To Yuzen Ada and Solhan.

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.

The main road between Solhan and Mus.

The main road between Solhan and Mus.

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.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

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 almost 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.

Saray Restaurant, Solhan.

Saray Restaurant, Solhan.

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 in it. I did not expect the minibus to be going 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.

Yuzen Ada.

Yuzen Ada.

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, near-perfect circles of grassy land do, indeed, float on the surface of the water (it would appear that the roots of grass, flowers and trees hold the soil 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. 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.

Yuzen Ada.

Yuzen Ada.

View south from Yuzen Ada.

View south from Yuzen Ada.

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 even 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 west County Durham. By now it was almost 5.00pm and the visibility was excellent.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

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 some 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.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

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 replace 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.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

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 village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

The village between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

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.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

Between Yuzen Ada and the main road to Solhan.

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.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

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, 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.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

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.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

To Yukariyongali and Surp Karapet Monastery/Cengelli Kilisesi.

But why was I in Solhan at all? The explanation is simple. A few kilometres across the border in the neighbouring province of Mus are the scant and badly neglected ruins of Surp Karapet Armenian Monastery, which is known locally as Cengelli Kilisesi (Sinclair and many others call the monastery “Surb Karapet”, but, to be consistent with spellings I use elsewhere in this blog, I will call it “Surp Karapet”). Type “Surp Karapet Monastery near Mus, Turkey” into your search engine and you will find many images of how the complex once looked. The images will confirm just how large, magnificent and unusual the complex was until 1915 when it was stripped of its valuables, burned, abandoned and plundered for stone to build and repair houses in the village that has grown up on or close to the monastery site. Shame on the people who murdered the Armenians who once worked in, worshipped in or visited the monastery, and shame on the people who sought to remove, in the years that followed such senseless murders, all traces of Surp Karapet for future generations to admire. The unjustified hatred of one people for another has robbed humankind of an Armenian ecclesiastical complex of immense importance, beauty and majesty.

After settling into my room for twenty minutes, I went to the main road and tried to flag a lift as I walked east toward the border with Mus province. I had got about half a kilometre from the hotel when the driver of a minibus stopped to give me a lift of about 2 kilometres to where the vehicle turned north off the main road to take some passengers to their destination, presumably a village. I walked a short distance, then a van stopped and the driver and his companion offered me a lift to the village with the ruined monastery. The driver and his companion were going to a village a short way from the monastery to install a new, flat-screen TV.

The monastery was further along the road than I had been led to believe. From Solhan it is about 14 kilometres before you reach a turning to the left, a turning with a sign indicating that Cengelli Kilisesi is another 6 kilometres away. I was pleasantly surprised that an Armenian monument of now-modest appeal is identified with a road sign like the one for Ergen Kilisesi near Hozat. This was proving a trip with many surprises, some of an encouraging variety. The explanation for the sign? Growing numbers of Armenians are visiting the monastery and people in Mus province want to encourage such tourism to boost the area’s prosperity. Mus is an economically deprived province in a region of Turkey full of economically deprived provinces.

The scenery from Solhan as far as the road junction for Cengelli Kilisesi is very similar to that from Bingol to Solhan, but something much more interesting enlivens the few kilometres to the monastery itself. The road leads across almost flat pasture grazed by many sheep and goats, then enters a village of about twenty or so houses, half of which are old and half new. The village looked so interesting that I resolved to walk around it after visiting the monastery. The road then enters a valley and begins to ascend. Fields, pasture, fruit trees, wild flowers, woodland, rolling hills and distant mountains provide visual diversion of an enchanting character and a roadside cesme dispenses chilled water of excellent flavour. The road is soon high in the hills and ahead lies Yukariyongali, the village in which the ruins of Surp Karapet are found. The compact village lies on a gently inclined shelf that drops away quite steeply to the south-east. It is possible to see the next village along the road, the village where the TV had to be delivered and installed.

Yukariyongali.

Yukariyongali.

Yukariyongali.

Yukariyongali.

