One of the great attractions of travelling in Eastern Turkey is the contrast in landscape, no better demonstrated than the difference between Lake Van and the ancient lands of Mesopotamia. On the way, there are ancient capitals, civilizations and swimming cats to see.
Ani is the very atmospheric former capital of the great medieval Armenian kingdom. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2016 it is a must-see! Despite the best efforts of the marauding Turks and Mongol hordes and with years of neglect, decay and earthquakes, it is a magical place to wander through. A ghost city that was once home to 100,000 people.
We followed this with a day learning about the Urartians (9th-6th century BC), eating pearl mullet from Lake Van (the only creature able to hack the lake’s high salinity), as well as meeting the bizarre Van cat with their love of swimming and a visit to the 10th century Armenian church set on charming Akdamar Island.
Bidding farewell to dazzling turquoise Lake Van and the Anatolian plateau which held us spellbound with its beauty we headed due south, dropping down through a series of tight gorges to an entirely new world.
The transition from plateau to cultivated lowlands became complete as we crossed over the Tigris River and entered the ancient land of Mesopotamia. The cradle of civilisation is situated between the two great rivers of the Tigris and Euphrates. Babylonians, Assyrians, Mongols, Medes and Persians are but a few of the multitudinous host of peoples who have passed through over the millennia and the richness of their histories are tangible as I stare out across a sun-bleached biblical land.
Extremely remote to reach even today and set at 2,150 metres with commanding views all around, King Antiochus’ delusions of grandeur when he decided to build a funerary tumulus for himself on top of Nemrut Dagi 2,000 years ago were obvious as we staggered up the last 600 metres. In our quest to reach the famous statues we had failed to register the brooding storm clouds amassing to the north and the ominous rumble of thunder.
By the time we were leaving the eastern terrace, the rain had started and I was thankful for the jacket and extra jumper I had been firmly urged to bring along. By the time we reached the western terrace the full wrath of the gods had been unleashed upon us. Hailstones like bullets forced us to take cover behind expedient rocks. This certainly wasn’t part of the itinerary I mused, crouched down against the lashing storm getting progressively damper by the minute.
But every cloud has a silver lining, as the worn adage goes. Poking my head gingerly above my impromptu shelter whilst squinting through the ongoing deluge, where before there had been a throng of camera-toting visitors clustering around the charismatic statues, the place now resembled the Marie Celeste. And so for five precious minutes as a rainbow appeared we three hardy souls had this magical site and its incredible views to ourselves.