Thursday, August 05, 2010

Big Stone Heads

We left early from Urfa the next morning, catching a bus to Kahta. We got to the otogar, and took a minibus that was supposed to go straight to Kahta. Except that it only went to Adiyiman, and when we got there we were told we had to wait for the next vehicle. So grumpily we sat and waited and I drank tea. The next bus had some dutch people in it - the first westerners we had been in transport with in a very long while. A bit later a Spanish guy got on. He too was planning to go to Kahta. And the reason one goes to Kahta? To visit the giant stone heads at the top of Mt. Nemrut (Nemrut Dağı). Arriving at 1:30 at the hotel recommended
to the Spanish guy, we were just in time to book onto the tour leaving at 2, dump our stuff in the room (no AC) that we had just gotten, change our shoes, and grab some lunch before getting on the bus.

There were six of us on the bus - the three of us and three koreans. Our driver knew barely any English, and Mark and I were sitting up front to avoid me getting carsick, and so I once again slid into the role of translator. Our first stop was a burial mound, the Karakuş tümülüs. Surrounding the mound are three pillars with statues. One was an eagle and one a lion. The are very large and impressive. After walking around the mound we once more got into the van, to stop a little farther on at the Cendere bridge which was built in honor of the Roman emporer Septimus Severous. On one side of the bridge we saw a large group of people dancing to a loud drum, and others picnicing and swimming. As it was Sunday everyone had left the heat of the town to find some cool. Next came the very cool but disappointing new fortress, disappointing because it had been closed to visitors for 10 years. After wandering up to it, and taking photos we returned to the cafe accross the street where our guide was lounging and used the opportunity to drink lots of water. The temperature was somewhere up above 100.

Next came the selcuk bridge, which, although there has been a new bridge built, is still used by cars. We walked across the bridge, then walked down to the stream running underneath it where we waded accross. And the guys stripped down to their shorts/underwear and went swimming. But because it was eastern turkey only the guys got to swim, and I had to stand there in the sun and got harrased by a guy. I was a bit jealous, and very glad that I had Mark along for the journey, as this was one of the few times I got harrased.

Our last stop before the summit was Arsemia, which was the summer capital of the Commagene kingdom. We saw several friezes with greek carved into the back, one tunnel that was blocked off and another that extended down for some 158 meters. I went in maybe 30. Mark went until it ended and emerged later very dirty and happy. We walked up to the top to see the view, and then came back down to find our guide.

And then it was time for the big heads! The sun was getting low in the sky as we headed to Mt. Nemrut, but our guide assured us that there would be enough light. The road was much better than the lonely planet indicated - the guide said it had been repaved a few years back. We were left at the parking lot, and along with everyone else, started walking up to the top of the mountain. The top 50 meters of the mountain was created by the same guy who ordered the big heads. They used rock chippings from that and other things to make a huge cone on top of the mountain. It's incredible. Although the temperature was a little cooler, the hike to the top was still a bit of a hike. We first went to the eastern side. The bodies of the heads are in their original location, but the heads have fallen or been taken off and are sitting on the ground. They are absolutely incredible. The western terrace heads are even more amazing, although the bodies are no longer standing. We took lots of photos, and then sat, eating our antep fistik, and watching the sun set. It was magical. And then a guy blew a whistle and told everyone it was time to get off the mountain. So slowly slowly we did.

The way back was much longer, but it was on a bigger road. Back at the hotel we had a mediocre dinner, and then the worst night ever as we tossed and turned in our 90 degree room. The fan seemed to blow hotter air than what was coming in the windows. We ended up sleeping with wet towels for pillows as they cooled us down a bit. It was horrible.