We pulled up in the middle of the village. There were already quite a lot of men and boys milling around, partly because an open-topped lorry had driven into the village to sell fruit and vegetables, but my arrival brought out an even larger crowd of people to see who the visitor was. Some very young girls arrived with their brothers, but women and girls, the latter in their mid- to late-teens, stayed close to the safety of their homes. By the appearance of the people alone it was obvious that the village was home to very poor families. As I looked around for about the hour that followed, nothing I saw suggested that a local family was well-to-do. Many of the children walked around without shoes or in shoes that were scuffed hand-me-downs once belonging to older relatives whose feet were now too big for them.

Yukariyongali.

Yukariyongali.

Yukariyongali.

Yukariyongali.

A man who looked a little more prosperous than all his neighbours came over and introduced himself as the muhtar, or village headman. I explained how grateful and privileged I felt to be in his village and he kindly led me on a tour of Yukariyongali, a settlement which, despite its economic problems, has many friendly people, male and female; lots of remarkable stone houses, most of which spread over only one storey and have flat roofs; the ruins of the monastery; and many a wall in which stone from the monastery has been recycled. Yukariyongali is a destination I would definitely like to visit again to examine in far more detail.

The muhtar in front of part of the monastery.

The muhtar in front of part of the monastery.

The muhtar in front of part of the monastery.

The muhtar in front of part of the monastery.

Of Surp Karapet, Sinclair notes that:

The monastery… (the Holy Redeemer, St. John the Baptist) was in the early days of the church Armenia’s second most important monastery and retained a prominent position until the present (20th) century. The ruins of its churches stand on a bluff 2,000 feet (about 650 metres) above the plain. The long hillside in which it lies looks towards the plain over an intervening ridge of hills. Below and to the west is the long valley by which the monastery is reached, and to the south is the curving floor of the plain’s western end. Beside the ruins a small village has grown up, its houses decorated haphazardly with carved blocks taken from the churches.

Doorway leading into part of Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Doorway leading into part of Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

The monastery contained a church supposed to be the first foundation of St. Gregory the Illuminator. It was the seat of synods in the 4th and 5th centuries and the burial place of the Mamikonean princes of Taron. It was endowed with great estates and further enriched by the donations of pilgrims visiting the remains of St. John the Baptist. St. Gregory destroyed the great pagan temple of the three gods Vahagn, Anahit and Astghik at the nearby shrine of Ashtishat, brought the remains of St. John from Caesarea (Kayseri) and buried them here in the church that he built. The monastery was active until its destruction in the first world war.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

The outline of the main church and of some of the smaller churches at its e. end can be made out from among the fallen masonry. The smaller churches were older and the larger main church was built westwards from them. Its roof was supported in a square grid of sixteen pillars. The basic fabric of the present structures seems to be late 18th century, but preserves earlier ground plans. The now headless belfry at the w. end of the main church and the church’s nw. corner are clear; a modern house stands at the former sw. corner. Further e. on the n. side is a small building (door on s. side) and at the ne. corner three apses: these are respectively the chapel in the nw. corner and the apse and side chambers of the church of St. Stephen, built, probably in the 7th century, as a cross of apses in a square. Immediately s. is the e. end of the church of Surp Karapet, considered to be Gregory’s foundation. After a further narrow room built against the e. wall the originally long chapel of St. George, no doubt medieval, is reached: its e. end is discernible, and the s. wall, with internal blind arcade, stands above a man’s height. A refectory below the general ground level and apparently just s. of St. George can be reached by some steps. Still complete, but tunnel-like and gloomy, it has a ribbed vault. There is a further underground room, now, it seems, half demolished for building material, by the s. end of the e. wall of the main church… The monastery’s outer wall enclosed both the underground room on the e. end and the underground church on the s.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

Surp Karapet Monastery, Yukariyongali.

The long, well preserved building with a pilastered façade built against the slope to the w. of the main church looks to be a large stable and possibly dormitory for pilgrims: 1835 or 1836.      

Sinclair’s description of Surp Karapet is in itself highly revealing. For example, how sad that Armenian Christians engaged in the destruction of the “pagan temple of the three gods Vahagn, Anahit and Astghik at the nearby shrine of Ashtishat”, which confirms that the problem of religious people using their power in irresponsible ways is not something new. Nonetheless, I would strongly urge anyone with an interest in this remarkable monument to access more information on the internet. Even in its current regrettable condition, Surp Karapet is an Armenian monument of immense interest. I am surprised that “Virtual Ani” does not devote a post to the monastery, but anyone interested in Armenian ruins in Turkey should at some point access this otherwise excellent website. The website’s posts examine in sometimes great detail many monuments a long way from Ani, the ruined medieval Armenian city not far from Kars that overlooks in such dramatic fashion the border with Armenia itself.

