Travels beyond TripAdvisor
These photos were taken on my recent spirit quest in Morocco to the Sufi shrine of Sidi Chamharouch, which is seen above. A 75 minutes drive from Marrakech brought me to Imlil where the road ends and the mountains begin. The hamlet of Sidi Chamharouch - which is one of those blessed places which returns a blank in a Trip Advisor search - is at an altitude of 2350 metres and is reached by a tough and potentially dangerous two hour climb up a rocky path. Access is impossible for wheeled vehicles and supplies are brought in by the mules seen in my photos. Beyond Sidi Chamharouch is Jebel Toubkal, which at 4,167 metres is the highest mountain in North Africa. During my trek I was struck by the similarity between the High Atlas and Ladakh on the border of India and Tibet. Film director Martin Scorsese was also struck by the similarity. With Tibet a no-go zone he used this region for location shooting of his 1997 movie Kundun; this depicts the Dalai Lama's flight into exile from Tibet and is graced by a Philip Glass score. Below is a still from Kundun; the same peaks can be seen in my second photo above.
The High Atlas is Berber country. Berbers are the indigenous people of North Africa and it is not commonly known that they were Christian prior to the Arab conquest of the Maghreb and its conversion to Islam in the 6th century. Three early Popes were Berber as was Saint Augustine who was an important figure in the development of western Christianity. A recent Catholic Herald article was titled 'Was St Augustine black?' Which makes good click bait but is somewhat misleading, as Berbers are usually fair skinned. Sidi Chamharouch is a name for the sultan of the jinns (evil spirits). Animism is the belief that objects, places and creatures possess a distinct spiritual essence, and in another example of the mixed metaphysics of the region Sidi Chamharouch was originally a pre-Islamic animistic place of worship. Synchronicity abounds here as the Tibetan Buddhism of the Dalai Lama is strongly influenced by the pre-Buddhist animistic Bon religion. However the soundtrack for my quest was not Philip Glass' Kundun score. While trekking it was the ethereal silence of the mountains counterpointed in the evenings by Paul Bowles' 1959 field recordings from the region in their recent invaluable digital reincarnation. My time among these awe-inspiring peaks not only reminded me forcibly of how insignificant we are as individuals, but also highlighted how insignificant are the differences between the great wisdom traditions. Islam, Christianity, animism and, by the beguiling power of Hollywood, Buddhism mix freely in the High Atlas. But as Robert Graves tells us in his poem Outlaws:
For though creeds whirl away in dust,
Faith fails and men forget,
These aged gods of fright and lust
Cling to life yet.
My thanks go the ever-hospitable Berber team at Dar Adrar guest house in Imlil who made sure that an almost 68 year old solo trekker didn't do anything too stupid. One of the many blessings of Dar Adrar is that internet access is virtually non-existent. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.
In the evenings the men made music, improvising with pots and pans as their instuments had been sent to the next village for a wedding! Two young female Berber teachers shared a house and an elderly neighbour called while I was there, all dressed up for a wedding. I offered to take a photo for her, but she refused as taking a photo would steal her soul.