Bahcesaray : A pleasant retreat into the mountains

Bahcesaray Travel Blog

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Mountainous way 2

Tired and frustrated with your present surroundings?  'Yes.'  Need to get away from the noise and chaos of modern city living?  'Yes.'  Need to get away from Van?  'YES!'  Then head for the hills.  Make for the mountains my friend.  'Great idea.  I will.  I will!'  I'm gonna head for the skies.  Head for Bahçesaray.

Bahçesaray is a teeny mountain-tucked Kurdish outpost village that sits at a pretty healthy elevation, 110 kilometres from Van.  It's hardly the place that Time forgot.  But it's the place it can prove a hard time to get to some times of the year.  Impossible in fact.  Snow cuts it of from all vehicular contact at least 6 months in every year.  And just for a little while today, I wonder if we are ever gonna get there anyway despite a bright dust-paddling sun and dry roads all the way.

  The solitary mini-bus from Van to Bahçesaray certainly takes its time circling the city picking up people and then stopping at every single flippin' market, stall and wayside village and shop along the way. 

It's quite a journey too.  The mini-bus, jolting and bumping its way along the single road.  The rocky, mountainous scenery erupting from dry grassy plains is sumptuous all the way.  A beautiful ride.  What would I give for it to be a snow-capped vista as it must be much of the time.  That would be fabulous!  But the rolling panorama impresses nevertheless.  Having passed a tiny yellow and black arrow sign mocking my visa-less status with 'Iran' this-a-way written upon it many a small village slips into our dusty rear view mirror : Kizitas where the lads all step out for a half hour of midday prayer and a woman laboriously hand pumps water into a tub of her families clothes.

Lady labours awaywhilst the boys go to pray.
  I'm frickin' starving and the rows of packets of crisps and other nibbles eye-ball me from the roadside store's confines.  But it's no good.  I've succumbed to an illness of over politeness of late.  An inability to purchase and consume food during Ramadan's punishing daylight 'business' hours.

Prayer done.  G*d happy.  Stomach grumbling so Stevie less so.  Back on the road.  Higher and higher.  You pass a maximum elevation of 2,985 metres on route.  'Cripes!  That's higher than me!'  More villages.  Görentas where sheep kick up dust as they're driven across the land.  Yukarinarlika and its cluster of roadside beehives.  Honey a regional speciality.  A clutch of naked kids play down in a stream as our van slips through Takumak.

'Bus Tranq' on route to Bahcesaray
  In the open lands horses, sheep, goats and their yörük or here Kurdish Zoma (nomad) drovers.  We have long since bid tarmac surfaces farewell when we start our snaking descent down into the valley that cups Bahçesaray in its bosom.  Ilhan the driver is congratulated and thanked on arrival for a masterful handling of the wheel.  We splash fresh stream water into our faces.  It's been a dusty, dusty ride.  A fine film of it calms the burning beacon of my hair.

Understatement is the order of the day in Bahçesaray.  But this is what you should expect and come here for.  Nothing more.  Just a quiet, unhurried and friendly diorama of a one street, one mosque village-come-town cosseted away in one of Turkey's furthest Eastern throws.  Far from Big Government.

A one minaret town high street.
  Probably frowned on by Big Government for its mountainous and assumed Kurdish complicity (in the past anyway) with the manoeuvrings of the PKK (Pakistan Workers Party).  But no sense of the sinister here.  A stream. ( 'Does it have a name?'  'The Big River'.  I see. )  Bird song within the trees that sway within the valley breeze.

A high street that can't be more than a functional 200 metres long with the town's one mosque sat at one end.  Flanked either side with two short lines of roll-shutter fronted grocery and household necessities shops.  The usual green-striped piles of jumbo water melons.  The usual flighty smiles of hopeful shoe shine kids.  The village old boys, middle-aged boys and not-so-old-at-all boys sit around on the usual four-legged, lattice-weave topped stubby stools chewing the fat.

