The South East Days 4 & 5

A pleasant and relaxing sojourn to Hasankeyf about 2 hours away through this remarkable geology; so dry and dusty and crumbly yet there are loads of areas of bright green and fruit/nut tree orchards galore. There are plenty of river valleys supplying water the most expansive of which is the Tigris where Hasankeyf is situated. It’s a remarkable site spread out over a large area; there is evidence of thousands of cave houses (and that’s

Hasankeyf from the other side

only those that are left in evidence after much of the facades have collapsed over time). Picture in your mind a deep cleft running back from the huge valley of the Tigris; the sides are inundated with cave houses and once great buildings are dotted around the cliff tops. Under the castle are dozens of huge water cisterns and secret tunnels and stairways to escape/hide from assailants. There are two wonderfully carved stone minarets and some odds and sods remain of the palace. The whole of this remarkable site, like many others in Turkey and around the world, is under threat from yet another discredited dam. Anyone who takes the time to find out knows that rivers carry sediment (especially those like the Tigris) and dams stop water flow and allow sediment to settle out. Sediment relentlessly fills up dam and in short order dam is useless. People are displaced, good farm land destroyed but money is in the pockets of the greedy and selfish. The huge Seven Gorges Dam project in China is already in trouble before it is fully functional with cracks and collapses – how many millions displaced and for what?

Hasankeyf town is a pretty depressing place generally with a large concrete bridge to carry the main road over the Tigris. Having seen the underside of the bridge close up, how bits of the supporting structure moved and opened up, I was not feeling 100% confident as we crossed over to get a view from the other side. On the upside the government is building a wide new road into the place, no doubt with the intent to facilitate evacuation when the time comes!!

On the drive back we diverted away from the more commonly used roads to find the little town of Savur; it was worth it with loads of fine traditional stone house alongside some beautifully built “reproductions” – there were also plenty of concrete nasties but enough of those. We squeezed the car up some pretty precipitous and narrow lanes before parking up and climbing up to what remains of the castle. We enjoyed the view as our brains were slowly fried by the micro waves from the Turk Telekom communication towers! On the way up we found white violets! Don’t yet know if that is a ‘Eureka!’ moment as my ref books are in the car and I’m not getting dressed to fetch them. We’ve had a few fine “spots” of flowering plants along the route today; some will no doubt get a label but with the limited range of my ref books many will remain just beautiful photos to be enjoyed.

Found a truly fantastic place to eat this evening; simple food prepared and presented so well that it really deserves to be described as exceptional, this was some of the finest food either of us have ever tasted. And no touristic prices to take the edge off the experience!

Tomorrow we head back to Şanliurfa; Urfa, the birthplace of Abraham and site of numerous miracles if the stories are to be believed; there is even a cave under the castle that claims to have a hair from the Prophet so something for everyone of you believers out there. We also have some fish to feed, of which more later.

What I didn’t mention was the state of the road from Şanliurfa to Mardin; most of you know that Janet and I push our faithful Doblo (with an accent) up and down all sorts of mountain tracks and goat paths so when I tell you that this has to be the very worst road in Turkey you know I mean the worst! After juddering along for half an hour everyone becomes convinced that the road is better on the other side, so we all move over which leads to some pretty spectacular driving antics when something comes the other way or a bit of overtaking is undertaken!! Tomorrow we have all this to look forward to in reverse (dis)order.

Day 5

As it happened, the other side of the road was better and the powers that be had been out filling in a lot of the potholes and there seemed to be less traffic going back, which begs the question; if it’s all going and not coming – where has it all gone?

There has been a lot of police and jandarma about because of some heavy violence following the local elections; we stopped for petrol near a small town and chatted to the guys there who told us that four people had been murdered there. Beggers belief! Having said that we have only been stopped once so far which was today; there was a great deal of headlight flashing going on and suddenly we were hauled over with a whole bunch of other drivers under the menace of two eight-wheeled armoured vehicles armed with 14.5mm heavy machine guns and surrounded by loads of tooled-up jandarma. We’re lucky, I s’pose, because we stick out like sore thumbs; we seem to have a big neon sign on our heads saying “Yabanci”and a nice young regular soldier was soon at our window practicing his English and then sending us on our way rejoicing.

Our copies of Lonely Planet and Rough Guide are about 12-15 years out of date and Urfa has grown a tad since they rolled off the press. We eventually found our way around the

The Old Vali's Konak Hotel - very nice!

road system and are ensconced in what was once the provincial governor’s mansion; it is a beautiful stone “palace”, beautifully restored and furnished with a beautiful price tag, but hey! how many times do we live? Anyway, as socialists we believe in doing away with money so we’re setting an example and starting with ours!

Just want to backtrack for a moment; before we left Mardin we had a wander around a different part of the old town and found a newly restored mosque and medrassa. Our luck was good because just as we turned up so did the guardian, a youngish chap who was happy to give us a personal tour. He was a mine of information and sound philosophy as he waxed lyrical about the beauty of Islamic art and design, mathematics and the diversity of faiths in the area (Islam, Orthodox, Catholic, etc). As we arrived at the prayer rooms he indicated for us to remove our shoes and the tour and our education continued. Part way round I noticed the butt of a 9mm automatic sticking out of his waistband which caused me to reflect upon a culture that has you take your shoes off at the door but isn’t bothered about firearms. But then what do we know of the dangers of being a mosque guardian in a place like Mardin?

Christ! Our hotel has a live folk music evening; it feels like we’re sharing the platform with them!

After a light vegetarian lunch to help purge some of the Class 1 protein from our systems we set out to find the world renowned Pool of Abraham. It was just a few hundred mts from our hotel and is quite a sight/site. There are several very old mosques and medrassas and acres of connected pools the whole set in beautifully kept gardens. The area bulged with visitors and the pools bulged with millions (not joking) of very large carp that assume that anyone who happens by is going to feed

gagging for it!

them and follow you thrashing about at the surface with their great gaping mouths opening and closing. I think that if you fell in you’d likely be gummed to death!

This is such a culturally diverse place; the mixture of Turkish with Arabic and a little modern Western dress is something to behold. People speak Turkish, Kurdish and Arabic or a combination. The ladies in particular are very colourful.

The covered bazaar is extensive and a normal working as opposed to a touristic place. Janet bought a few of the local purple scarves that are worn by men and women alike.

The castle here is also under restoration but we determined to climb up there for the view; having puffed our way up the restored stairway to the restored gatehouse we were confronted by the pay kiosk and a “Jobsworth”. The sign said entrance was free to over 65s and Janet is ever one to save a few lira; out came her ikamet which gives her age. Jobsworth was not impressed; “It’s only for Turks” he said, “And this is an official Turkish identity card. I want my free admission.” She got it! I can’t wait to be an Old Aged Pensioner too so I can get my free admissions.

Blimey the music is loud but seriously good. That zourna gets right into your guts.

Tomorrow we head out for Harrun near the Syrian border which promises to be very interesting. It’s incredibly ancient with beehive shaped mud houses. Speaking of ancient, Urfa claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited place on the planet. “Not many people know that.” says Michael Caine, or was that Michael Able?

It’s been very interesting sitting with young Kurds and talking politics – local and global, over a glass of tea. The differences between people are so superficial yet they cause many problems when left to the machinations of the powerful elites.