This morning, while browsing online, I came across photos of a friend’s trip to the South East, read a blog about one blogger’s trip to the South East, and was asked if I could recommend any great places to see here in Turkey. It reminded me of some of my own trips, in particular, Mount Nemrut. As my mind wanders down memory lane, I thought you might like to come along…..
Whenever we visit the South East, my tourist episodes are normally curtailed by a continued family presence. There can be no such thing as a spare seat in the car; ‘What a waste of a seat’ they must think On the day we planned to go to Mount Nemrut, I was determined not to let this happen as to me, it is on par with the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and a place that I know, once seen, will remain with me forever.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being with the family, but when it comes to Ancient sites I like to wander alone and in my own time. I like to stare and touch and sit and fill myself with the ambiance. These to me are once in a lifetime places and I want to savor them without considering the timescales of anyone else. I do of course like to share the experience but not loads of chatter and I like to wander silently, lost in my own thoughts. I know that when we reach the top I will want to sit among Gods and Kings and share their eternal view.
We get rough directions from Yilmaz Amca and set off from Sanliurfa centrum to Hilvan, a small village, settled in the 10th century by a nomadic tribe. We need to drive through Hilvan to the small ferry port on the other side of the village where we will cross the Euphrates River. What we don’t know is how long this will take but, we are in no rush. It’s a beautiful sunny day with not a cloud in the sky and I have a huge smile at the thought of adventure. It’s not long into the journey that the phone begins to ring and I know instantly that our trip for two is about to be ambushed!
Murat answers the phone and sure enough, it’s Hasan Amca. The family are also heading to Hilvan to visit more family so ‘let’s meet on the road’ he says. I resign myself to the fact we will not be going alone and cross my fingers that it is just Hasan accompanying us and not the rest of the clan.
They are actually ahead of us and waiting on a dusty dirt road not far from the village. We pull up alongside them and Hasan gets out of a car fit to bursting with headscarves and jumping kids, no wonder he wants to come with us! We smile and wave them off as they continue into the depths of Hilvan.
Unlike us, uncles Hasan & Yilmaz, along with their respective families, have been sleeping their way around Anatolia at various relatives’ houses. They are not in the financial position to stay in hotels and are quite bemused that we would waste money on doing so. The Sanliurfa clan that we are visiting agree with them and tell us so at every opportunity. They just can’t understand why I’m not enthusiastic about sleeping on floors and chucking a bucket of cold water over me in the mornings. We manage to convince them that I need an internet connection for work purposes and that appeases them. If it were down to Murat however, floors and cold water it would be!
I have already moved into the back of the car, giving up my seat to Hasan out of respect. It’s not going to be a long journey and it does’n’t bother me. We don’t have far to go at all, ten minutes later and the lake comes into view and a few minutes later we spy the ferry, in port. I can see two mini buses on-board as we pull in behind a solo car waiting. There are a few people on foot, just milling around and I watch them to see if they do anything interesting. They don’t. I cast my eyes over to the brightly dressed girls standing by the lake and see one about to take a photo of the others as they pose on the waters edge. Grabbing my camera I hit the zoom button and focus on the two girls now laughing and holding hands. It turns out to be a stunning shot of them in their long flowing dress coats, one in gold brocade and the other in deep maroon velvet, both topped off with flowing lilac headscarves blowing in the wind. An atmospheric shot set against a backdrop of crystal blue waters. One for the wall methinks.
Once we are parked up on the ferry, we leave the car and stretch our legs. It’s a smooth journey, the sun is warming, the breeze is clean and the water is a brilliant blue. It’s bliss.
Also on-board are a small group of girls from one of the minibuses. They have left the confines of the bus and are standing around chatting. I notice one of them watching me and I catch her eye. several times. Whenever we are in the South East, I wear a headscarf. I do out of respect and also so that I don’t stand out as much. I also wear long skirts and long sleeves. Today is no different and I am covered but my “closed’ look is more “Brataslavian folk dancer” than Kurdish Villager. The staring continues to the point of rudeness so I make a gesture that means ’’What” by raising my eyebrows, shaking my head quickly from side to side and slightly turning my hand up. In response I get a slight shake of her head which means ‘nothing’ as it dawns on her that I am not a complete yabanci tourist if I know the gestures.