After we had examined the best surviving parts of the monastery, the muhtar walked me around some of the village. Some of the stone houses have verandas and many utilise metal sheeting to patch holes and/or provide additional protection from the wind, the rain and the snow. But what is most remarkable is how much carved and inscribed stone from the monastery has been recycled in the walls of the houses. The high quality of the carved and inscribed stone confirms that Surp Karapet was a monastic complex of immense importance. Interestingly, some stone is inscribed with Armenian script and some with Aramaic. The latter suggests that at one time Syriac Orthodox Christians had a presence in the locality.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

Stone from the monastery, Yukariyongali.

The man who had installed the TV in the next village along the road drove me the 5 kilometres to the village not far from the main road between Solhan and Mus and, after thanking him for his kindness, I had a look around. The houses have been built in a dispersed fashion so there is no centre as such. The new houses built with breeze blocks have pitched corrugated iron roofs, but the old houses made with stone have flat roofs composed of logs and mud. Some houses have small gardens behind stone walls or fences made of wire or branches where people grow a few vegetables, but with so many sheep and goats in and around the village, I suspect that most families acquire an income from their livestock. Small structures made with stone, breeze block and flat metal sheets exist here and there and, while one may be an old toilet, the others probably shelter livestock or food, the latter for human or animal consumption. Two donkeys nibbled at the long grass and blocks of animal dung mixed with hay dried in the sun to provide fuel during the winter months. The only people I saw in the village itself were a few women, their husbands and sons no doubt caring for sheep and goats on pasture some distance from the village. Between the village and the main road were three children aged about five, seven and eight caring for a flock of sheep and goats. Three of the goats had long horns that would have made excellent shofars.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

The village near the main road from Solhan to Mus.

To Solhan.

It was very quiet in and around the ogretmen evi, so I slept very well. I got up just after 6.00am to find that someone had been in the bathroom before me, but the only other person I saw was a man using a mop to clean the floor of the entrance to the building. It was good to see that male and female teachers shared the ogretmen evi during term time, but I suspect that all the small number of people who stayed overnight were male.

I had a walk around the pazar where only a few businesses had opened, then saw a clean lokanta on a street corner where a middle-aged man and his son, the latter aged about fourteen, were preparing food for the day. I went in and ordered a bowl of soup, which had to be heated up because I was the day’s first customer. The soup arrived with two salads and a large portion of bread. A man walked in for his breakfast as I was paying my bill. Palu was slowly coming to life on what promised to be another warm and sun-drenched day in late May. A few boys and girls with rucksacks on their backs gathered on the main street waiting for their friends so they could walk to school together.

I returned to the ogretmen evi, filled my bottle with water in the kitchen, packed my last few things and looked around for someone to give the key to, but the man with the mop had disappeared and no one was in the offices. I left the key on a book on the arm of a sofa in the room with the pool table, then left to catch a minibus to Kovancilar from where I knew I could get transport to Solhan, my destination for the day. I was directed to a side street from where a minibus soon left with about five passengers. Kovancilar is only 8 or 10 kilometres from Palu, but the driver tried to charge me 5TL for a trip that should have cost much less, given journeys of a similar length elsewhere in eastern Turkey. I stood my ground and gave him 2TL, which was what someone else had given him for the same journey. Yes: one or two villains live in Palu, but they are easily managed.

Kovancilar, a rapidly expanding town of modest delights that nonetheless stands in pretty upland scenery, benefits from being on the main road from Elazig to Bingol, Mus, Tatvan and Van, with the result that many long distance buses pass through. I walked east a short way along the main street until arriving at a point where about fifteen men and women had gathered beside the road waiting for transport to Bingol and beyond. One man insisted I had to buy a ticket for Solhan from the office of a bus company nearby that had not yet opened, but another said I had to wait beside the road and a seat on something suitable would be found as soon as passengers before me had got away. Someone arrived to open the bus company office and he explained that I did not need a ticket; he would simply stop a passing long distance bus with a spare seat to get me aboard it. Fifteen minutes later I was on my way. I thought back to the transport problem I had had at Susehri. This was just like the old days!