The next morning we caught an early dolmus to Siverek. The old road to Diyarbakir, our final destination for the day, had been flooded by the making of the Ataturk Dam, and so now the dolmus goes on a very small and rickity ferry for about 20 minutes accross the lake. The dolmus was so full and people had so much luggage ours had been tied to the top. In Siverek we caught the next dolmus to Diyarbakir, and from the minibus terminal had to take another bus into town. We were staying in the old town, which is surrounded by massive intact basalt walls. There only seem to be two roads in the old city that buses go on, and so we had to walk a bit to the hotel area. The first we tried was horribly expensive. The next expensive. And the third one, as luck always seems to have it, was just right (okay, it could have been cheaper, but it was about average). We immediatly left to get food around the corner and then came back to our lovely airconditioned room to have a nap. Mark was exhausted as he hadn't slept the night before at all. Two hours in the cool and dark later we emerged to try to find dinner. Diyarbakir seems to have few resturants, and the ones it has are all kebab places. We walked on and on and then found a small shop that said it only had breakfast. And so we went in. And what an absolutely amazing breakfast it was. So amazing I am going to detail all of it. We had kavurma eggs - eggs slow cooked with lamb meat and spices (Mark is contemplating marrying the man, his eggs are so good), sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, crumbly cheese with butter on top, homemade yogurt, fresh blackberries, van style herb cheese, white cheese, kasar cheese, a small plate with sliced banana and fig with kaymak (like clotted cream), honey and walnuts on it - the food of the gods we decided, and lots of bread straight from the bakery. And tea, water and fresh orange juice. It was the best Turkish breakfast I have ever had in my life.

After a night in the airconditioning we felt much better, and after eating the hotel breakfast, which had great honey, but was otherwise disappointing after our amazing breakfast of the night before, we went out to explore Diyarbakir. Diyarbakir gets a bad reputation, mostly because it's the Kurdish capital, and so has seen a lot of violence. But everything was calm when we got there. We had absurd numbers of kids saying hi to us, and then many of them asking us for money. We either said no, or Mark asked them for money.

We first visited the walls of the city, at the opposite end from our hotel. We walked all the way down the main street, and found ourselves in a park. The walls were cool, or should I say very very hot. We had a nice view of the area outside the walls, and people on the roofs of houses outside waved to us. As someone afraid of heights though, walking on a narrow section of city wall sometimes unnerves me a bit. After returning to the ground we walked through many narrow and twisting streets to the Church of the Virgin Mary. It was supposed to be closed for lunch, and when three kids answered the door they told us it was indeed closed. But Mark looked very sad and told them we had come all the way from Australia, and the little boy let us in. A man showed us around the church. It was incredible. It's a Syrian Orthadox Church, and they speak Syriani. Next we visited the Behram Pasa Cami. When we went in a kid ran in in front of us and turned on all the lights. He proceeded to give us a tour, taking us up to the balconies so we could get a good look over the mosque. It was beautiful, both the inside and the black and white striped stone outside. When some other kids arrived and told us to keep going so we could see the roof, the kid in charge told us not to and so we didn't. At the end I was sure he was going to ask for money, but instead he asked us to put some money in the collection box. He must have only been about 9 or 10, but he was taking his job very seriously.

After discovering a closed house museum and that it was call to prayer time, we decided that it was lunch time. We walked back down the main street, stopping in the cheese market to buy some Diyarbakir cheese in a small flat disc. It was so salty and curdy it seemed it couldn't possibly melt in the heat. We also got some peaches and bread and returned to the park along the walls for our picnic. It was a lovely picnic. And then it was time for more old buildings. We found the Chaldean church was open, so we had a look inside. The courtyard is incredible. The other house museum was very closed and banging on the door many times yielded no results. So we walked north to the citadel. No one seemed to know where it was. Inside was a very non-exciting mosque, and the poorest part of the city we had seen so far. We walked a bit of the wall, but couldn't see the promised roman bridge with 10 arches, and I was feeling a bit sick from the heat so we returned to the airconditioning for a bit.

Later it was still hot, as we made our way to the ulu cami, and then discovered the first house museum we had visited was now open. It had some amazing white stenciling on the black basalt walls of the courtyard. The insides of the rooms had not very exciting displays with wierd manakins. Walking back we went past the han we kept meaning to investigate and noticed that right in the entryway was a sign advertising manti and icli kofte. We went in immediatly. The food was amazing, the guys seemed very amused to have us there and we left very full and happy.

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