Tangier – It is a sad reality that most ordinary folks in India know very little about Morocco. The converse, however, isn’t true thanks to Moroccans’ long – and running – acquaintance with Indian movies.
But one Moroccan figure that ordinary Indians are well aware of is the legendary traveller Ibn Battuta. The latter is ingrained in Indian memory through history lessons, poems and even a Bollywood song.
Battuta, no doubt, is one of the greatest travellers that the world has ever seen. Born in 1304 in Tangier, Battuta travelled the length and breadth of the then Islamic world and beyond for close to 30 years. His connection with India began in 1333 when he reached the Indus river. From there he proceeded to Delhi, the seat of Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq, who appointed him to the position of qazi.
Battuta would stay in India for nearly seven years – a quarter of his travelling life – accounts of which give us a fascinating insight into medieval Indian society, polity and culture. Indeed, Battuta’s Rilah is considered a masterpiece in travel literature – notwithstanding accusations of plagiarism, inaccuracy and hearsay.
It is with this image of Battuta in mind that I waded through the narrow lanes of Tangier’s old kasbah to locate the great traveller’s mausoleum. I was excited to discover that Battuta’s final resting place was here where it all began for him in the 14th century. And the kasbah today still retains that old world charm that can transport tourists to a bygone era. Every turn holds the possibility of a surprise, be it a quaint traditional bakery or exquisite murals. The kasbah literally hugs the visitor, enveloping him in a warm blanket of sounds, smells and colours.
But Battuta’s tomb, I said to myself, would be special. It had to be. After all, this was a legend renowned by history. However, as we approached our destination a small structure no bigger than a room – a small room at that – came into our view. It took us a while to grasp the fact that this was indeed Ibn Battuta’s tomb, a far cry from the grand mausoleum we had imagined. And had it not been for the official plaque describing the significance of the miniature structure, we wouldn’t have believed in a million years that this was the great Moroccan traveller’s final resting place.
Back in modern Tangier we were surprised to find that many locals didn’t even know that Battuta’s tomb was located in the old part of their city. But perhaps there’s a philosophical takeaway from all of this. Battuta was the ultimate traveller who left an indelible impression on future generations and sparked within them a great sense of adventure. It wasn’t so much the positions he held during his lifetime as the things he saw and experienced on his travels that continue to inspire travellers. In that sense, the lack of grandeur of Battuta’s final resting place is immaterial. After all, as any good traveller knows, the journey is more important than the destination. And Tangier’s kasbah is waiting to welcome you with open arms.