I had never been to Solhan before, but had passed through it on a number of occasions. Consequently, the road from Kovancilar to my destination should have looked familiar. However, because it was late May and the conditions so much greener than during the hottest times of the year when journeys in the past had been undertaken, and because it was still so early in the morning that the visibility was excellent, it felt as if I was seeing the upland scenery for the first time. I could sense almost as soon as we left Kovancilar that my last full day in the mountains of eastern Turkey would be memorable, so much so that, by nightfall, I would regret not having at least one more day in the region (I would regret in particular not being able to visit Kigi, a remote town with very few facilities said to have surrounding it the ruins of about fifteen Armenian churches).

I was in a Best Van Tur bus destined for Van itself. The bus was so full that I, and one other passenger who got aboard in Kovancilar, had to sit beside the driver. I did not mind in the least because I was at the front of the bus where the views are the best.

The journey began in quite modest fashion. The road snakes its way along a wide, gently undulating valley with rounded hills to the north and the south. Wheat fields and pasture occupy most of the valley floor, both of which indicated in their appearance that much drier and hotter conditions lay ahead for the next three or four months.

Just at the point where the road branches off for Kigi a considerable distance to the north-east, the scenery improves significantly. For quite a long way there are mountains, forests, pasture, patches of snow on rock faces sheltered from the sun, flocks of sheep and tented camps where shepherds and their families live during the summer months. The road ascends steadily to a pass at about 1,800 metres above sea level. Along the way are villages with recently built mosques larger than the local population would seem to justify and the jandarma has a presence almost as substantial as in Dersim. Some armoured vehicles made their way along the excellent road, which is a dual carriageway for long stretches. Very few old houses remain in the villages themselves, which means that they are less attractive and interesting than many villages seen earlier on the trip.

We entered the westernmost suburbs of Bingol (the city’s name means “a thousand lakes”. Many lakes exist around Bingol, but the total number is far fewer than a thousand), a rapidly expanding, overwhelmingly modern provincial capital that seems intent on looking indistinguishable from most other Turkish cities as quickly as it possibly can. I was surprised to see how large some of the most recent structures are, whether they are hotels, office blocks, apartment blocks, shopping malls, buildings associated with the city or the provincial government, or buildings associated with the university (every provincial capital in Turkey has, or is intent on having, a university. In so far as a commitment to higher education is enviable, this has to be a good thing). Bingol’s newest structures are box-like and clunky in appearance. Although extensive use of steel, glass, brightly coloured cladding and imaginatively painted plaster walls create districts with a clean and crisp appearance, Bingol is not a beautiful place. I also doubt that many monuments from the past have survived. This said, Bingol lies in very pretty upland surroundings and many attractive places can easily be accessed nearby.

One of Bingol’s most in-your-face indicators of modernity is the recently completed luxury Binkap Resort Hotel, a large cube clad in darkened glass that no doubt utilises vast amounts of marble internally to add a touch of class. Of course, modernity is usually equated with progressive ideas, but it was very apparent that a majority of Bingol’s women, whether young or old, are encouraged to dress in a manner in sympathy with the norms of Sunni piety. In fact, girls as young as fourteen and fifteen wear loose-fitting clothes, including lightweight coats, and cover their hair and ears with a headscarf. The clothes and headscarves of the younger women are often as brightly coloured as the buildings among which they walk, but it is obvious that Bingol has a pulse that is religiously conservative.

At the point where a road branches to the north for Erzurum, the bus stopped at a roadside lokanta for a break of about twenty minutes, which was long enough for some people to get food to eat from a tempting selection of hot plates, and for other people to drink glasses of tea, buy snacks at a shop or use the loos. I spent most of the time watching two men wash the buses that had parked in front of the lokanta. Across the road were an elevator and silos for storing some of the region’s wheat harvest later in the year. Suddenly six armoured vehicles came along the road from Bingol and turned off to the left, their destination Karliova or Erzurum.

Between Bingol and Solhan.

Between Bingol and Solhan.