The journey takes only ten minutes and soon we are passing open landscapes interlaced with small villages. Thirsty now, we stop at a small market. Mu buys two cans of coke, a small carton of orange juice and 4 kek’s. It all costs just 2ytl.
The village just before Mount Nemrut is “Karadut” (Blackberry). It’s enchanting. A cluster of small stone houses amidst rolling countryside that sits prettily against a backdrop of the magnificent Nemrut Dağ. Both myself and Murat vow to return one day and spend some more time here.
We wind our way up the snake shaped road as our ears pop. Sitting at the top is a small lokanta perched on the mountainside where we take a break for cay. The owner tells us there are no donkeys at this time of year and we will have to walk to reach the very top.
Statues and giant heads are situated on both the East and West of the mountain, originally erected to take full advantage of sunrise and sunset. Crazy uncle, who once slept at the top of the mountain, says, if you stand on either site at sunrise or sunset, the sun is a great ball of fire that rises up or sinks down as if passing right through where you are standing. How I would love to see that. Sadly that won’t be today as it’s winter and the ferry times are short.
We three smokers set off toward the East platform. The thin oxygen levels and uneven stone steps make this no easy task but we take a few ‘rests’ along the way and this gives us a chance to admire the view. Filling our lungs continually with huge breaths’ we near the top, then, I catch my first sight of the top of a stone head and completely forget about lung capacity. I leave Murat and Hasan and bolt excitedly ahead……… There they are, the giant heads of Gods and Kings staring back at me. I could cry.
I forget I’m not alone, I don’t care that I’m not alone and I don’t care what anyone else wants to do. Totally wrapped up in Babylonia I wander. The statues sit behind a chain link fence but, there are no guards here out of season. With no-one to chastise me I slip over the chain and rest my hand against the head of Antiochus. Am I crazy for feeling like a child at Christmas? I really don’t know why ancient history excites me so much.
My camera is on overdrive as I take photo after photo. The boys have left me already; they are on their way to the other side.
Joining them on the West I am greeted by a breath-taking view. The statues are bathed in sunshine and sit staring out at a mountain top panorama. Finding a spot among them I sit, face turned toward the sun, eyes closed, listening to a silence so clear, it’s deafening.
It is a wonderful experience, quite unlike anything I have ever experienced before. The peace and tranquillity is indeed fit for kings and I can totally understand why a ruler would want this as his final resting place. I am literally sitting in the heavens among ancient relics; a piece of history that will still remain when I have long been dust. It is AWESOME!
Leaving is sad but at least my camera is full. Hasan decides not to take the steps back down and we foolishly follow him along a path more suited to goats.
Its dusk as we arrive at the lake. There are four men already waiting, on foot and chatting. They are traditionally dressed in salver and puşi and one of them is magnificent. He looks every inch an Ottoman. Of course I want to get out and take a photo but Murat say’s it wouldn’t be right. Murat and Hasan get out of the car though and join them in smokes and man talk. Suddenly, there is a wailing sound and a woman comes running over the hill. She runs at full pelt screaming and crashes into one of the men, pummelling on his chest with her balled fists. He holds her until she calms down. I am confined to the back seat and bursting with curiosity.
‘’What was that all about?’’ I ask Mu when he gets back in the car. Today, while we were taking in the sights, there has been a fight between neighbouring villages and a man is shot and killed. Hearing this on the grapevine and having not seen her husband all day the woman fears the worse.
I am sharply reminded of where I am and realise how fortunate I am to be travelling like this. I may not be able to wander around on my own, or have friendly conversations with male strangers and, I have to behave respectfully the same as any female of a South Eastern family but, I am also shown the respect of that position which affords me experiences I may never have as a foreign tourist.
NB: I missed the sunset this time but my fellow blogger Jeremy didn’t on his visit. If you want to know what that is like then you can read his account of it here: Trip to Nemrut