Heading For Anatolia

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

Lao Tsu

3 months in Turkey was never going to be enough. But at the border with Greece, that’s what they gave me. I had crossed the border with 3 German hippies who were all greeted like long-lost friends, passports stamped and welcomed to Turkey. When the border guards turned to me and then looked at my passport, their smiles faded, and were replaced by stoney faces. “You’re British? “For you it’s 25 euros” said the stern face. I had been hoping to plead my case for a longer visa to allow me time to walk, but one look at the faces of the gruff guards was all i needed to know I’d be banging my head against a brick wall. Sometimes I forget how lucky I am and how easy it is for us to travel, whereas so many other people are restricted. This was my first real encounter with something which will come to define how I plan to travel from now on: time limits and visa restrictions.

Luckily that was the only time in 3 months that I had any problems in Turkey. But it did somewhat limit my ideas about walking through the country….

And so I when I finally left Istanbul I came up with a plan: Instead of trudging through endless suburbs and the déjà vu of traffic laden roads, I would concentrate my time on a specific area. I had a month and a half left on my visa, and only one month of walking, as I was meeting my family for 10 days in the South of Turkey. So, where to go fo a month?

I had seen pictures of the incredible luna landscape of Cappadocia, and I was attracted by the prospect of the stark contrast with everywhere I had been before. Plus, the idea of wandering those fairy tale valleys and sleeping out in the rock-cut caves which had been inhabited by the first Christians was enticing. But how to get there?

As I scoured the maps in search of a suitable starting place, my eyes alighted on Hattuşaş, the capital city of the Ancient Hittite civilisation, over 4000 years old. It was the perfect place to begin a months trek into central Turkey.

The word “travel” comes from the Old French word “travail” (or “travailler”), which means “to work, to labor; a suffering or painful effort, an arduous journey, a tormenting experience.” (“Travel,” thus, is “a painful and laborious journey”). Whereas “to wander” comes from the West Germanic word “wandran,” which simply means “to roam about.” There is no labor or torment in “wandering.” There is only “roaming.” Wandering is the activity of the child, the passion of the genius; it is the discovery of the self, the discovery of the outside world, and the learning of how the self is both “at one with” and “separate from” the outside world. These discoveries are as fundamental to the soul as “learning to survive” is fundamental to the body. These discoveries are essential to realizing what it means to be human.
To wander is to be alive.

Roman Payne, Europa: Limited Time Edition

Sun shining, and shrugging off the morning malaise from a lack of sleep, I was off through the battered and sleepy village of Sungurlu in Central Turkey. Europe was far behind me now – Anatolia called. Old men regarded me with inquisitive and strange looks and when I stopped to chat and ask directions for the Ancient Hittite Capital of Hattusaş, I was immediately directed to the main road. “Yok, yok, yururek” – no no I’m walking. I was regarded and reappraised with both approval and something like a question in the eyes of “really, are you crazy?” Shortly after I was on my way out of the village on a dirt road headed for the hills and seemingly nothing else…

Green hills erupted from the swiftly diminishing houses, a dirt track leading into an expanse of nature interspersed with rocky crags and fields of green wheat. It was like a blessed relief after a day and a morning of hitchiking. Thumbing on the side of the busy 4 lane road out of Ankara, modern capital city of Turkey, as the day turned into night, was definitely a painful and tormenting experience.

Wandering was very much on the cards for the next month…

The beautiful landscape of Central Turkey
The beautiful landscape of Central Turkey

After 3 hours of blissfull walking, only the sounds of the birds singing and the yapping of shepherd dogs giving signs of life, I found myself entering a tiny village…

Suddenly a group of children playing in a courtyard caught sight of me and came running, jumping over the walls, whooping and screeching like little would be warriors (though thankfully their faces were the perfect pictures of intrigued excitement, rather than wide mouthed snarls!).

“Hello, hello, hello, hello” chimed the children. Then out of the school building came their teacher, and I introduced myself as the questions flowed thick and fast: what are you doing? Where are you going? Where are you from? Are you alone? You’re walking?!!!!!

