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Middle East & Caucasus 2011

15. July 2011

Greetings All

Finally the fingers are tapping. It only seems like yesterday that I was travelling through parts of the Middle East and the Caucasus but it was the end of April that this episode began!!

Flew into Istanbul 29th April and had a few days checking this great city out. The muezzins wailing the calls to prayer over the loud speakers ensured an early start to each day.

A boat trip up the Bosphorus brought back memories of my merchant navy days as I had glided through these waters on bulk carriers 30 years ago.

Also managed to squeeze in a day trip down to Gallipoli. Being only a week after ANZAC day there was still evidence of the commemorations and walking along ANZAC Cove with the steep hills above brought home the difficulty those New Zealand and Australian soldiers faced in 1915.

We will remember them.

Evening of 3rd May I met Du and Tanja after they had arrived down from Ljubljana in Du’s trusty Toyota Landcruiser.  Du who runs overland trips to some very cool locations was to be our guide/commander in chief for the next 3 weeks. You may wish to take a look at his website http://www.overlanddreaming.com

Next morning we headed south east out of Istanbul down into the Cappadocia region. A great couple of days in the Ihlara valley trekking around the canyon where the early Christians in the Byzantine period dug cave dwellings and churches into the hills to escape from the Romans.

Moving further south east we stopped in Sanliurfa for two great sights. The Golbashi – the sacred carp pond and two mosques where Prophet Abraham was born and the one of the great Caravanserai’s where the Silk Road travellers in the 10-15th Centuries stopped and rested on their way from China to Europe.

Further south to Nusaybin just north of the Syrian border and then along the border for 50kms with Syria just across the dividing river.

Onto the border crossing town of Habur and the cross over into Iraq or Iraqi Kurdistan as the area is known.

Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region of Iraq and not recognised as a country by United Nations but many Kurds would like to have their own state.

A couple of days in the city of Duhok and some exploring of the region.  Great taking in the local culture with a trip up to the plateau village of Amedi and the Yazidi centre in LaLish. At this point we were 60km from Mosul but were advised by locals not to venture there.

Back on the road to the Iraqi Kurdistan capital of Erbil where it was obvious from the refurbishment of the Ottoman fort and the very swish city centre that there was significant investment in the area.

Over the years Erbil has been a major trading route between Baghdad and Mosul.

Moving east it was across the border into Iran and a couple of days in the Orumiyeh region taking in the Iranian culture and then onto the fourth largest Iranian city of Trabiz where one of Du’s many contacts gave us a personal tour of the huge Trabiz Bazaar and a local mosque.

Then to the border town of Jolfa and an excursion up the Aras river valley. Across the river was the  Azeri  enclave of Nakchivan (little Azarbaijan) which is separated from main Azarbaijan by Armenia.  Back down the valley past the Iran/Armenia border crossing at Norduz and up to the mountain village of Oshtabin for a view of rural life in Iran.

Jolfa was the main link for merchandise between Iran and the USSR, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Moving further east and across the border into Armenia and the city of Goris for some trekking around the hills and the old city caves. After travelling through the alcohol free countries it was time to toast the journey with a shot of good Soviet era vodka.

Next was Zorats Karer, also referred to as the Armenian Stonehenge,  where there is a collection of vertical standing rocks which some believe is the site of an ancient observatory.

Onto Lake Sevan past Mount Ararat though they must have removed Noahs ark.

Lake Sevan was a beautiful lake and the presidential palace where Soviet leaders used to holiday graced the shores along with the sorry remnants of the Soviet holiday homes.  Diesel tanks converted into lake side holiday homes must have been the hot ticket back in the 80’s.

Next stop the city of Yeravan and a Lada taxi up to the Memorial of the 1915 Armenian massacre by the Ottoman Turks.  Back to the Yeravan and the impressive Cascading monument celebrating 50 years in the Soviet Union.

Moving north into Dilijan with its well preserved “old town” and then across the border into another ex Soviet state, Georgia and the very picturesque capital city of Tbilisi.

It was only 30 years ago that the ex Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze became the first president of Georgia as the USSR collapsed.

Further north up the Georgian Military Highway and a section of that road named the Shevardnadze Highway after, or maybe by, the countries first president. Up into the mountains past another very nice monument to a region being under Soviet rule for 50 years. Here Du managed to get the landcruiser stuck in the snow and luckily an old Soviet Kamaz, a 6 wheeled beast, was travelling the highway and was able to provide a tow so we could continue onto Arsha.

This highway is the main link between Georgia and Russia though there is very little traffic crossing the border due to the current relations between those two countries.

Back down the Georgian Military Highway  to Gori and the birth place of Joseph Stalin.

It offered a great museum which incorporated the original house, or Dom, where Stalin grew up and also his well preserved personal train carriage.

The journey was now heading west and across the border and into north eastern Turkey.

Up into the mountains past Yusufeli and to the fantastic mountain village of Barhal for a couple of days of hiking and taking in the Turkish culture in this region.

The journey was coming to an end with a drive over the mountain pass to Trabzon on the Black Sea coast. A night in Trabzon and then a short flight back to Istanbul.

The common highlight of the 3 weeks was the friendliness of the people. They are very different cultures between the Muslim countries and the Caucasus but we met extremely friendly folk where ever we travelled. Just fantastic.

A great trip and to my Slovenian companions, Thanks Du, Thanks Tanja.

A few photos posted in the gallery. Just click on gallery then Middle East & Caucasus 2011.

After a couple more days in Istanbul it was then time to head to the USA. The Harley came out of storage in Milwaukee and a great ride down the country to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where I am currently based.

Next episode will be the looming 2000 km Tuk Tuk race in India so watch this space.



date Posted on: Friday, July 15, 2011 at 1:47 pm

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