  It's all they have to chew as they repose in lethargic conversation, killing time softly minute by minute, hour by hour until the Muezzin permits them to scamper home, sup on the fruits of their women's labours and return to take up they positions with steaming glasses of çay to hand.  I look forward to joining them later.

Whilst a look to the upper valley flanks all about reveals the multi-storied story of many a new residence (and possibly hotel?) being constructed around Bahçesaray for purposes it's hard to determine, visitors/tourists here for now clearly remain the exception rather than a seasonal norm and I am a draw for much friendly greeting and attention.  Kids and adults alike constantly wave me over and motion me to sit down for a chat.  I am well used to, and enjoy these non-chat chats.

  The usual near total language barrier.  Kurdish bouncing off English and back again.  It's great fun.  The secret to keeping a happy 'conversation' and situation going is not to worry over much about whether you understand each other or not but just to remain smiling, positive and effusive in your utterances. 

You can always assume the first few questions are 'What's your name?' and 'Where are you from?' which I hope you're qualified to answer.  Beyond that, anything's possible and I just answer as my imagination dictates.  So a multi-lingual observer could conceivably witness a conversation along the lines of 'So do you like Bahçesaray?'  'Yes, it's very pretty?'  'Have you tried our honey?'  'No I don't really like football so much these days.

'Is this your first time here?'  'Yes, Turkish women can be very sexy I agree.'  'Who is the leader of England at the moment?'  'Well I have one sister called Katie and no parents any more actually'  'How long will you stay here?'  'Ötüz.  I am 30 years old!'.  The men often circle one finger and thumb together and move it up and down the opposite hand's ring finger.  Ah, I know this one.  A cute visual conflation of the placement of a wedding ring and an associated conjugal activity.  'Nooooo, I'm not married yet.'  A look of horror and surprise upon their faces.
Stevie and some of the loveable residents of Bahcesaray. Not many 5 foot Gingers come their way so curiosity is high :D

Walking around the dusty slope lane peripheries of Bahçesaray is fun.  Notable kiddie attentions as ever but, not so familiar with large numbers of people of the 'Tribe of Digital Camera' their approaches and interactions are a little less tempered by cynical 'munny-munny'isms.  Bahçesaray is the only place in the whole of the Turkey I will visit where local women - the matrons of the society - appear happy to see and invite me, a foreign male, over for the usual non-chat chat.  This is a rarity indeed.  Trust me.  Gwelnos, Aissa and Nazlihan, middle aged and covered in white cotton head scarves beckon me over as they sit chatting at their embroidery. 

Kids flock to us too.

(L-R) Gwelnos, Aissa and Nazlihan : friendly matrons of Bahcesaray.
  I am deeply touched when the eldest of a small clutch of girls, Shaida disappears only to return with a solitary biscuit to offer me by way of a greeting.  This is one of the purest and most genuine gestures of generosity I have received in my journey so far.  I am deeply touched.  I motion that I can't consume it now out of respect for them and Ramadan and so pocket it for now.  A tiny little copy-cat girl has skipped off in the meantime and returns with a little foil-wrap packet of orange-cream crackers too!  These guys are adorable.  They firmly erase the recent memory of the guy who spotted me 15 minutes ago having a much needed sly sip of water and told me off quite clearly for infringing Ramadan.  'Allah!  Allah!' he had pointed angrily to the sky.
The lovely little ladies of Bahcesaray : Tallest in pink, Shaida who made me the gift of a single biscuit and touched my heart therein.
  'Bahçesaray Musselman!  Allah!'  Jeez.  I'm thirsty here.  Stevie not Musselman.  I presume the Big Guy can kick my butt anytime he feels the need to Mr, and in the meantime perhaps you can just leave me be. 

Such moments aside everything in Bahçesaray is enjoyable.  In an understated way as I said.  More strolling.  More families, men and women, beckoning me to sit and chat.  Non-chat chat.  Or just sit and smile when the conversation peters out.  Kids and grandfathers alike are keen to, and allowed to borrow my camera and snap away.  Infinitely entertained.  I head back to the high street and the 1km further out to 'Teacher's House' my rather peculiar accommodation for the night.

