We spent 5 days exploring the beautiful area and it became one of my favourite places on the planet, with underground cities and thousands of rock-cut spaces forming temples, churches and villages. The landscape was spectacular, sprinkled with caves, canyons, ‘fairy chimney’ rock formations and all sorts of shapes jutting from the ground, the forces of erosion acting on the volcanic rock to create natural sculptures. Words don’t do it justice really so I’ll leave the spectacular scenery at that.
The visit to the Underground City of Kaymakli was fascinating, one of forty underground cities in the area that can house between 20 – 60,000 people. Inside was like a multi-layered warren of tunnels, rooms and areas, that we were told were stables, storage containers, kitchens and one was a church. I thought the most impressive things were the massive circular doors (only closable from the inside) and the extensive ventilation system, which would waft cold air through the tunnels. We walked around without a guide for about 45 minutes then when leaving I bumped straight in to Dr Robert Schoch, who was touring with a group of American ‘Ancient Civilization’ enthusiasts. We followed them to some of the lower levels, where the tunnels became pretty small and it was quite claustrophobic. The site was amazing, a huge labyrinth of tunnels clearly intended to live and hide in and I think it is a very significant piece of the puzzle that shows us the truth about human history.
On our last day in Cappadocia we stayed in a town in the Ilhara Valley where they had restaurants with tables in the middle of the river. We ate a lovely breakfast there then drove all day to the top of Mount Nemrut to see some massive stone heads, we arrived about 10:30pm and slept in the car under a really clear starry night, so clear that the Milky Way looked like a cloud.
At 4:30am we were awake and I was freezing, as I naturally let my wife have the sleeping bag last night. I put loads of thermals and jumpers on, then we walked up to the site of the huge, metre tall heads and joined another 80 – 100 tourists already up there to enjoy the sunrise. There were 5 big bodies and 8 heads, 2 eagles, 1 lion and 5 human heads, 2 of which were pointy. The official story is that King Antiochus built them to show off about his tiny little kingdom but I think in a country with this much history there could easily be a more interesting story behind them.
The sunrise was nice, as they always are, there was an ‘oooooooohh’ from the crowd as it happened and the sun lit up the planet to show us a fantastic view, I would guess you could see 90 – 100 miles. Shortly after the sunrise we started going down the mountain, using gravity as much as possible because we were short on petrol. We were a bit nervous towards the end as the needle seemed to be several inches past the Empty mark but we eventually made it to a petrol station. The petrol pump attendant was very nice and invited us for tea, so we sat communicating with him using hands, maps and the leaflet sized phrasebook. Lovely people the Turkish.
We then drove for 3 hours, passed Malatya and some really pretty turquoise lakes, before arriving in Sanliurfa (Urfa to the locals). I was instantly unimpressed by the shops, the traffic, all the adverts etc and also the heat, the wind was literally like a hair drier. We spent hours looking for a hotel, including a drive through the really old part of town, with tiny streets that were a nightmare for our huge car. We turned down one street and there was a huge piece of pipe blocking the road and then down another street the road came to a stop at a 10m high cliff edge; there were a few 10 point turns and plenty of swear words.
We eventually found a cheap place that had the essential A.C, we showered and chilled before going for a walk in the town. In the bazaar we met a nice young stall owner who was selling all sorts of fabric and Islamic items of clothing, he invited us for tea so he could practice his English then he dressed us up for a photo.
In the morning we went to the Archaeological museum in Urfa, to see some of the artefacts they have removed from Gobekli Tepe. There were some great statues there, one kind of alien looking totem pole giving birth and another humanoid figure with black gemstone eyes, both were 6ft tall and quite amazing considering they estimate they are 10,000 to 11,000 years old. We had some cream, honey and bread for breakfast then left Urfa around 10am to go visit the Gobekli Tepe site approx 21km away. It was out in the dry, arid countryside and it was at least 40°C, there was no entrance fee just a couple of guards and some barb-wire fence surrounding the 4 stone circles that have been uncovered. There were some excellent carvings on them; some that looked like foxes, crocodiles, boars and other animals but most interesting to me, were the ones that looked like dinosaurs and the 4m high columns with human features like arms, hands and a belt. I loved the site, it had such an ancient feel about it and I spent ages walking around.
From Gobekli Tepe we drove East towards Iraq until we arrived in Hasankeyf, driving through some pretty countryside that looked great as the sun was setting. The only hotel in town had shitty rooms and only single beds so we asked around and ended up paying less to sleep on the terrace of a restaurant underneath the stars. We spent hours talking to a local guide, a Swiss woman who spoke Turkish, the owner and his lovely family before falling asleep, with a nice breeze while listening to the river flow by. It was the end to a Brilliant, action-packed day and one that reminded me why I love to travel so much.
Hasankeyf is set along the banks of the River Tigris and you can sense the area’s history, a local guide said the town is about 11,000 years old. It is a very peaceful town and a beautiful place to sit and admire the view of the remains of a Roman bridge and the old castle on top of a cliff. There are also thousands of caves in the surrounding hills and some people still live in them today. Sadly, if you want to visit you better hurry up as rich people with too much power have decided that they want to build a dam upstream which will cause the town to be flooded in about 2 years time. It’s an absolute travesty and to rub salt in their wounds the inhabitants are being moved to a communist style collection of tower blocks and being charged a fortune for the privilege. Awful and unjust.
We eventually returned the hire car in Antalya, then spent a week there chilling before my wife flew home and I took the bike on a bus to Edirne in North Turkey. I spent a month cycling through the Balkans until I reached Bosnia where I participated in a 2 week volunteering program to excavate on the pyramids they claim to have found and to investigate for myself if they are pyramids or not.
To follow my mission to eat flakes in every country in the world google “mick hobday corn flakes” and you will find my blog, book, social networking links and a number of articles written about my quest.
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