Khamlia, a little piece of Heaven
Up to a few years ago, many maps didn’t even show Khamlia. It was a closely guarded secret! Khamlia is a small desert village on the edge of the Moroccan Sahara Desert and Erg Chebi Dunes. In fairness, it was also very difficult to get to. There was no road to Khamlia and the easiest way to get there was by 4x4 along the old riverbed. That was the way I made my first journey. That was my first visit of many in July 2000.
Khamlia is now my home. Having been born in Ireland, I lived, worked and experienced the fantastic city of Dublin and studied in Trinity College Dublin for the first 25 years of my life. I then moved to Edinburgh, Scotland for the next 19. An equally exciting and beautiful city, which holds an infinite number of happy memoirs and wonderful friends for me. But I couldn’t rid my mind and body from the call of Khamlia to come back since that first visit in 2000. It was like a magnet and the need to go back often, to be re-energized, especially for my work and life in the corporate world of a Life Assurance and Investment company where I worked in IT, was insurmountable.
In 2004 a road was built from Merzouga to Taouz, which passes through Khamlia. This has been a life line for the village and villagers as now, the young men and women of the village can make a choice to stay and live in the village and make a sustainable living. There has been a major increase in tourists visiting as cars can use the road to access the village now making it much easier and cheaper for tourists to listen to their traditional, authentic, rich Gnaoua music, song and dance. Most of the inhabitants of Khamlia are Gnaoua Berber and have been living there for generations eking out an existence from the scorched land where temperature can reach up to 53°C in the height of the summer.
I guess there are about 40 inhabited houses in the village now and perhaps 350 dwellers. There is a Mosque and a Government School, which thankfully has improved over the past few years. There are 3 music groups, 2 privately run (Groupe Des Bambaras and Pigeons des Sable) one run by a village committee called Association Khamlia. There is a fabulous restaurant run by Hassan and his family, which is currently top of the ratings in Trip Advisor for the area. There are 3 shops where you can buy your daily essentials and are open all day. There is a wonderful Art shop also run by a local and his wife both of whom are artists. Opening soon will be my Irish Tea Shop, also to be known as Café Khamlia. There are six or seven places to get a bed for the night. They vary greatly in style and ‘stars’, but are all hosted by local families who will make you feel welcome and very special. Engaging with local families and taking part in daily activities and festivals is very much part of the hospitality that Khamlia offers. They also host the world famous Khamlia Gnaoua Festival usually in the summer but dependent on when Ramadan falls.