  [details below].  Literally the dorm rooms of a local High School complex where, much to my amusement, I join a group of teachers and boarding students for dinner.  Literally an 'old skool' school dinner.  I have to queue up with a metal tray for my slop and everything.  It's great.  It must have been 20 years since I had a line-up school meal like this :)  In my room, a line of drab grey metal-fronted lockers.  No naked women, gum cards of pop 'n' soccer stars or leftist political witticisms and sloganeering stickers on the interior here though.  Just a Turkish flag, a picture of Atatürk and an 'Evil Eye'.  An accurate enough reflection of the principle Turkish passions I guess. 

Lessons in tourism over for the day.

Stevie and more of the inquisitive locals.
  It's time to hit the hay.

[ Info :  the one mini-bus transport to Bahçesaray I am aware of departs from outside the Bahçesaray Çay Evi (Bahçesaray Tea House) at approx 11.30am.  It's no more than 5 minutes walk from the main clutch of hotels that reside just south of Cumhuriyet Caddesi and near the Hz Ömer Camii mosque.   I'd give you better directions but I've posted my lonely Planet Turkey Guide home 'Oops!'  It costs 15TL/ £6.

Don't hit Bahçesaray as a super-speed day trip destination, mainly because of the ponderous transport connections.  Be flexible with your time and plan to stay 1 night there.  There seemed to be plenty more mini-buses heading back to Van the next morning (10.

Stevie's 'back to skool' school dinner :)
00am(ish) and 15TL/£6 again) than travelled there.

The one riverside 'Guesthouse' referenced in LP doesn't seem in business right now so all visitors were directed 1km further through town to 'Teacher's House'.  Literally the accommodation dorms within the local region High School.  20TL/£8 + 5TL/£2 if you wish to join in the 'school dinner'.  Whether this arrangement prevails during term time I could not say.]

dolfijn says:
Steve, great blog!
Posted on: Oct 01, 2009
nsedlmayr says:
Hi Steve!

I finally found your travel blog thing! Glad to hear you're doing well. I will have to have a look at all the cool places you've been to. (While I have still been here in Halle with its incongruous cathedral!)

Posted on: Sep 28, 2009
dothoin says:
great blog steve ...turkey is an amazing country, frustrating at times i know, but the hospitality of some of the genuine turks more than makes up for all the other bad stuff travels buddy
Posted on: Sep 19, 2009
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Mountainous way 2
Mountainous way 2
Lady labours awaywhilst the boys g…
Lady labours awaywhilst the boys …
Bus Tranq on route to Bahcesaray
'Bus Tranq' on route to Bahcesaray
A one minaret town high street.
A one minaret town high street.
Stevie and some of the loveable re…
Stevie and some of the loveable r…
(L-R) Gwelnos, Aissa and Nazlihan …
(L-R) Gwelnos, Aissa and Nazlihan…
The lovely little ladies of Bahces…
The lovely little ladies of Bahce…
Stevie and more of the inquisitive…
Stevie and more of the inquisitiv…
Stevies back to skool school di…
Stevie's 'back to skool' school d…
Mountainous way 1
Mountainous way 1
the Big River through Bahcesaray…
the 'Big River' through Bahcesara…
Bahcesaray Portrait 1 [ taken by t…
Bahcesaray Portrait 1 [ taken by …
Bahcesaray Portrait 2 [ taken by t…
Bahcesaray Portrait 2 [ taken by …
Drying in the wind
'Drying in the wind'
Not such a well looked after strea…
Not such a well looked after stre…
Mini-bus driver to and from Bahces…
Mini-bus driver to and from Bahce…
School lockers.
School lockers.
Patriotic Locker Decor
Patriotic Locker Decor
photo by: Stevie_Wes