Monday, October 19, 2009

En Route to Nemrut

Charmed by the fairy chimneys and cozy cliffs of Kappadokya, I was ready to take on more hostile mountains. I got on a night bus in Göreme, continuing to the east. The bus attendant served me tea and cookies, and everything was just great. Then the engine exploded.

The explosion threw me straight onto another bus, sort of. Apparently, as a foreigner I was too important to be left standing next to the road in the middle of the night. Another bus was waved down and convinced to let me get on it. I felt a bit bad, as the rest of the passengers on the Blown-up Express were left behind, but all in all I was quite happy to go.

Until we arrived in Malatya, that is. I don't know which worm-holes the new bus drove through, but we arrived at my destination a full three hours earlier than I had predicted, having taken all physical laws known to me into account. And let me tell you, Malatya at four in the morning is a quiet place! The only sound I heard at the bus station was my own silly chuckle when I saw the (sadly closed) ticket counter of the Findiklitoris tour company.

I could have slept there until dawn, I suppose, but I decided to just walk to the city centre instead. Surely it couldn't be far away.

An hour and a half later my walk had awoken many a Turk by activating the ever-present howling dogs on guard duty. But that was okay, as I had indeed found the centre of Malatya. It was still dark and quiet, though, so now I found a bench in a pavillion to get some sleep on.

After fifteen minutes of sweet dreams, someone woke me up by quite insistently shaking my shoulder around. No, it wasn't the police. In rural Turkey no crime goes on before morning prayer anyway, so there's no police around at night. Instead it was a man who somehow had spotted me arriving, who then had proceeded to make me a glass of tea, which he now offered to me. "It's much to cold to sleep on a bench in the park! Drink this and be warm!", he said.

Now, how is that for hospitality? True, I would rather sleep, but you can't really turn down a cup of tea offered in the middle of a cold night, can you? So I drank the tea, and it was good. Letting me pay a lira or two for his trouble was out of the question. After some non-sensical chatting I returned the empty glass and thanked him. The good Samaritan, or rather the good Malatian, disappeared into the night again.

And that was just the beginning! As the day came into being, I discovered that Malatya was full of friendly people. Apparently they don't get many visitors. As I walked around and watched the city come to life, I was pulled into ironmonger shops, shoe stores, hairdressers and fruit stalls. Wherever I came, I invariably was offered tea and apricots in a number of shapes and forms, including fresh, dried, jelly and cake. Maybe you wonder what will happen to a stomach when it's exposed to a diet like that? Well, I can inform you that apricots are probably capable of resolving any clogged up digestive system on this planet. I spent the latter part of the morning in the company of a toilet that I had to hose down properly before I could leave it.

Anyway, where was I?

Ah, yes. The people of Malatya were extremely kind to me. Even the woman in the supermarket where I stocked up for my journey into the mountains. I didn't expect her to say much, me being a man and all, but she did inquire at length about where I had come from and why. A growing line of customers just waited smiling and patiently for us to finish our conversation, and they all said "Welcome to Malatya" to me.

I can definitely recommend Malatya if you're into small-talk. Unfortunately there's not much to see or do in the city itself, so you're likely to soon leave for Mount Nemrut. Your easiest option is to start out by going to the VIP Cafe. Kemal, a man with a most striking and amusing appearance, will be there from early morning till late in the day. The part he plays in this world is to sell a package of Nemrut transportation, meals and accommodation to independent travelers. He's not very good at it, but since there are basically no other options, he's still succeeding fairly well.

So thanks to him, by midday I was in a mini-bus on my way south into deep valleys with winding roads leading up to what may be Central Turkey's greatest cultural and natural sight.

If you've never heard about Nemruth, don't feel bad. Neither had I before I went there. My expectations weren't high, but I suspected that I might be in for a treat. And boy, was I!

Just over 2000 years ago, crazy King Antiochus decided to impress the gods of the day by building an enormous tomb up there, probably for himself. A dozen or so huge statues of bearded gods, eagles, lions and more. Eager Muslim believers in iconoclasm have of course long ago done their duty and defaced the statues so as not to offend their god, so the heads and the bodies have been separated quite dramatically. The size of both bodies and heads are still impressive, and it's not hard to imagine what the place might have looked like originally.

More impressive still is that on the top of the mountain, between the two rows of giant statues, there's a man-made mountain! Roughly 50 metres tall and 150 metres in diameter, it's huge, especially for being a mountain. Sure, the pyramids of Egypt are taller, but there at least they didn't have to carry the rocks up a 2000 metres tall mountain before they could start building.

Despite the scale of everything, the place disappeared from common knowledge for a long time. Sure, local shepherds must have known it and just not thought it necessary to mention it to anyone, but to the rest of mankind, it just didn't exist until 1881. Then a German engineer on a mission to build a railway went up the mountain to have a look around. I can only imagine him running around up there shouting "Donnerwetter! Du scheisst mich an!" for a long time.

Not much has happened up there ever since. There's only one tiny motel up there, some 45 minutes of walk away. The roads are not bad, but they are so full of crazy turns that it'll take you a while to drive up there. During the winter the place can be completely inaccessible for weeks as the roads are covered in deep snow.

I really think you should go there if you ever have the chance. It comes with the same feeling I've had at places like Luxor in Egypt and Machu Picchu in Peru. It's ancient, it's enormous, it's hard to understand the efforts the people building it must have put into it. What were they thinking?!

If you're into hiking, don't just spend an afternoon and a morning here! That's what most visitors do; see the sunset and the sunrise and then move on. The mountains around Nemrut offer great views and an insight into what life is like for the people who live there throughout the year. The guys at Günes Motel will let you add another night or two at a good rate (40 liras for a single room in 2009), and that may include three decent meals per day, whether you want them or not.

The hiking here may be a bit rough, so bring really, really good hiking shoes! There are some trails you can follow, but thanks to the tall peaks around you, you won't get lost, so feel free to explore! The views you may stumble upon are breathtaking!

I'll soon be done with sorting my photos from Turkey this summer, so in a few days you can see some more of what's on offer in this area. I think you'll like what you're going to see!

Güle, güle!
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