Erzurum has on its eastern outskirts perhaps the largest army camp in all of eastern Turkey. Such a camp has existed in the city since at least the late 18th century, its main purpose originally being to protect the border regions of the Ottoman Empire from the military might of the Russian Empire and, thereafter, the Turkish Republic from the Soviet Union. Of course, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, neither Georgia nor Armenia presented the Turkish Republic with serious territorial threats, but governments in Ankara have sometimes been so concerned about Shia-dominated Iran following the Islamic revolution that they have sustained a vast military presence in Erzurum. Inevitably, once the civil war with the PKK began in the early 1980s, Erzurum provided Ankara with a secure military resource far enough from the main conflict zones to prepare retaliatory attacks that invariably proved disproportionate. The consequences of such retaliatory attacks still poison relations between millions of Turks and Kurds (perhaps a third of Turkey’s Kurds had relations or friends who died or were wounded during the war and millions of Kurds were displaced from their homes. On returning to their homes, thousands of Kurds found that their villages had been destroyed by the army) and, to this day, are exploited by some Kurds as justification for resuming the conflict (although, if the conflict did resume, the majority of victims would be innocent Kurds of very modest means who want nothing but peaceful conditions in which to rebuild their lives).

Between Bingol and Solhan.

Between Bingol and Solhan.

Many of the young males on the bus looked decidedly disreputable as they walked around the car park sucking on cigarettes and bottles of fizzy pop as they slyly examined the young women who were their fellow passengers. They wore tight-fitting jeans, shirts and tee-shirts to look as fashionable and as westernised as they possibly could and most had haircuts reflecting the most hip styles that barbers in Istanbul could provide their customers (some such haircuts looked as if they had been fashioned with the assistance of electric razors, small hedge trimmers and pots of very heavy axle grease). In contrast, all the women but one, no matter their age, wore a headscarf and a majority of such women wore modern versions of traditional clothes that covered everything but their face and hands. Some women wore black tights (which, for obvious reasons, could be seen only near the ankle) and most had flat, slip-on shoes that my mother might have called her comfortable pair for wearing around the house. While the peacocks swaggered around as if they owned the car park, albeit temporarily, the women tried to make as little an impact on the public domain as they could.

Between Bingol and Solhan.

Between Bingol and Solhan.

The Best Van Tur bus had come all the way from Istanbul, but the bus boy kept it clean internally even though he served refreshments quite regularly. I was content to consume nothing but water.

The attractive scenery persisted from the road junction to Karliova and Erzurum all the way to Solhan, a distance of about 50 kilometres. The villages along the last stretch of the journey had a higher proportion of old houses than the villages on the section from Kovancilar to the pass west of Bingol and they looked pretty among the rounded hills and patches of woodland. A narrow stream meandered across the valley floor with trees and pasture along both banks.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan is an overwhelmingly modern town that stretches in linear fashion along the main road. It lies beside a river with hills and forest providing pretty views in many directions. Solhan is large enough to have a thriving commercial centre and is no doubt a focal point for shopping and the provision of many other services for lots of villages in the surrounding hills and mountains. When I got off the bus in the town centre that Friday morning, I could feel a pleasant buzz, one no doubt enhanced by the fact that the weekend lay ahead. A few people said hello or good morning, and a man directed me toward the hotel in which I hoped to stay. A modest hotel exists in the town centre, but a better one lies along the main road near where the last of the town’s building are found on the way toward Mus. It took me only five minutes to walk to the hotel.

Grand Konak Hotel, Solhan.

Grand Konak Hotel, Solhan.

I arrived at the Grand Konak Hotel, a glass, concrete and steel girder box of medium size set a little back from the main road with facilities beside it to repair burst tyres and malfunctioning motor vehicle engines. I ascended a flight of stairs to reception, which exists in a female-friendly café. The manager offered me a room with en suite facilities and breakfast for 50TL, which I was delighted to pay given how cheap the ogretmen evi had been the night before, and I was led to a clean and comfortable room with views of the main road. A young couple with two children were in a nearby room, but it was not until late that night that other guests arrived to book in. Three such late arrivals were men driving an old and heavily laden open-topped lorry from Van to Ankara and another a white goods’ salesman from near the capital who was visiting actual or potential clients in the Lake Van region.

Grand Konak Hotel, Solhan.

Grand Konak Hotel, Solhan.

Solhan.

Solhan.

Palu.

