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Turkey - Kurdistan

Itinerary


Day 1: Diyarbakir

You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel. Most flights from Europe arrive late evening.

Accommodation: Hotel


Day 2: Diyarbakir

The Roman name for Diyarbakir was Amida, known as "Black Amida" because of its imposing black basalt city walls. Second in size only to the Great Wall of China they span 5.5 km and include 82 watchtowers. When the city was conquered by the Arabs in AD 636, it was given to the Beni Bakr tribe, renamed "Diyarbakir" (Place of the Bakr). Despite its magnificent walls Diyarbakir has been captured at least 15 times in recorded history by differing factions. On arrival you will be met and transferred to your hotel. You are free today to explore the maze of back streets.

Accommodation: Hotel (B,L,D)


Day 3: Diyarbakir to Mardin

Setting off on our bikes we travel south today towards the provincial capital of Mardin. We start on busy road but soon turn off and follow back roads for most of the day. For the final stretch into Mardin we we will re-join a busier stretch of road. Mardin is perched on a mountaintop in the Syriac homeland By contrast with its modern quarter the ancient town features striking Arabic sandstone architecture, and is characterised by narrow streets, a small bazaar area (Bedesten). Assyrian churches and buildings such as the medieval Sultan Isa Medresesi (1385), Kasim Pasha Medresesi(1400s), the Ulu Cami (Great Mosque, 1000s)

From the citadel you can enjoy a wonderful view over rooftops and minarets to the ancient plains of Mesopotamia Mardin is one of the oldest settled areas in upper Mesopotamia dating back to 4000 BCE. Traditional handicrafts are produced in Mardin such as saddles, carpets, ceramics, leather ware and silverware. This evening we can enjoy a wonderful mezze, Syrian rice dishes and wine.

Cycling Distance: 88km (55 miles)
Total Climb: 900m*(estimated) 
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L)


Day 3: Mardin to Midyat

Today we head further east to the smaller town of Midyat. We leave Mardin on a busy stretch of road, dropping downhill for about 8km before entering an uphill stretch as we again head onto quieter back roads for most of the day. Our route rises and falls again with nothing too steep. We rejoin the main road to Midyat this afternoon. The area directly around Midyat is Tur Abdin 'Mountain of the Servants, an ancient Assyrian/Syriac area of South East Turkey. It is hilly and characterised by narrow rural roads and honey coloured stone walls.

Amongst the town's historic buildings are 9 Syriac orthodox churches and the old culture house, which is often used as a setting for Turkish TV and film. In the town's Silver Bazaar you will find traditional silver crafts called telkari: handcrafted ornaments made up of very fine strands of silver laid on top of one another. Other traditional wares on sale in Midyat Market are are Syriac-made wine, bulgar, fine brown rice and olive oil soaps. At the centre of the old town signifying the multi-cultural population is a clock tower engraved with images of a minaret representing the Muslim community, alongside it a church tower representing the Christians, and a peacock for the Yezidis. Typically for South East Turkey the Midyat economy mainly centres on production and sale of carpets, towels and other cloth goods.

Cycling Distance: 98km (61 miles)
Total climb: 1058m (3,471ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L,D) 


Day 4: Midyat to Batman

As we cycle on heading north we begin with a ride on relatively flat terrain before the road drops down into a stunning open valley along a winding route. We pass the ruins of Hasankeyf, 12th century capital of the Artutids. This will be one of the last opportunities to visit the Byzantine historic landmark as it is due to be submerged under water with the construction of a new dam on the Tigris. There are also some interesting caves to visit in the area. We cycle up out of the valley ending with a downhill stretch into Batman. Batman was once a small village of a few hundred people. Since the 1950s when petroleum was discovered in the surrounding mountains, Batman has developed in a bustling town with a population of several hundred thousand.

Cycling distance: 82km (51 miles)
Total climb: 577m (1,893ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L,D)


Day 6: Batman to Ziyaret

Today we continue on our route towards Lake Van climbing for the first 15km around 400m. We cycle a further 15km downhill this morning before our lunch stop. Our route takes us further north east on uphill bumpy road through small towns for 40km before a final drop for the last 8km into Ziyaret, as we head towards the Bitlis Gorge.

Cycling distance: 75km (46 miles)
Total climb: 921m (3,021ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L,D)


Day 7: Ziyaret via Bitlis to Tatvan

We cycle along our ascending route North East through a scenery of stunning hills to Bitliss following the road through the picturesque winding gorge dotted with kervansarays and old bridges. What used to the main West-East transit road linking the Tigris and Euphrates basins with that of Lake Van, has recently been bypassed by a 4km-long tunnel. So a once very noisy, polluted arterial route is much more pleasant. Before heading on to Lake Van we can take a little time to enjoy the historic sites of Bitlis Often overlooked by travellers who head straight to Lake Van, Bitlis preserves more medieval and traditional architecture than any other town in eastern Turkey. The buildings are mostly constructed from locally-quarried light brown Ahlat stone. Once a prosperous place, and about half the inhabitants were Armenian. Today this predominantly Kurdish town is impoverished, with mainly agricultural trade which includes fruits, grain and tobacco. Industry is fairly limited mainly leatherworking, weaving and dyeing of coarse cloth. We end the day at Tatvan.

