Mt. Nemrut Dagi : Riddles in the Mountains

Karadut Travel Blog

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Koichi and the land.
‘Someone makes something to sell it.
Someone buys it but doesn’t use it.
Someone uses it but does not see it.’
What is it?

One of several of the curious hotch potch of riddles, jokes, tricks and questions posed to us by Theo our driver and guide to the sights and summit of Mount Nemrut Dagi.  But I’m getting ahead of myself as usual, and - if you can bare my company that long - will answer the riddle at the end of today’s proceedings.

Okay, okay, okay.
Karakus Tumulus
  Forty five!  Forty five Lira each for the tour.  Best price.  Best price!!  And you see my pansion
[hotel] is good place.  Fifteen Lira for one night!’.  This poor tour touts been haggling with thin air and a wall of fatigued indifference ever since Sina and I and our new little group of satellite associates blindly staggered off the night bus from Göreme via Kayseri.  I’m thinkin’ ‘Seriously dude, it’s 5.00am!'  In short order our names and priorities at this precise moment in time are :  Steve : Banana consumption.  Sina : Toilet location.  Rafael and Diego :  Opening their eyes.  Or not.  But smoking the days first cigarettes either way.  Koichi :  Well?  I’m not sure.  Those famously inscrutable Japanese.
Cendere Roman Bridge


‘Okay, okay, okay.  Forty.  Forty Lira for tour!  If you go straight top mountain you no see tumulus, roman bridge, statuesoldcastlenewcastle blah, blah, blah…’  Nazeem (Mr Desperation’s actual name) continues to barter himself down with zero response or input from ourselves.  I chew over my banana and thoughts of Hussein (proprietor or tonight’s proposed guesthouse) imploring me on the phone yesterday ’Whatever you do, do not accept a tour from anyone at the bus station.  Bad people.  You get there, just call me!’.  

But the dolmus buses up to him in the village of Karadut don’t roll for another 7 hours (?!?) and so Sina and I quietly keep crunching the numbers in our minds until poor, desperate Nazeem and his surly colleague Kadir reach an absolutely throat-cuttingly crazy 30TL (£12) tour plus 15TL (£6) accommodation per person bargain basement deal for us.
'İ Love' :)
  The price we would have paid for tonight’s guesthouse alone without having seen almost any of what we will now enjoy.  It’s perfect and Koichi, Sina and I are well happy to crash out in our nearby hotel shared room to recapture any sleep that evaded us last night.  The tour begins at 14.00.  The moral of this introductory sketch being : Have patience and don’t always universally dismiss the touts.  Those desperate for out of season trade.   Learn the zen of non-negotiating negotiation.  Kinda akin to a Jedi mind trick İ guess :) and slowly, slowly catchy monkey.

When two o’clock comes we’re well rested ‘n’ ready to roll.  Our eclectic mix of English, Italian, Japanese, Swiss-German and Turkish (Theo our driver, aka The Riddler) is further enriched by the addition of Xian Bi Li from South Korea.  Smiles all round.  Let’s hit the mountain trail!

A Potted History : Part 1  Mt.
Shadow in the cave.
Nemrut Dagi ( ‘Dagi’ rather tautologically meaning ‘Mountain’) sits within a region of Central Eastern Anatolia once contested by the Seleucid and Parthian Empires, they whom followed the rather brief empire of Alexander the Great from 250 BC onwards.  By 80 BC the Seleucid’s power was waning in light of the encroachments of the Roman Empire.  An ally of the latter, one Mithridates I Callinicus set himself up as King of the region and constructed his capital Arsameia upon the flanks of Nemrut Dagi.

Back to the present :  So on our tour to Nemrut Dagi, before we wend our way up to the 2,150 metre summit finale, a series of sights for our edification and delight.  Vestiges of the Roman empire and ‘King’ Mithridates might.  First the Karakus Tümülüs or ‘Blackbird Hill’ as Theo informs the locals call it.  An artificial funerary mound of some relatives of King Mithridates II.
Mithridates I commends Hercules on his fine piece of wood :)
  Some columns and wind-smoothes statuary still standing guard.  Next the Cendere Bridge.  A 2nd Century Roman bridge arching over a river trickle.  A more modern bridge across the valley basin conceals the curious silhouette forms of tens of cows taking refuge beneath it.  The only shade for miles around.

