There is much more to the exotic land of Morocco than Marrakech or Casablanca. We look into one unknown, unique custom, which forms a part of the whole allure of Morocco...
By: Radia El Faqir, Managing Director, Safran Travel Boutique
Posted on: November 10, 2011
There is much more to the exotic land of Morocco than Marrakech or Casablanca. We look into one unknown, unique custom, which forms a part of the whole allure of Morocco…
As we slowly drift into the wedding season in India, I couldn’t help but go back and think about one of the most unusual festivals of the world, the Imlchil Moussem, or the Wedding Festival.
Imlchil is a village nestled between the Middle and High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, and the terrain looks strangely like rural Mexico, a combination of plains and pasture, dry scrub and barren hillside. Just a quick hop over the Mediterranean and you will find yourself back in time at a destination brimming with culture and traditions, stunning architecture and generously smiling faces.
In the High Atlas region in Morocco, we are far from the popular Marrakech’s ochre medieval walls, the vibrant Casablanca’s sizzling hot corniche and party scene or Agadir’s endless golden sand beaches. Imlchil, is only famous once a year, when it holds the commemoration of Morocco’s very own version of the Romeo and Juliet story.
Her name was Tislet and his Isli. According to the legend, the two lovers belonged to two Berber rival tribes that lived in the Atlas Mountains. Their parents disapproved their romance and refused them to get married. Torn between their families and the thought of a lifetime without each other, Tislet and Isli decided to drown themselves in the lakes nearby. The families of Tislet and Isli realized that they were wrong in not allowing the relationship. So, in memory of their children, they established the special marriage festival which would be a perfect occasion for members of different tribes to tie the knot. With this cautionary tale in mind, all soon-to-be newlyweds are said to visit the tomb of Sidi Mohammed El Maghani, a local holy man, who became famous for blessing successful marriages.
During the moussem (festival), just outside the tomb, members of a Sufi brotherhood chant, dance, drum, and play the Ghaita, a local long instrument that looks like a horn, throughout the day. Outsiders sometimes label this as a kind of trance music, as the dancers are completely absorbed by the rhythm, making them to carry on like this for hours. After the Sufi performances, visitors get a chance to see the brides and grooms dressed up in their traditional wedding finery, ready to sign the marriage legal papers on site. All this, in a festive atmosphere, with smiles playing upon everyone’s face.
The Moussem, celebrated by Tiselt and Isli’s tribes, occurs in September. A moussem is part celebration, part pilgrimage, with a little old fashioned commerce all over the encampment. And in this isolated region, the marriage moussem is considered as THE big social gathering of the year. And don’t worry if you get lost in between the festivities. The local people are very much approachable and always willing to help you out with any problem.
The festivities take place amidst a huge encampment, bordered by the hills. There are limited accommodations 20-30 miles away. Visitors staying on the site will be sleeping in traditional handmade Berber tents, usually spread around the lakes, with local delicacies made on the spot at 2280m!
A full day drive is needed to reach Imlchil because of the tough roads which are completely covered with snow during winters. The best way to travel there is by a Land Rover with a local driver who will also know the region and the best places to visit after attending the festival.
Once there, the formal music ceremony goes on for hours. Off the record, there is music playing in the tents of the encampment all through the night. And it’s in that music that you can feel the real spirit of Morocco emerge, available to one and all. Whether tourist or Berber, everyone is welcomed to enjoy the festivities while sipping a long drink of fresh mint tea. For a moment, all visitors become members of the wedding party.
The Atlas Mountains also offer some adventurous spots for trekking. You can also immerse yourself in the gorgeous sceneries that Atlas Mountains offers, which can go up to 4068 m!
After a dose of a unique century-old culture and tradition, you can head to cities like Fez or Marrakech for a diametrically, opposite experience. Marrakech is the chic, stylish and pulsating hub of Morocco, while Fez is the authentic and artistic heartland. To get the best of Morocco’s stunning architecture, you could chose to stay in Riad in Fez or in one of the Palmgrove private villas with pool in Marrakech. And with an extremely pleasant weather to keep you company, make sure that you already make booking for September next year!
Radia, born and raised in Morocco, spent 10 years between France & Spain for her hotel management and masters in tourism. She came to India for a holiday and decided to settle here. An explorer with a creative flair, Radia has a passion for designing and travelling, and has worked with some great names in the Moroccan fashion industry. Now co-founder of Safran Travel Boutique, a haute couture travel boutique, she designs tailor-made holidays in India, Morocco and few more destinations.