I returned to the portacabin to thank the workmen for their hospitality and sound advice, but found it deserted. I assumed the workmen had left for the new town to eat a meal or buy food for future consumption while living in the portacabin, so I walked down the slope from the Kucuk Camii to connect with a path that was just above the river. The walk that followed in the early evening light with my shadow stretching behind me was stunning. The wide river, the surrounding hills and mountains, the citadel, Eski Palu, the railway entering short tunnels in the rocky outcrops and the most easterly of Palu’s buildings coalesced into views of such beauty that I began to regret that the trip was nearly over. In the long grass I walked past a large tortoise. This was not the first tortoise of the trip. At Ulu Kale I had seen two mating.

The workmen's portacabin, Eski Palu.

The workmen’s portacabin, Eski Palu.

Between Eski Palu and Palu.

Between Eski Palu and Palu.

Between Eski Palu and Palu.

Between Eski Palu and Palu.

Palu.

Palu.

Eski Palu from Palu.

Eski Palu from Palu.

At a point where roads, a bridge over the river and the railway confirmed I was in an urban environment, albeit the urban environment of a town with an official population of not much more than 6,000, I called at a small shop to buy a litre of milk. The young woman with a headscarf recognised me because, at the beginning of my walk to Eski Palu, I had stopped to buy a litre of fruit juice. She welcomed me with a shy smile, but was quite glad when I left. Palu is overwhelmingly on the Sunni side of the street and unknown males and females should not therefore engage in friendly chat. After four days in liberal Dersim where it did not seem to matter much what your ethnicity was or whether you had religious beliefs or not, Palu was a bit of a culture shock, one made more shocking because most women covered their heads with a scarf, some dressed from head to toe in a black, loose-fitting garment and a few covered everything but their hands, eyes and the top of their nose. As nightfall approached women deserted the town centre, which soon became a male-only zone of occupation. Earlier, when women were in the town centre, albeit in small numbers, they ignored the men just as the men ignored them. Pathetic.

Palu.

Palu.

My thoughts turned briefly to earlier in the day and the minibus journey from Elazig to Palu. On one of the seats on the right-hand side of the minibus that exist in splendid isolation was a young woman aged about twenty. She had dyed blonde hair, skin-tight trousers, shoes with high heels, a tee-shirt tight enough to confirm she was well-endowed and a blushing pink jacket that matched the colour of her large handbag. Had I been in parts of the north-east in and around Trabzon there would have been a good chance she was a prostitute exploited in Turkey’s enormous sex industry, but she was a young Turkish or Kurdish woman seeking to assert that she has no sympathy for the conventions of dress that Sunni piety demands. What was intriguing was that Sunni women with headscarves found it harder to take their eyes off her than male passengers.

Segregation of the sexes was more apparent in Palu than in Elazig or Erzincan, and males in Palu seemed to dictate to girls and women exactly what they could do and wear to a degree more overt than in either of the large cities just identified. In short, girls and women were constrained by all sorts of rules and requirements imposed on them by their male relatives, and women were expected to work all or most of the day in or close to their homes. On the other hand, males could dress as they wished, chat with whomever they wanted (provided those they conversed with were male, of course), waste time in the tea houses, smoke cigarettes and play silly games such as throwing water at people they knew. So females would not have to visit the town centre where unknown males might fantasise about forbidden sexual liaisons, even the shopping was sometimes done by male family members!

Yes, Palu was definitely on the Sunni side of the street, but no male wore a headscarf to cover his hair or ears, or walked in the streets in a loose-fitting black garment that covered him from head to toe. Nor did any male dress so that only his hands, eyes and the top of his nose were exposed to public scrutiny. Nor did any male walk two or three paces behind his spouse, as some women were required to do when out with their husband.

I returned briefly to the ogretmen evi, then walked to the railway station to look at the main building and some trucks along two sidings. The ticket office was locked. A nearby tea garden was popular with many of the town’s men.

The railway station, Palu.

The railway station, Palu.

The railway station, Palu.

The railway station, Palu.