Cycling Distance: 85km (53 miles)
Total Climb: 1,362m (4,468ft) 
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L,D)


Day 8: Tatvan - Rest Day

Tatvan is located at the western end of Lake Van, it has a small harbour with promenade views of the lake and surrounding snow-capped peaks. The town itself was constructed with the arrival of the railway. Trains literally cross the water by ferry and continue toward Iran on the other side of the lake. A short distance away and only accessible during the summer months is the volcanic Mount Nemrut. This is the highest mountain in the area at 3050m it was the eruption of this mountain that formed Lake Van by obstructing the outlets of surrounding rivers and causing them to flood.

Lake Van is the largest body of water in Turkey, this triangular shaped lake contains salt water that is unsuitable for drinking or irrigation. Water flows into the lake from surrounding mountain streams. Lak Van is home to a species of freshwater fish called 'darekh' that has adapted to live in a saline environment and even has its own legendary monster just like Loch Ness!

Accommodation: Hotel (B)


Day 9: Tatvan to Hizan

Today we cycle south away from Lake Van leaving the main road after about 10km. We head towards Hizan following quiet back roads in rural countryside. The terrain is relatively flat for the next 28km, we then climb for 10km before dropping downhill for the final 12km into Hizan. There are mountain streams and green valleys and meadows filled with flowers. You may notice the beehives that produce Van Honey which the area is famed for and we can visit a local beekeeper and try the local honey.

Cycling Distance: 51km (32 miles)
Total Climb: 750m*(estimated)
Accommodation: Basic guesthouse (B,L,D)


Day 10: Hizan to Bahcesaray

We continue heading deeper into remote mountainous terrain. The next few days of cycling will be the highlight of our tour.' Our journey takes us on a winding route through a few small villages. This morning the route gently inclines before we climb again stopping for lunch after 35km. We are surrounded by mountain pasture and there is little in the way of traffic. Nomadic Kurdish shepherds and their flocks of sheep travel in single-file on the mountain slopes. Mountain streams flow out of sight amongst the folds of the hills. We climb again this afternoon for 12km before dropping down to arrive in the quiet mountain town Bahcesaray. The main street is a cobbled road with just a few traders beside the town mosque.

Cycling Distance: 65km (40 miles)
Total Climb: 1,610m (5,282ft)
Accommodation: Basic guest house (B,L,D)


Day 11: Bahcesaray - Catak

This morning as we leave Bahcesaray a fast flowing river runs parallel to the road and the terrain soon climbs steeply through a tree-lined valley. After a series of thrilling hair pin bends we cross the Karabel Pass the highest road pass in Turkey at 2,985m and the last road to open at the end of winter. Here Spring arrives with a blaze of glorious colourful wild flowers. It is said by the locals that they 'belong to God for half the year. Over the pass we drop downhill into Catak.

Cycling distance: 62km (38 miles)
Total climb: 17,50m (estimated)
Accommodation: Basic guest house (B,L,D)


Day 12: Catak - Rest Day

Catak is a sizeable mountain village in beautiful surroundings.

There are a number of Christian churches in the area, with some of their frescoes still preserved. It is said that trout are in abundance in the streams around Catak. 5km outside the village is a popular picnic spot Kanispi where white water cascades off the mountainside. The natural cold springs fall from a height of 100m in myriad of foamy white bubbles. The seasonal ebb and flow begins every year in May and has ceased by the end of September. The remains of an Armenian St John the Baptist Church now serve as a walled garden.

Accommodation: Hotel (B)


Day 13: Catac - Van

We leave the mountain town continuing on quite roads. The route becomes busy later in the day as we cycle into Van.

The city of Van is a popular tourist destination with historic sights and beautiful Van cats. Situated 3km to the west on the lakeside Van castle overlooks remains of the old city destroyed during World War I. If you climb to the top of the castle you have a stunning view in all directions, from the lake to the snow-covered mountains. There is an ancient Armenian church (Ahtamar or Akdamar) on a small island in Lake Van. Dating from 921, with impressive frescoes, the church has recently been re-opened after an extensive restoration. The old city of Tushpa is a few kilometres west of the city. Although Van is a fairly conservative town, it has a large student population. There are numerous bars where men and women socialise together and you will hear Turkish and Kurdish folk and rock music. Van has many shops and a bazaar, with a wide selection of local (Kurdish) tribal rugs, as well as often cheaper ones from nearby Iran. Be ready to bargain hard to secure a good price!

Accommodation: Hotel (B,L,D)


Day 14: Home

You will be transferred to the airport for your journey home.

(B)

 

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