After waiting fifteen minutes at the main road, a man from Istanbul stopped his car and drove me into the centre of Solhan. The man had been on the road for fifteen days taking orders for kitchen electrical goods in Bolu, Ankara, Kayseri, Sivas, Malatya, Elazig, Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van. He was now returning home and hoped to arrive in Istanbul about 1.00am or 2.00am. He picked me up at about 1.00pm, so was suggesting he would get home in twelve or thirteen hours. I thought this unlikely, even though he drove to Solhan at great pace. For most of the way the car exceeded 120 kph.
I returned to my hotel room briefly, then went to take a few photos around the town. The streets were top-heavy with men and boys, but everyone was very friendly. It looked as if I was in an overwhelmingly Sunni area where segregation of the sexes was the norm. Opportunities to talk with women were non-existent other than if they were encountered as employees in the hotel or some of the town centre shops. But few women benefited from such roles and the conversations had to be brief and business-like. Lots of women wore loose-fitting black garments from head to toe and some covered their faces. Girls aged fourteen or more wore headscarves that covered their hair and ears. Only a very few women defied Sunni conventions about what would be called appropriate female dress. Depressing? Very depressing.
I walked around the small pazar, identified where minibuses left for Elazig, located the small otogar serving towns and villages in the surrounding hills and mountains, visited a shop selling locally-produced honey, watched a man ride a horse bareback along a road leading over the river and out of town, met four supporters of the HDP and admired the bunting along the town centre’s main thoroughfares. I then took someone’s advice for a good meal and walked up the stairs leading to the Saray Restaurant which overlooks the main street.
I liked the Saray as soon as I entered its clean, spacious and female-friendly surroundings. Food is prepared in two different areas, one being devoted to grilled meats, salad and bread and the other to hot plates. Because I had had a few grilled meat dishes already and knew I would probably have more in Elazig and/or Diyarbakir, I went to the hot plate counter and ordered tas kebap, bulgar pilaf and a warm yoghurt dish with a mild pepper sauce and vegetables, the latter cooked so well that they melted in the mouth. I knew that bread and a salad would probably arrive free of charge, but when the waiter came to serve me I was also given a small bowl of lentil soup, a stuffed pepper, macaroni smothered in yoghurt, ayran and four different salads. I took my time and managed to eat almost everything I was given, partly because the quality of the food was so good that the meal was the trip’s very best so far (indeed, not even an Adana kebap the last night of the trip in Diyarbakir could quite exceed in quality what I ate at the Saray in Solhan, a town most Turkish citizens would regard as in the middle of nowhere). But the most remarkable thing of all? For a meal worthy of a bill of at least 30TL I was charged only 10TL. Yes, less than £3.
At the end of the meal I shook hands with almost every member of staff as well as that of the owner and promised that the Saray would get a rave review on the internet, then continued my walk around town. In a back street I came across a Belediye dustcart with a picture on the side of a small lake with some floating islands about 8 to 10 kilometres from Solhan. I had forgotten about the lake and its islands, known locally as Yuzen Ada, but, because it was just after 3.00pm, knew I had a good chance of getting there and back before nightfall.
I walked west along the main road, then came across a minibus with a few passengers. I did not expect the minibus to go all the way to the lake, but asked the driver if I could be dropped at the appropriate junction. Amazingly, the minibus was going to the lake, but it had first to pick up more passengers around the town. We drove to a large school to collect some middle and high school students (it was Friday and pupils and students who had been boarding in Solhan during the week were being driven home to nearby towns and villages in lots of minibuses), then stopped at an apartment block to collect an elderly couple and their sacks of food. The sacks were so full that the food would last well over a week.
We drove out of town and, after about 4 or 5 kilometres, turned right onto gently inclined pasture with a small, seemingly deserted village inhabited only during the hottest months of the year. The road entered a valley and began to ascend more steeply. There were cliffs, rocky outcrops, wild flowers in the meadows and mountains in the distance. At the highest point the road crossed undulating upland reminiscent of the North Pennines in England, then the road descended a short distance into a small village. The minibus dropped off a few passengers in the village, then drove another 1.5 kilometres to the lake itself, which has attracted a few facilities such as small wooden chalets to stay in overnight and a café and lokanta.
