We leave the chill crisp air and Russian architecture of Kars behind us, and take the road south, and west towards the Iranian border. Our destination is the Kurdish city of Dogubayazit, a dusty, ramshackle and impoverished place, sprawling at the foot of Mount Ararat.
With not much in itself to attract travellers, Dogubayazit relies on the majestic presence of Ararat and the stately beauty of the Ishak Pasha Palace to interest passers by enough to take the road here, and to spend the night in one of the scattering of hotels before moving on.
The rather desolate looking valley that lies flat beneath the towering mountains bordering Iran, is home to one of modern Turkey’s most beautiful buildings. Honoured by its position, perched high up in the dramatic scenery, the Ishak Pasha Palace is situated in an area that became a part of the Ottoman Empire in 1514. Soon afterwards, the old Doğubayazıt Fortress, the remains of which can still be seen today clinging to the vertiginous cliffs, was abandoned, and its walls were partly demolished. Many of its materials were later used for the construction of the the buildings that came after.
The remains of Doğubayazıt Fortress, dates to before the time of Christ, and still clings to the cliffs east of the palace, with Eski Bayazıt’s (the old city of Bayazıt) still-standing 16th-century mosque below it.
The crumbling walls of this ancient Silk Road castle guard the towering peaks of The Armenian Highlands, that mark the border between Turkey & Iran.
After exploring the Palace, we sit in the shadow of the mountains and look over the vast valley. The heat of the afternoon sun is dispersing, and evening is drawing closer. Sipping strong sweet coffee, I dream of other times, and in the slipstream of reality that I sometimes drift into, I recognise this place. I have been here before, whilst traveling in a meditation several years ago, and I look again at the square courtyard of red ochre stone, golden in the slanting afternoon sun, and wonder at the nature of time, of life, and the events that have brought me here, so far from home.
Our taxi driver is a sweet soul, who chats to us about life in this rather bleak border town, telling us of the refugees who “roll over the mountain”; people with no shoes, starving and frightened, en route from places like Afghanistan and Syria, hoping that no-one will notice them as they sneak across the border into Turkey, the last stop before Europe. He tells us of the harsh penalties for any one who helps these refugees, they must all be turned in to the authorities, where they will be fed, clothed, and sent back. He is saddened by this, and gives money to the beggars selling tissues at the road junctions, muttering prayers as he does so.
After our Palace tour, our driver kindly delivers us to a “suitable” restaurant, with upstairs family dining, where we will be spared the stares of the entirely male clientele on the lower floor, and we enjoy the first of many delicious Kurdish meals that we will enjoy in our journey through the area formerly known as Kurdistan.
I look over the balcony to the streets below, thronged with children, street sellers, dust and babble….. there are few women on the street, and no european tourists. It’s a poor place, a place for passing through; visitors, refugees, traders….. all echoing the eternal movement of centuries past, the trade from East to West, the shifting steps of The Silk Road.
Our driver collects us at the appointed time, and takes us back to our hotel…. a kind man, hospitable by nature, honouring the traveller, from the goodness of his heart rather than any desire for a bigger fare. This was to be the experience that I remembered, long after the journey had ended; the hospitable nature and the quietly respectful manners of the many Kurdish people that we met along the way.
His parting words when he left us go humbled me, and brought tears to my eyes;
“If I have made any mistake, please forgive me”
If you would like to read more about this place, you can do so HERE