‘Stone thingamy overload already?’.  Yep.  Time for tea, we all agree.  Sina and I deputised to try to distinguish the subtle but apparently important difference between Turkish and Kurdish çay.  Our Kurdish hosts of course educate us that the latter is far finer.  Time for another one of Theo’s so-called riddles.  The task of untangling his pigeon-English meaning is tough enough let alone the correct composition and communication of the ‘translated’ riddle is left to me as the sole native speaker.  An interpreter for Theo’s truly international audience.
Xian Bi Li ascends toward the Eastern Terrace


‘Which animal is a female who is unable to give birth?’.  Hmmm.  Not so much a riddle as a National Geographic crossword clue.  ‘A seahorse!’ I declare.  ‘No you are wrong.’  ‘Um, no, really…’  ‘No no.  Try again.’  ‘No really he’s right.’  ‘Yeah, a female seahorse…’  ‘No, not a horse!  You are wrong again my friend. Ha ha.’  ‘No seriously, not a horse but a SEAhorse.
Heads falling into shadow: Eastern Terrace
  It is the man who carries and births the kids.’ 
There are surely other examples in nature too?  Theo looks at me bemused.  With Pictionary speed I sketch him a seahorse I’m actually very pleased with.  ‘No, you are wrong again.’  Jeez.  ‘Okay.  You want to know the answer?’  ‘Yeees’ we all drone.  ‘Okay. Ha ha. The answer is a mule!’  ‘Oooh yeah! You’re right!’ we say to humour him.  Can we move on now?

An old Seljuk bridge.  Little fish in the river Khata.  The remains of an old fortress atop a cliff.
Stevie and the land.
  The little sights keep rolling until we find ourselves at the ancient capital of Arsameia.  Whilst practically nothing except a few cave stairways and rooms remains of the physical presence of Arsameia a stroll around several slope side tracks does present a few interesting stone relief carved stellae.  Forms of Mithras (Apollo) the sun god and most intact and impressive one depicting king Mithridates shaking hands with hero of Greek legend, Heracles.  A stroll back down.  A couple of party tricks with matches from Theo and his souvenir stall compadres and it’s time, finally, to head for the fabled summit of Mt.Nemrut Dagi.

A Potted History : Part 2  Despite proclaiming himself possessor of a mighty lineage connecting him to both the dynastic origins of the Seleucid empire and kin to the great gods, Mithridates I only ruled in his self-anointed role for 16 years.
The tumulus artificial summit of Nemrut Dagi
  His son Antiochus I succeeded him on his death in 64 BC, adding over time to the temporal glories of Arsameia.  It was he also who ordered the construction of the funerary mound and statuary for his father’s memory to be built upon an artificially carved summit for Mount Nemrut.  Not discovered (except by mountain goats presumably) until 1881 by a German engineer it is this site that has put Mt.Nemrut upon the maps that tourists and travel agents so eagerly clutch at.

Back to the present :  And it is here that a long and winding drive eventually brings us.  Thankfully first.  Ahead of the usual, expected deluge of tourist mini-vans that will follow us later.

‘So then, um, tick the box marked 'Big Stone Heads'.  Done!’  I’m beıng twee.
(Mt.Nemrut) Muju : www.mujuworld.co.uk
  But Sina and I grin at each other.  Both with over a years travel under our belts there’s a perverse pleasure to be derived occasionally by belittling the great acts of the mighty-and-no-more; the Wonders of the World that juuuust might not actually be quite so wonderful as you’d been led to expect.  Or just shrink a little in perspective when ranged against all the great sights of the World it has been your good fortune and privilege to gorge your eyes and minds upon over those long months.  But honestly, for anyone who’s ever even dipped their toes into Egypt’s treasures or even visited one of the World’s great museums (the MET, British Museum and many others alike) the famous earthquake toppled heads of Mt.Nemrut can be a wee bit underwhelming, given the journey you’ve undertaken to get to them.

‘Oh, yeah you have to looove those Big Stone Heads’ smiles Sina.
Sina and the land. A true 'travel soul' mate. İ hope to meet you in the World again by accident some day!
  ‘Yes, we clearly no longer live in the era of the Big Stone Heads’ I giggle.  But there’s a certain truth in this I realise.  ‘For sure there’s no way these days that we as a species construct anything that will be left to the awe, wonder and mystery of those in centuries to come’.  Yes, we have for sure lost the art of the all time ‘Wow factor!’  Which requires elements of mystery.  The uncertain.  The unknown.  Which doesn’t exist anymore in our hyper-mega-info-connected Modern World.  Nope.  The art of the Big Stone Heads is dead.

But jesting and cynicism aside.  To be up here above the dusky plains that carpet out beneath the Anti-Taurus mountain range as sunset approaches is without doubt a special moment on my journey around Turkey.  The panoramic views are quite spectacular and could hold my attention up here for hours without end.
The era of 'The Bıg Stone Heads'
  Worth the trip alone.  Great expanses of dusty browns and ochres reaching out only to be broken by the great distant lakes created by the nearby, mighty Atatürk Dam.  An impressive enough place to find myself right now, for if yesterday marked the 365th day of my Odyssey so far, today is the first anniversary of my departure from England.