After taking some photos with the excited youngsters, I was invited in to see the school. One of the children was sent off running into the village and before long returned with a tray of flatbread, salty cheese, and freshly picked spring onions and parsley. It seems I was invited to lunch, as each child pulled out their packed lunches. Cartons of milk were passed around whilst the children tried to decide between concentrating on their lunch, or the strange foreigner sitting in their midst.

The children and teacher at the tiny school pose with lunch!
The children and teacher at the tiny school pose with lunch!

After lunch there followed more photos, more giggling and then I gathered the children into a circle for a quick song in English. They continued following me to the edge of the village, singing out loud the song I had just taught them, before their teacher finally (and somewhat reluctantly) called them back. As their screams faded, I was once again alone with the fields, hills and buzzing of the bees…

Hattusaş, ancient Hittite capital, sits off the tourist route, and has thus maintained a sense of mystery and is still surprisingly unknown to the majority of people. In fact, perhaps the Hittites themselves are an uncelebrated civilisation, despite their rich history and culture, and impact on Central Anatolia.

From his capital, Hattusaş, in central Anatolia, the last-known Hittite king, Suppiluliuma II (1207 B.C.-?), ruled over a people who had once built a great empire—one of the superpowers (along with Egypt, Mittani, Babylon and Assyria) of the Late Bronze Age. The Kingdom of the Hittites, called Hatti, had stretched across the face of Anatolia and northern Syria, from the Aegean in the west to the Euphrates in the east.

The Last Days of Hattusa

For a time they were one of the principle adversaries of Ancient Egypt, and the great Pharoah Rameses II spent a large part of his reign at war with the “the Kingdom of Hatti” as it was known. The culmination was the battle of Kadesh, fought in 1274 B.C. near the Orontes River in modern Syria.

The site of Hattuşaş is quite magical – somewhat like Machu Pichu in its grandeur and setting. It is approximately 5kms in diameter, filled with endless temple foundations (the Hittites had more than a 1000 different deities!) set amongst imposing rocks, impressive walls. I spent the best part of a day taking in the atmosphere and the various remnants of this once great and prosperous city.

Hattuşaş in it's incredible setting
Hattuşaş in it’s incredible setting
Hattuşaş – the lion gate

Ancient and modern blend seemlessly: the village of Bogazkale sits just outside the city walls. The locals use the site as if it were their back garden (which it more or less is). I discovered the secret entrance which allows them access whenever they want – tourists are obviously directed to the main entrance. A shepherd marched his flock, grazing across the pastures and amongst the crumbling ruins; meanwhile I followed a group of women who were picking something I had discovered in Istanbul: madimak in Turkish, knotgrass in English, it is a local grass that grows only in certain climates and at certain altitudes – namely the region I was in. As I followed the tourist trail, I watched the three brightly clothed women making their own slow circuit, bending or simply sitting on the ground to collect this tough, but delicious delicacy. They wore trousers with a huge pocket, much like a kangaroo, where the freshly cut greens were stored

modern and ancient: local ladies collect madimak (a grass used to make soup inside ancient Hattuşaş
modern and ancient: local ladies collect madimak (a grass used to make soup inside ancient Hattuşaş

We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day; and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us.

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

From Hattuşaş my road was headed to the south, away from the Hittite lands and towards Cappadocia, and a world of fairy tale landscapes and caves hewn into the rocks.

Out of Bogazkale I turned a corner to leve the village, and there on the outskirts, just 100 metres from the site of a new hotel, rubbish lay strewn amongst the hills and grasslands. It is something I have become used to over the last 2 years, but still it leaves a sick feeling in my stomach. So often though, out of sight, out of mind is the policy.

