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.

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To Palu and Eski Palu.

Before breakfast I walked to the ferry terminal to put the previous night’s empty beer bottles into litter bins, then went to eat in the garden of the hotel overlooking the reservoir. The sun was shining. As I waited for the food and tea to arrive, I looked at the roses in the flowerbeds. A man arrived in the garden and sat a few tables away. Three friends soon joined him for breakfast. Borek replaced the chips of the morning before and there was an excellent jam made from what looked like blackberries, but the fruit was karadut, or black mulberry. Once again, honey was in the comb.

I packed the last few things into my bags, paid the bill, thanked staff for what had proved a delightful stay and walked to the ferry terminal knowing I could find a seat in one of the five or six minibuses for Elazig that had arrived for the next crossing. However, as we waited for a ferry to arrive (two ferries make the crossing all day long timing their departure so they set off at almost exactly the same time, but from opposites sides of the reservoir), I chatted with a man driving an almost new Volvo. An Alevi with the usual misgivings about Erdogan, the AKP and Sunni Muslims, he kindly offered me a lift to Elazig where he was undertaking a day’s business. Because Elazig was from where minibuses would take me to my destination for the night, Palu, I agreed without hesitation to join him.

The ferry terminal, Pertek.

The ferry terminal, Pertek.

The ferry, Pertek.

The ferry, Pertek.

Once all the motor vehicles had been driven aboard, the ferry set off. Passengers could walk around the deck, which meant that the views of the castle and the reservoir were very good. I was not allowed to pay either my fare or for the car. The crossing took about only fifteen minutes and it did not take long to disembark. The drive thereafter was pretty rather than spectacular, but, as the car began to descend into Elazig, we passed a very large but incomplete hotel commanding extensive views over the city and the wide valley beyond.

The ferry and Pertek Kale.

The ferry and Pertek Kale.

Pertek Kale.

Pertek Kale.

The man who had given me the lift left his Volvo in a car park next to where minibuses depart for the minibus garaj serving towns and villages to the east. Because Palu lay to the east of Elazig, this was the garaj required for the next leg of my journey, so I got into the right minibus and, ten minutes later, was asking from where I could find a service to Palu. In the fashion characteristic of the trip so far, a minibus for Palu was leaving in about ten minutes. Perfection.

Most of the journey to Palu was of moderate interest scenically, especially as we drove beside another reservoir with rounded hills to either side, but as we made our way into Palu itself, which lies beside the Murat Nehri with high mountains nearby, my spirits lifted. A steep, meandering descent from a plain into the town itself confirmed that I would enjoy what remained of the day. Some unattractive urban areas lay between Elazig and my destination, most obviously in Kovancilar where we turned off the main road to Bingol and Mus, but, although Palu is now overwhelmingly modern, its situation is stunning and it is small enough not to be much of a blot on the landscape. Moreover, because Palu lies beside the railway from Elazig to Mus and Tatvan, the small town is worth a detour even without the dramatic scenery and Eski Palu, the latter being the main reason why I was staying overnight.

A search on the internet before leaving home suggested that Palu did not have a hotel, and this was confirmed by men at the garaj in Elazig from where the Palu minibuses depart. However, in Turkey even small towns have accommodation of some sort for visitors expected or otherwise, and the men at the garaj had assured me that staff at the ogretmen evi would put me up. Palu’s town centre is so small that the minibus terminated almost opposite the ogretmen evi, so I walked across the road to enquire about a room. A room was available because most teachers had departed for home. The term was almost over and exams dominated the working day, but only a few teachers were needed to supervise them. The manager of the ogretmen evi, who was summoned from the nearby large and very new Hukumet Konagi, showed me around the facilities (the facilities included rooms where games such as pool were played and a kitchen where breakfast was prepared), then he offered me a room with three beds near a smaller room with a sink and toilet (showers and more sinks and toilets were upstairs and easily accessed). I said how grateful I was for the room, which had lots of storage space, especially for one person, but was even more amazed when I was told that the room cost only 15TL a night. I said that the cost was very low and was happy to pay more, but more could not be accepted. I was in the middle of the town with the pazar, shops, businesses and lokantas nearby; the railway station was a few blocks to the south-west; and a road leading toward Eski Palu began near the Hukumet Konagi less than 300 metres away. I could not believe my luck. We drank tea, my passport was photocopied and a few personal details were committed to a ledger.

I paid for the room in advance, then the manager led me to a small courtyard where the teachers could sit in the evenings drinking tea or soft drinks as they chatted with friends. From a tree the manager picked a green fruit not unlike a very small apple, but the fruit had a stone rather than pips inside. I bit into the sour but refreshing flesh, itself firm like an immature apple, and the manager gave me about twenty to take for my walk to, around and from Eski Palu.

The best way from Palu to Eski Palu on foot (there is a way by car, but it is much greater in length and requires crossing the river twice) is to follow as closely as you can the railway going east, then, with some of the ruins now in sight, you ascend a rounded hill aiming for one of the minarets. The centre of Eski Palu, which has long been abandoned and replaced by the town in which I was staying overnight, lay among and close to the ruins just mentioned, but the ruins of a citadel are found on the massive eruption of rock behind them. Eski Palu is a destination that deserves to be far better known and, as I was soon to find out, its ruins are more extensive and rewarding than those at similar but more famous places.

View east between Palu and Eski Palu.

View east between Palu and Eski Palu.

Between Palu and Eski Palu.

Between Palu and Eski Palu.

For most of the way to Eski Palu there are footpaths. Some of the footpaths are directly above the river with the railway to your left, and some are a little to the north with the railway to your right. However, all the paths eventually disappeared among new grass and late spring’s wild flowers. I had to ascend a hillside using for directions one of the minarets to keep me roughly on course. When I arrived on the more level ground that must have once been the centre of Eski Palu, there were the ruins of two mosques, a hamam and a cesme in close proximity and, some way to the east, a ruined church. High above me to the north were the ruins of the citadel. The ruins of the hamam were the most impressive and they were the ones most obviously benefiting from a lengthy restoration project.

View west to Palu.

View west to Palu.

I had been looking around the ruins for about fifteen minutes when I met five or six workmen who had been resting nearby before resuming their task of restoring the hamam. One of the workmen kindly encouraged me to enter parts of the ruins not previously examined, then he invited me to join two of his colleagues for glasses of tea in a large portacabin that was where they slept at night. The portacabin was also their daytime retreat when the heat became oppressive or they wanted to eat a meal. They explained that, although it was a rather long walk to the citadel via a gently inclined road encircling the mountain on which it stands before turning into a path with stone steps, I should make the effort to see it. I would enjoy the views, some Urartian remains and a tunnel of unknown origin. I took their advice, but did not realise at the time that the walk would also lead to other ruins associated with Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.

Kucuk Camii, Eski Palu.