The ’mighty’ heads of Nemrut Dagi sit at a terrestrial remove from their time-tumbled Egyptian-style seated body forms.  Two gatherings.  One heavily weather worn on the Eastern Terrace, a few felled relief carved stellae and the better formed, more photogenic heads on the sunset facing Western Terrace.  This is where you find Sina and I and the other guys staring at the mournful fallen faces of Antiochus and various Greek gods, Heracles again amongst them.  One, a large falcon’s head reminds me of the Egyptian god Horace.  Escort of the dead to the Underworld to have their souls weighed by the Jackal-headed god Anubis if memory serves?  ( Which it usually doesn’t in my case!).
Cracked visage


It is less the might and majesty and more the poignancy of these carved visages that strikes me today.  Another reminder that no matter the power and wealth possessed, everything passes.  We are all but grass in the wind.  It’s a miracle the heads survived their fall back to earth as intact as they did (Mother Nature successfully having unseated human arrogance once more) however they are covered entirely in spider web meshes of fine cracks.  The wrinkles of ages.  Their eyes appearing to cry blackened liquid stone tears.  The sun bowing lower and lower towards the Western mountain line permits the statues increasingly to breathe in the rejuvenating power of evening light.  The faces brighten.  Suffused with gold.  Enlivened by the low angle light effects of chiaroscuro upon their features.  I sit on my rock and muse that if the sun just stuck around long enough to give them just that bit more energy and warmth they might be recalled to life!  But as the sun leaves the stage of a most spectacular sunset; the direct light gone.
  Stare as I might into Fortuna’s eyes.  They never open.

So they never see, as we perched upon our rocks, the fabulous masterpiece this evening crafted in resplendent colours across the heavens by that Great Painter in The Sky.  So as Xian Bi Li sits cross-legged or ‘lotus positioned’ facing the sun in a state of meditation and Sina puts her fourth outer layer on (an unfortunate intolerance to cold for a mountain-dwelling Swiss) the colour leeches from the statues once more.  And they remain what they have always been.  Lifeless stone.  Set before the pyramidal pile of shattered boulder scree that form Nemrut Dagi’s 50 metre artificial peak.  Believed possibly to contain the final resting place of King Mithridates and his wives.  And as Sina, Diego, Rafael, Xian Bi Li, Koichi and me descend, entranced by the beauty of the phases of sundown and dusk up here I’m thinking ‘Woah!  This is quite a place to be buried.
The Sun and the land.
  Pity the lad never got to see it with his own eyes.’


… oh!  Which reminds me.  So did ya get it?  The riddle I mean.  One more time?  Okay :

‘Someone makes something to sell it.
Someone buys it but doesn’t use it.
Someone uses it but does not see it.’
What is it?

The answer is of course… a grave.
dothoin says:
another great blog steve
Posted on: Sep 19, 2009
delsol67 says:
I've seen a some of Turkey and know that I want to see more but, you are showing me other places to condsider, also. Thanks, Brian
Posted on: Sep 13, 2009
Stevie_Wes says:
Yeah Turkey's a surprisingly big ol' place with plenty to see. Heading East is definitely worth a good crack... but more of that in entries to come :) Thanks guys.
Posted on: Sep 12, 2009
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Koichi and the land.
Koichi and the land.
Karakus Tumulus
Karakus Tumulus
Cendere Roman Bridge
Cendere Roman Bridge
İ Love :)
'İ Love' :)
Shadow in the cave.
Shadow in the cave.
Mithridates I commends Hercules on…
Mithridates I commends Hercules o…
Xian Bi Li ascends toward the East…
Xian Bi Li ascends toward the Eas…
Heads falling into shadow: Eastern…
Heads falling into shadow: Easter…
Stevie and the land.
Stevie and the land.
The tumulus artificial summit of N…
The tumulus artificial summit of …
(Mt.Nemrut) Muju : www.mujuworld.c…
(Mt.Nemrut) Muju : www.mujuworld.…
Sina and the land.  A true travel…
Sina and the land. A true 'trave…
The era of The Bıg Stone Heads
The era of 'The Bıg Stone Heads'
Cracked visage
Cracked visage
The Sun and the land.
The Sun and the land.
Xian Bi Li and the sunset.
Xian Bi Li and the sunset.
View from the Tumulus
View from the Tumulus
Fortress ruins on hill.
Fortress ruins on hill.
Sina struggles with one of Theos …
Sina struggles with one of Theo's…
Nemrut Dagi Eastern Terrace
Nemrut Dagi Eastern Terrace
Dıego, Rafael & Koichi head high …
Dıego, Rafael & Koichi head high…
Mt.Nemrut Dagi (detail)
Mt.Nemrut Dagi (detail)
Moon & Sunset 1
Moon & Sunset 1
Moon and sunset 2
Moon and sunset 2
Karadut
photo by: Deats