A constant sight on my travels over the last 2 years - plastic is dumped in huge piles in the countryside, and when the wind blows it ends up flying into the trees and further afield
A constant sight on my travels over the last 2 years – plastic is dumped in huge piles in the countryside, and when the wind blows it ends up flying into the trees and further afield

I quickly passed through a rundown village where people stared hard eyed, and on into the wilderness. Leaving the main road, and checking my compass, I crossed a river and then it was all cow trails for the next 2 hours, through the trees and over the ridges, on barely perceivable trails. The main road was far below, and I was alone with the birds and the smells of the forest, cresting a rise through the trees to find myself high up on a chalky outcrop, with a 360° panoramic view, breathing in the fresh stillness all around.

Whenever you go on a trip to visit foreign lands or distant places, remember that they are all someone’s home and backyard.

Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

For the next 5 days I followed the shepherd trails through the hills, along muddy tracks, passing tiny villages where life revolved around agriculture. There were no shops, and no bars or cafes. Only the houses…and always a mosque. When I asked the reason I was told quite simply that cafes mean that people do less work and spend less time with their families – it is a very traditional area, and the locals here clearly distinguished themselves from their more Europeanised Turkish cousins.

Breakfast in a village
Breakfast in a village

In every village I passed I was invited into homes for çay, breakfast, lunch, dinner and more often than not a place to sleep. It was as if they were always expecting a guest and if I asked where I could put my tent, I was inevitably shown to a room with a foldout bed – the idea that I would sleep outside didn’t even enter the consciousness of these incredibly generous and hospitable people. In short I was traversing an unfrequented region, where my presence was accepted with grace, smiles and complete trust. I had the pleasure of seeing firsthand a side of life as it perhaps once was throughout Europe. And hand in hand with this I was able to see some local traditions of farming and life…

Passing through a tiny, seemingly abandoned village which I strayed into accidentally, I found a group chatting outside their farmhouse. One of the men spoke excellent English, and I was immediately invited to sit and drink a glass of fresh milk! After chatting and explaining my journey, I had the pleasure of witnessing an age old tradition in this region.

Emismek – literally meaning “sucking the nipple” – is a method used during the milking season to allow the lambs to eat, but also to provide enough milk for dairy production. I was also told that this way the lambs become stronger. The lambs and sheep are kept separate during the day, except for half an hour, when the youngsters can feed – this is emismek. They are brought together and the theatre begins. Bleeting sheep call to their barr barr-ing lambs, and the lambs search for their mothers. Often they get confused (I mean they do look remarkably similar!) and begin suckling the wrong sheep. At which point they are forcibly removed by the sheep, and go searching for their real mother!

For 30 minutes the lambs feed until they are separated by the shepherds. Sometimes of course they don’t want to stop, and must be forcefully removed, much like a bouncer at a nightclub.

some lambs don't want to stop!
some lambs don’t want to stop!

I left this wonderful scene, after I was fed a delicious çorba (soup) of course, and was once again on the road. Clouds gathered in the sky, and the heavens opened as I found myself squelching along a muddy track towards another village. Wet and dripping from head to toe, plastered in mud from the knees down, I headed for the shelter of the local mosque, where I could at least hide from the rain and wash away the mud.

Here a group of local men gathered to stare at the sopping traveller. Then, one of the guys approached, and as if it were the most natural thing in the world, invited me to come and stay with him and his family for the night. It was a most welcome suggestion as the clouds were still hanging in the sky. Jumping in his tractor, we drove to his house and I was immediately welcomed in, despite my bedraggled appearance. The generosity of strangers never ceases to amaze me.


The following morning the sun was shining in the sky, and I was able to wave goodbye to my hosts and follow a cross country track, south towards the edge of Cappadocia, one of the most famous and touristic regions of Turkey. But there is always a reason for this…

To be continued…

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One thought on “Heading For Anatolia

  1. Awesome post! This really resonated with me on a number of levels. I love Turkey and you my friend are seeing the best side of it. When I was in Uni I got a degree in Archaeology and the Classics. I took a whole course on Greek Anatolia. Totally amazing as you walk those ancient and modern trails. I’m more than a guy on a bike and you’re more than a guy that walks the Earth. I do sympathize with the visa stuff you have it harder than I do. Enjoy the walk!


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