Meadows with wild flowers and rounded hills and mountains enclose the lake and its facilities, as does a footpath covered with a wooden roof. The lake itself is very small, but three flat patches of grassy land, roughly oval in shape, float on the surface of the water (it would appear that the roots of grass, flowers and trees hold the soil of the islands together. The islands were once attached to the land enclosing the lake, but erosion eventually detached them and gradually reduced them to the shape they currently have. A fourth island appears to be forming). The best view of all can be acquired from a path that leads to a viewing platform on a hillside about 20 metres above the lake’s surface. From here you can also see almost all the facilities that the lake has spawned, but I did not find them in the least oppressive because they are dwarfed by the grandeur of their upland surroundings. A few families were eating large picnics in the fresh air beside chalets they had probably hired for the weekend. Two powerful motorbikes had been parked by a couple who were drinking tea in the café. The couple looked as if they were Turkish.
I was very glad I had visited the lake, not least because it got me for one last time into the mountains. I walked back to the nearby village and chatted with some men and women before making my way onto the upland area that resembles the North Pennines (there are some dry stone walls that make the comparison with England even more convincing). The road began to gradually descend and I entered the valley with the cliffs and rocky outcrops. A meandering stream tumbled over rocks and, briefly, I could have been walking beside the Wear or the Tees in remote parts of County Durham. By now it was almost 5.00pm and the visibility was excellent.
I made no attempt to flag a lift because I was enjoying the walk and wanted to look at the village not far from the main road. The village has a few houses to the west of the road overlooking the river, but most are a little higher on the hillside to the east. I was almost correct; all the houses but one or two were empty (two donkeys tethered near one of the houses to the east of the road confirmed that a few people were around, but I saw no one the half hour I was in the village). The rest of the houses awaited the families that would live in them from early June until about mid-September.
Some of the houses are made with stone, some with breeze block and some with what appears to be breeze block covered with a thin layer of plaster. All the houses have a square or a rectangular ground plan and spread over only one storey. Liberal use is made of corrugated iron and flat sheets of metal to patch holes or improve insulation, especially on buildings for livestock or the storage of food. Every roof is pitched and covered with corrugated iron. Such roofs looked quite new and on the houses made with stone probably replaced flat roofs of log and mud. The pitched corrugated iron roofs are much lighter than log and mud roofs and are therefore popular in areas prone to earthquakes. The walls of some of the stone houses have courses of wood designed to absorb the shocks when earthquakes occur. Yes, Solhan is in an area prone to earthquakes.
Many of the houses have storage space immediately below the corrugated iron roofs and, nearby, penfolds in which they can put their livestock at night. Most of the penfolds have dry stone walls and are square or rectangular in shape. They are usually located next to a house so family members can quickly respond should a problem arise.
The houses of the village lie on undulating pasture with many wild flowers. To the south, a ridge of mountains had patches of snow where the sun could not easily reach. To the north-west, lots of beehives had been arranged on a gently inclined slope leading to the river. I was having quality time in the mountains, so much so that, even though it would be the last time I would be in such surroundings, I did not mind. All good things must come to an end.
I walked to the main road and it was not long before a young Kurdish couple stopped their car to offer me a lift to Solhan. The driver was the male, of course, but the woman did not wear a headscarf, which suggested that she and her partner were not devout. The man drove to town very fast, no doubt keen to impress his partner with his motoring skills. We drove past two or three camps for nomads in which the tents were made of felt, as in the old days.
It was now almost 6.00pm and the visibility excellent. I walked around the town centre streets stopping every so often to chat with friendly men. The very last pupils and students in Solhan’s schools were making their way home in minibuses and, although some women walked around in small groups, they did all they could not to draw attention to themselves.
I returned to the hotel, washed a few items of clothing and left for one last walk around the town. After looking at the river south of the centre where it is confined within stone walls and banks of rubble, I walked around a small but attractive cemetery close to a large playground where children were engaged in noisy games. A little later, not long before meeting some men outside a tea house in the pazar playing a game that looked like a cross between chess and draughts, I was stopped by a police officer in plain clothes. The police officer asked what I was up to and examined my passport. I was briefly worried that I might have some difficulties with him, but, although suspicious at first, he soon came to realise I did not pose a threat to anyone. He invited me to have a glass of tea, but I explained I wanted to take some photos before the light faded altogether.
I would have liked to return to the Saray Restaurant for an evening meal, but the late lunch had been so substantial that I could not justify the extravagance. I fancied something to eat and drink, however, so called at a small supermarket to buy a chocolate pudding, a bar of dark chocolate, a packet of Ruffles Original Crisps and a litre of apple juice. Back in my room I had some crisps, the pudding and the apple juice and soon felt full but refreshed.