The High Atlas Mountains, Telouet, and the Glaoui Kasbah

14 Jul

Since my first trip to Morocco in 1998, I have been wanting to visit Telouet.  I don’t know what it was, but there was something in the Lonely Planet – Morocco guidebook that intrigued me.  It’s off the beaten path, but we decided to finally make the trip this time.

From Marrakech, Uncle Abdullah drove us into the High Atlas mountains through the Tichka Pass.  I have never been on a road like it, even in Costa Rica.  The elevation at the top is 2260 meters (7415 feet).  I was a little worried about altitude sickness since we started at about 450 meters above sea level in Marrakech, but I didn’t mention it to anyone so they couldn’t use it as an excuse to complain unless it was really true.

Nobody felt any ill effects of the altitude, but Ben was very anxious about the road.  The road winds through the mountains and the views are absolutely gorgeous.  There are guard rails in some areas, and in others there are either very low stone walls, no guard rails at all, or smashed guard rails where someone went over the side.  Uncle Abdullah said that only happens in winter.  When there is snow on the road, there are gates which close the Tichka Pass, and snowplows to clear the snow.  It was strange to see snowplows in Morocco, when the temperatures were over 100 degrees.  In July there is no snow on the mountains and the rivers are mostly all dry.

Most of the drivers were pretty careful going through the Tichka Pass, but there were large trucks, buses, and donkeys to contend with.  Some of the box trucks had additional stuff strapped on top, making them extremely top-heavy.  The very mountainous part of the trip is 30 kilometers long, so following a slow truck is not an option and cars are passing other vehicles all the time.  That’s a little scary.  There was a lot of “Insha’Allah (we won’t fall over the side)” coming from the back seat.

Once we got through the pass we stopped at a cafe for a drink and a bathroom break at Café Assanfou.  And by “drink” I mean Fanta, Kooka (Coke), Hawai, or Sidi Ali (brand of bottled water).  I learned to order “Sidi Ali mzduda” which means a closed (sealed) bottle of water to make sure that it has not been refilled from the tap.  The local water can make us sick even though the Moroccans drink it.  I hate to drink so much bottled water, adding to the plastic bottle and plastic bag problem of Morocco, but I hate spending my vacation on the toilet even more.

About 13 km past the café was the turnoff to Telouet.  The road was pretty good and not too scary…a little bumpy but no problem to get there by car.  It was 20 km to the Glaoui Kasbah, which was our destination.  I think it took about 3 hours to get there from Marrakech.  We had originally planned to go to Ourzazate where there is a movie studio but decided that was too far, especially with the side trip to the kasbah.

At the kasbah we met Rachid, who was our guide for a very informative tour.  In Morocco, there are always people offering to guide you somewhere in return for money, but Rachid is not the typical Moroccan guide.  He spoke English very well, and knew all about the history of the kasbah.  Without him we would have just wandered around without learning about the various areas of the kasbah, the history of Pasha Glaoui, or the surrounding area.  Rachid is now my Facebook friend so if any of you decide to go to Telouet, I can hook you up with Rachid.  He said that we can have couscous with his family the next time we come.  🙂

Here is some history about the Pasha Glaoui.  I think Rachid should write a little book about the kasbah to sell to tourists because there isn’t a lot of information collected in one place and it would be great to have something to take home since it’s hard to keep all the facts straight.

Heading into the kasbah:

Our guide, Rachid, with the one and only key to the kasbah.  The guard was at the door collecting the 20 dirham entry fee and of course I asked about the key.  He pulled it out from the secret hiding place under the blanket he was sitting on, and let Adlani and me try it out.

There are three kasbahs but two of them are crumbling.

The ceiling and skylight of the third kasbah:

Storks nesting on top of the roof:

I love this beautiful zellij column:

The area below where I’m standing was the prison:

The pasha used to sit at this window and watch the fantasia:

The mellah (Jewish quarter) through the kasbah window:

Families of some of the original residents still live at the kasbah:

Beautiful plaster arch:

Near this courtyard (just inside the door) is where the justice would sit to resolve any disputes:

The cedar ceilings, plaster work, and zellij are amazing:

Continuing the zellij around a corner takes skill:


The third kasbah will fall to ruin like the first two if something isn’t done to help preserve it.

The photos from the Tichka Pass are in the next post.


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