Palu is so small that the Hukumet Konagi, the Belediye, the ogretmen evi and the railway station are within 400 metres of one another. The Hukumet Konagi is, as I said earlier, of very recent construction, although it has elements reminiscent of the architectural style that characterised the early years of the Turkish Republic when the shapers of the new nation state were keen to evoke something strikingly modern or progressive that nonetheless confirmed that the republic was unequivocally Turkish in character. Those expressions of Turkish modernist progressivism built in the 1920s and 1930s were rather dour and somewhat austere in appearance, despite their obvious monumentalism, but Palu’s Hukument Konagi, while very similar in terms of scale, outline, presence and overall effect, was far too colourful and user-friendly to have won the approval of those serious-minded but intolerant nationalists who could not even bring themselves to concede that about a quarter of the republic’s population was Kurdish. As for me, what did I think of the Hukumet Konagi? I quite liked it, despite its nod toward Disney and/or Las Vegas! I certainly preferred it to all the Ottoman-style mosques that have gone up during the years of AKP ascendency, the mosques that reminded me, perhaps perversely, of the mock-Tudor semis in the marginally more affluent suburbs of English urban centres. Pastiche architecture, the unconvincing recreation of architectural styles of the past, has much to answer for, in the UK as well as in the Turkish Republic!

But for the fruit picked for me by the manager of the ogretmen evi I had gone without food since breakfast, so was determined to have an evening meal. I asked someone associated with the ogretmen evi which was the town’s best lokanta and he pointed me toward the Teras Café ve Restaurant near the west end of the main street about two or three blocks from the small but interesting pazar. I ascended the stairs to the first floor premises to find a place designed to appeal to female customers that had only males eating or sipping tea or soft drinks. I ordered lentil soup, one and a half portions of liver grilled on skewers and ayran. The liver arrived with two salads (the salads were the trip’s worst, perhaps because they had been prepared well in advance of my order), bread and much chat with the staff. Overall the food was better than I initially thought it would be and I could not leave until consuming two rounds of tea with the staff. As I rose to leave I saw that ice cream was in fridge, so I ordered portions of three different flavours (plain, banana and lemon). It proved the worst ice cream of the trip, but because it cost only 3TL and refreshed me, I could not complain. I was exactly where I wanted to be, of course, in the mountains and far from the madding crowd.

Teras Café ve Restaurant, Palu.

Teras Café ve Restaurant, Palu.

Teras Café ve Restaurant, Palu.

Teras Café ve Restaurant, Palu.

Teras Café ve Restaurant, Palu.

Teras Café ve Restaurant, Palu.

It was now almost nightfall, but I walked around the pazar hoping to find a tailor who could mend the strap on my large bag, a rucksack that could also be carried like a long holdall. I soon found a tailor and he could immediately tell what the problem was. He made the repair in about five minutes and, in the fashion typical of tailors in Turkey who complete small jobs for rich foreigners who arrive unexpectedly in small towns, would not accept payment.

The tailor's shop, Palu.

The tailor’s shop, Palu.

I went for a last walk around the town centre, which was now completely devoid of girls and women. Men greeted me and a few invited me to consume more tea, but I was almost ready for bed so declined the kind offers. I chatted briefly with a guard on duty at the entrance to the Hukumet Konagi, then bought a litre of fruit juice to take to the ogretmen evi where I heard the voices of only two people in a room on the ground floor.

In bed that night I thought about my last walk around the town centre. Small though Palu is, there are at least four shops selling clothes to young men who want to look as fashionable as their peers in Istanbul, Ankara or Izmir, and most of the barbers have photos in their windows of young males with hair styles similar to those of young males you would see on a high street in the UK. But young women in the town cannot access clothes or hairstyles so fashionable or Western in appearance. Two or three shops sell the drab and shapeless clothes preferred by pious Sunni women that cover as much of the body as possible and disguise any curves that might inflame male passions, and kuafors lurk in the side streets, but the kuafors do little to suggest that they can do more than keep long female hair neat and tidy. Palu’s males can present themselves to the world as modern versions of dandies, but females have to do all that they can to suppress their femininity. Think of Palu’s males as the peacocks and the women as the peahens. But in reality Palu’s women are not allowed to be even the peahens.

In fairness, Palu’s males were very friendly toward an unknown foreign male who appeared from nowhere to subtly disrupt normal routines, but I did not see much evidence that they treated girls or women very well. Given the case in the UK not so long ago in which butchers in a halal abattoir in Northallerton were filmed mistreating animals in a way that defies all understanding (a case which no doubt confirmed in the minds of many UK citizens that halal meat should be avoided at all times), I wondered how kind they were toward animals.

Palu.

Palu.