to take our phones or a torch to light the way inside. A friendly old local guide led us inside the cold cavern under the mountain by the low light of his gas lamp. He spoke only a few words of basic French but seemed excited to show us around the now disused salt mine. Once our eyes had adjusted to the darkness, we were impressed at the size of the cave, how much was natural and how much cut out of the crumbling rock was not clear. Being careful to not trip over the uneven, stony surface we advanced further into the mine workings.
Once a Valuable Commodity
As we reached the back wall our guide showed us the knobbly salt crystals that still covered part of the damp rocks and reminded us a lot of corals found in tropical waters, while other rocks shimmered silver and golden when lit by our torches. The guide picked up some chunks off the floor, which turned out to be clumps of pink salt and handed them to us as a gift. The pink salt found in the area and along the nearby salt river, and later mined, were once a valuable commodity and even accepted as a currency in ancient times.
Amazed About our Discovery
Jerome appeared to be fascinated by the mine and the discovery of the different rocks. Before returning to the entrance to the salt mine the guide led us down a side arm of the cave, where we stumbled onto an underground lake filled with salty water and the walls were covered in salt crystals. We had never thought that the mine would be more than a small cave hidden underneath the mountain and were amazed to have discovered what must have been a maze of underground caverns, dug to provide the Moroccan population with this precious crystals. Upon leaving the mine entrance we gave the man a generous tip for his friendly enthusiastic guiding and returned to our car. Emerging into the bright afternoon sun our eyes were dazzled but by the time we reached the car, they had readjusted to the bright sunlight.
Pink Coloured Stream
Driving along the narrow dirt track we stopped to inspect the narrow salty stream beside the road. The evaporated water had formed salt crystals on the pink coloured earth, creating an otherworldly and mesmerising sight. The crumbling Kasbah on the hillside reflected in a solitary puddle in the otherwise dried out pink stream bed. The water was clearly too salty to support any plants in the desert soil.
Friendly Welcome at Kasbah Tigmi N’Oufella
Happy about our unexpected discovery of this off the beaten track attraction we moved on to our final destination for the day, the guesthouse Kasbah Tigmi N’Oufella in the small Berber village of Anguelz. The guesthouse was well signposted but hidden among a throng of traditional houses. On arrival we stepped into a sunny courtyard surrounded by several houses and received a warm welcome by the owner Lahoucine and his wife. We were served a hot Moroccan mint tea accompanied by homemade biscuits, on the roof terrace by our French speaking host. The terrace on top of the traditional house provided us with outstanding views of the surrounding mountains and the nearby oasis.
Traditional Room at Our Guesthouse
Our room at the guesthouse was lovingly decorated with traditional elements and had an adjoining shower room plus thankfully an electric heater providing us with some much needed warmth for the cold winter nights.
Dinner at Tigmi N’Oufella
Dinner was served in the main dining area under the terrace, it was exceptionally tasty and probably the best local cooking we had during our entire time in Morocco. The dishes were prepared by the women of the household giving the guests an insight into the variety of Moroccan cuisine. Even Jerome enjoyed the food, previously he had avoided couscous but he changed his mind when he tried the locally grown durum wheat, which had an extraordinary fluffy texture and tasted delicious with the meat and vegetable sauces.
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