Incredible Okçular!

Holy Week in Okçular

J and I went on a pilgrimage today to the ‘Shrine of Kocadere’. Actually, we tend to go there quite a lot at different times throughout the year because it’s a very special place. There is an intimacy as well as a grandeur about this cleft carved through the limestone by the forces of nature. Here I can sit or walk and actually hear myself think! No traffic noise, no music and usually, no other people; just the gentle sounds of our other, non-human neighbours that we share this corner of the world with.

Once, long ago the waters of an un-named little river in what today is Okçular discovered a fissure in the bed of the stream and began to bore its way through the soft limestone, ‘zigging’ and ‘zagging’ until, eventually, it burst back into the light of day some 5kms from where it had gone underground. Millennia passed and the relentless flow of water dissolved away the rock until a vast cavern had been hollowed out. I like to believe that this great gateway to the Underworld would have held very special significance for the early inhabitants of this area and this accounts for the affinity that I experience whenever I go there. A hydrologist whom I took there described it as a ‘bridged canyon’ which would have been open at both ends.

Today Kocadere is bridged no more because, based on best estimates, an earthquake about 2000 years ago caused the roof to crash down. What you see today as you walk into the valley proper are great vertical walls of limestone with many, many rocks and huge boulders littering the valley floor. It takes very little imagination to picture the area as it once was.

If you are reasonably fit and sensibly shod, you can traverse the valley from end to end, although there are no footpaths to ease your way. This very inaccessibility has led to a distribution of flora and fauna that, whilst not totally unique, is nearly so.

Critically endangered species like the endemic Fire Salamander Lyciasalmandra fazliae or Alkanna mughlae, a member of the Borage family of herbs, abound. The Alkanna was only known to exist at two sites in the world, both in Muğla Province after which it is named. When I happened upon it, and drew it to the attention of one of Turkey’s eminent environmentalists, Okçular was inundated with professors and students. Kocadere is, today, the most important site known for this species.

The sheer number of different species to be found around Okçular and Kocadere has astounded biologists. One example is orchids; to date I have recorded 27 species and one of these was my reason for going to the valley today – the beautifully delicate Holy Orchid Orchis sancta. Here you can enjoy a photograph; to see one in the ‘flesh’ in the supreme setting of Kocadere, you will need to be quick – they will only be flowering for the next few weeks. Give your senses a treat and come and visit, ‘We are waiting you’.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü