Turkey 10: Nemrut Dagi, Harran and Sanliurfa

Tour time!

So anybody who’s ever talked to D or I know that organized tours aren’t our thing, and we prefer to avoid them whenever possible.  In this case, it definitely wasn’t possible.

Ever since my failed attempt to go from Istanbul to Cairo in 2006 ($$$), I’ve wanted to see Nemrut Dagi in the east of Turkey.  Antiochus, a King from the Commange Kingdom, which lasted a grand total of 250 years, created his own religion based upon the pantheons of the Greek and Persian Gods and built a giant temple atop the highest point in Mesopotamia, Mount Nimrod (Nemrut Dagi).  The temple stood years after the Commange’s fell, until an 8.1 magnitude earthquake knocked the heads off the statues, resulting in one heck of a visual.

Unfortunately, getting to Nemrut from Cappadocia and back on our own would have been nuts.  Hence, tour.

The good thing about this tour (though “good thing” may be the wrong term) is that it’s small.  The Turkish protests have taken a bite out of tourism, and the situation in Syria has made some tourists hesitant to visit the east.  So, we ended up on a bus with two Taiwanese women, two Thai women and an Australian radio journalist named Val.

Remember those numbers as we go along.

Day one was all transit, with a quick stop at Karatay Han caravansaray (an old stop on the Silk Road) and a later taste of goat milk ice cream (surprisingly good).  650 km, about eight hours of driving if you don’t include the stops, all so we could get to Adiyaman and our hotel.

For a 2:00 am wake up.

Yup, gotta get up early to get to Nemrut Dagi.

That being said, completely, utterly worth it.

The walk up the mountain was a quick one, only 25 minutes, and once we got up to the top we found the Temple of Antiochus bathed in blue light.  Turning around, the sky was turning a variety of bright reds and oranges that cut into the blue night.  Slowly, as the sun came up, the statues changed colour, from bluish, to grey, to orange, then back to grey.  The whole landscape seemed to change every second.  One of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. 

We walked around to the Persian side of the mountain (remember, combined pantheons) which was slightly less impressive, but still darn cool.  Along the way, the Euphrates River cut through the land and the valley looked absolutely beautiful.  We started our way down and two of the Asian women started to have trouble making it down the mountain.  Our guide helped one and I provided a forearm to another one, helping her slowly get down the mountain.  It was at that point that I saw one of the (presumably) more able bodied ladies sitting on the ground, holding her ankle.  Somehow, she took a wrong step and hurt it. 

Remember that for later.

Everybody got off the mountain safely, only one “scathed”, and we took in a few more sites along the way, including the ruins of Arsemia and a bridge built by Septimius Severus.  Then it was off to our hotel for a sketchy breakfast.

Remember that for later.

Before breakfast had even started, Daina started complaining of stomach pains, so the sketchy breakfast didn’t help.  Val took a few bites and left, and only the Taiwanese women came to breakfast.  The Thai women were getting ready to back to Cappadocia.

See, since tourism to the east has been hit by worries about Turkey and Syria, our tour actually combined groups from different companies.  The two Thai women were booked for a two day, one night tour, and needed to be back in Cappadocia by tonight.  They were given bus tickets, explicit instructions on how to change buses at Kayseri, and best wishes.

So, our group was down from seven to five.

As the rest of us loaded onto the bus, both Val and Daina were hurting and the woman who twisted her ankle had to be helped onto the bus.  We started the drive to our next stop, the Ataturk dam.

The Ataturk dam has changed the landscape – literally – of eastern Turkey, greening most of the country side through a variety of irrigation projects and providing power to millions.  Visually, it was darn impressive but, as our guide suggested we sit down for tea, there was some dissent.

Daina and Val were really starting to hurt (Val a bit more so), and the woman with the twisted ankle was still needing help to get around.  We took in the site, but the idea of some people being left at the hotel was soon floated.

Now, in Turkey, hospitality is a big deal and, as good as our guide’s English was, I could tell he was a bit concerned at a possible bailout here.  We had to explain that it had nothing to do with him or the tour, but that people were feeling sick and weren’t up for the heat (remember that for later).  So, the decision was made to drop Daina and Val off at the hotel first and then me and the Taiwanese ladies would head to Harran.

Once we got to the hotel, Daina had himself a row with the hotel staff about, among other things, faulty air conditioning, a flooding shower and a dirty room, which eventually resulted in a room change.  In the meantime, we were off to Harran, home to what some people believe was Islam’s first university and the “beehive houses” of the locals.

And 47 degree temperatures.

And 15 kilometres from the Syrian border.

Crazy.

Harran was visually neat and worth the visit, but the heat was like nothing I’ve ever experienced outside of a sauna.  We made our way back to Sanliurfa for lunch, at which point the woman with the twisted ankle pulled out for the day, being unable to walk without much assistance, and the other woman pulled out, not wanting to deal with the heat.

So, do the math, I was the last man standing.

NO problems here!

So I basically had a private tour of the mosque and bazaar area of Sanliurfa.  Visually, a pretty neat place.  The two big draws are the Cave of Abraham and Golbasi.  The former where was the Prophet Abraham was born after King Nimrod (real name) ordered all of the pregnant women killed when he received a prediction that he would be killed by a baby born on this day.  Abraham’s mom was the one woman to escape, gave birth to him in the cave, and hid him there until he was no longer a baby.  Now, it’s a green-lit cave that’s partially submerged.  Neat to look at and I had an interesting experience when I was shooed away from taking a photo by a man who wanted to pray to the cave, but who then politely moved me to the front of the glass when he was done.

Golbasi is a neat facility purpose built to display the second part of Abraham’s story.  As Abraham was destroying idols in Urfa, Nimrod wasn’t having it.  He ordered Abraham launched from a nearby hill (literally launched – slingshotted between two columns that still stand) into a giant fire.  God, siding with Abraham, turned the coal from the fire into fish and the fire into water, and Abraham was launched to safety to some nearby roses.  The carp pool is quite beautiful and you do get the sense that the whole area is kind of special.

We wandered through the bazaar after and I picked up some gifts in the blacksmith’s area before returning to the hotel, showering (YEAH!) and relaxing until dinner.

So, to recap, up at 2 am, saw major archeological sites in 45+ weather, everybody else around me fell ill or fell down, finally crashing at around 9 pm.

Yikes!

Tomorrow we’re looking at some ibis and Mount Tarsus before landing back in Cappadocia.  It’s not going to be as exciting of a day, but I will get to sleep in.

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