South-East Turkey: Diyarbakir | Hasankeyf | Mardin | Urfa

Hasankeyf

From Diyarbakir we hopped on a mini bus that took us to the city of Batman. I had heard about this city before only because of its name. It reminded me a bit of Istanbul and seemed quite western. But we were only passing through and did not get to see anything off of the main road. From there we took another mini bus to Hasankeyf. The drive was very beautiful; we were treated to spectacular views alongside the Tigris River. There were many mountains filled with caves once inhabited by people, and a unique combination of greenery and red rock treated our eyes.

Upon arrival we were dropped off directly across from the town. In-between Hasankeyf and us lay the Tigris River, with a large arch bridge connecting the two sides. The remains of an old bridge from Hasankeyf’s “Golden Age” (1116 AD), built by the Artukids and Ayyubids lay beside the impressive looking newer bridge. Today Hasankeyf is primarily a Kurdish town. Kurds are an ethnic group from Western Asia. In Turkey there are many tensions between Kurds and Turks. In Turkey, Syria, and Iran there is a movement for autonomy and the creation of a sovereign state for Kurdish people.

Our experience with the Kurdish people of Hasankeyf was nothing short of spectacular. Everyone treated us very nicely, and we even took place in a Kurdish wedding, a great story which I will get to below! Before crossing the bridge into the main town we checked out what looked like a tomb/mosque that overlooked the Tigris and Hasankeyf. We then crossed the bridge into town, planning to first find a place to stay before we go exploring. We had read that it was possible to sleep in these unique carpeted restaurants here. If you buy a meal, rumor was you could just sleep on their floor for the night. When we did ask around about this, some people informed us that this was not possible anymore and is now illegal. I’m not sure if they completely understood what we were asking, but we decided not to pursue that option any farther. We ended up staying at the Hasankeyf Motel. We did know of another place, but we stumbled across this one first, it is the first building to the left when you cross the bridge. The other place had much more positive reviews, but the owner of the motel informed us it was full. I don’t think he was telling the truth, but with only a limited amount of day light left we wanted to explore and not waste our time searching for a place to stay. We ended up staying there for 25 lira each. The place was in pretty bad condition. The sheets did not seem very clean, the rooms were dirty, bathrooms were dirty, and there was only a Turkish toilet. Also I did not really get a very good vibe from the owner, but our stay there ended up being fine. I would not recommend it to anyone however; you should try the other place first!

After settling in, we set up the street to explore the small town. We walked through a very small bazaar that had many shops with unique things such as furs, arrows, lighters, and other knick-knacks. At the last shop on the right we all purchased wooden lighters that came with free custom engravings. When we arrived at the entrance of the main attraction, the Great Palace I believed it’s called, we were informed we were not allowed to enter for safety reasons. Disappointed we continued to towards the top of the town, which still provided many great views of the Great Palace without actually entering. It is essentially hundreds of caves that have been carved into the mountains that used to be used as dwellings. I had never seen anything quite like it before. Very unique and beautiful.  We also stopped in an old cave dwelling that cost 1 lira to enter. It was neat to see how people may have lived in these caves.

Once we made it to the top of the town, which is at the base of a mountain, we explored the caves that litter the mountain base. Now they are used as farms or are empty, with the exception of one old man that still lives in a cave. As the sun began to go down we had cay at the top of the hill at a little “café” that consisted of a tent and a couple of chairs. While having our cay the beginnings of a wedding began to unfold in front of us. Many people began to arrive and started filling up a dirt parking lot in front of us. We sat and watched, talking about how crazy it would be if we crashed a Kurdish wedding.

Before we knew it, our wildest thoughts became a reality. The young boy serving as cay asked us if we wanted to join. We excitedly responded yes, and followed him to join in the festivities. Apparently the wedding itself takes over 3 days, and there is little resemblance to that of a traditional western wedding. The Bride and the Groom spend most of their time sitting at a table in the middle, while everyone else’s dances and celebrates around them. We quickly learned the dance there, which involved linking pinkies with the person on either side of you, and then performing what looked to me like a basic line dance. The music consisted of a DJ, and a man playing some form of electric violin that sounded like a heavily distorted guitar.

I enjoyed the music very much, and eventually picked up the dance moves. For over three hours we danced, chatted (or at least attempted to, there was not many good English speakers), and took thousands of pictures. I felt like a celebrity. Everyone wanted a picture with us. We were introduced to their mothers, given business cards, phone numbers, and emails. It was very exhausting, but one of the most memorable experiences I have had in Turkey to date.

The next morning we enjoyed a traditional Kurdish breakfast of honey, bread, cheese, olives, and butter for 10 liras at the same place we had cay the night before. After breakfast the young boy serving us cay offered to take us for a tour up in the mountains. We hiked through a valley full of rocks and caves. It was a unique landscape like I had never seen before. A true combination of man and Mother Nature working together to create something completely unique. When we arrived at the top we were treated to a spectacular view of Hasankeyf, the Tigris River, a cave city on the mountain beside us, and beautiful landscape all around. We spent over an hour on the grassy mountaintop; taking pictures, doing handstands, and enjoying the fresh air. Eventually the wind picked up, and we decided we should hike down and get ready to travel to our next destination of Mardin. Hasankeyf was my favourite city we visited on our South-East Turkey trip. The people were very kind, the scenery was breathtaking, and I made many memories that I will not soon forget. Click here for part 3.

It should also be noted that Hasankeyf is currently a town facing a serious threat. The Ilisu Dam is currently under construction, and once completed will put many parts of the town underwater. This is important because it will force many people to relocate, and also destroy many rich historical and religious sites. More about this issue can be found here.

South-East Turkey: Diyarbakir | Hasankeyf | Mardin | Urfa