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A Muslim, A Jew & A Christian Watch The Sun Rise On Mt Nemrut

After breakfast and checking out of MDC Hotel in Cappadocia, we were picked up at 08:00, for departure to the Adiyaman Province and Mount Nemrut. Traveling privately with our driver, Ali, and guide, Murat, we traced a portion of the famous east-west route, the Silk Road. While the notion sounds exotic and romantic, we wouldn’t have realised that we were on the world famous road if Murat hadn’t pointed it out to us, it was so built up. Still, it was interesting to get an idea of the geography and terrain of the area and visualize what it would have been like in ancient times. 

After an hour and a half’s drive, we stopped and checked out the 13th century Karatayhan Caravanserai, one of many built by the Selcuk Turks in this region. Having witnessed centuries of trade along the Silk Road, the Caravanserais are now being hired out as exotic venues for large gatherings, such as parties and weddings. How times have changed.

Our journey continued through the Taurus Mountains, where we observed the countryside and the everyday life of rural Turkey. Making a stop at Kahramanmaraş, we got a taste of the “best ice cream in the world”, Maras ice cream, made from goats milk. A stickier consistency than commercial ice cream or gelato, I found it a tad heavy for my liking.

Stuck in the van with Murat and Ali for the best part of the day, we had the opportunity to get to know each other very well. While Peter and I - a Jew and a Christian - have had many conversations about our respective faiths and have a developed an appreciation for both, we’ve never had the chance to do this with a practicing Muslim, mainly because we don’t know anyone of the Muslim faith on a personal level in Sydney. Speaking openly and honestly with Murat, we asked him questions about the Quran and exchanged ideas and shared viewpoints on politics and religion. While normally volatile topics, we were in a safe environment and we all maintained open minds. Apart from sharing with us that he had been newly married (two months), Murat gave us very personal insights into what constitutes the life of a practicing Muslim, and that the teachings of the Quran have nothing to do with the fundamentalism that is currently sweeping the world. At the end of the day, we all concluded that we shared more similarities than differences. After all, Judaism, Christianity and Islam spring from the same father, Abraham.

While dinner had originally been planned for us elsewhere - a charming restaurant located on the banks of a reservoir created by the Ataturk Dam - Peter and I were exhausted from the day’s drive and we couldn’t bear another diversion. We chose to go straight to our accommodation, settle in, and have dinner there. Relieved to finally arrive at the Nemrut Kervansaray Hotel in Kahta/Adiyaman, on the lower slopes of Mt Nemrut, it leaned on the far side of rustic. But what the Nemrut Keravansaray Hotel lacked in luxury it made up in cleanliness and hospitality. Dinner was simple country fare and delicious. After a hot shower and early bedtime, we lay down to a restless night’s sleep in anticipation of our early rise and climb to the summit of Mt Nemrut. 

Awake and bleary eyed by 4 am, Peter and I piled on as many layers of clothing as we could manage and stumbled into the dining room for some hot tea/ coffee and a simple breakfast. Meeting up with Murat at the designated time of 4:45 by our van, he looked infuriatingly fresh faced at such an ungodly hour. Pouring ourselves into our van, we drove for approximately 45 minutes to a meeting place (that doubled up as a cafe) located on the slopes of the mountain, where we joined a number of other tourists. Despite the layers of clothing that we had piled on - four, to be exact - Peter and I were still cold. And we hadn’t even left the comfort of the shelter yet. Outside, the cold was absolutely blistering and the high winds cut through us as if we were mesh screens, so much so that I had to wrap my scarf around my head to stop my own hair from whipping across my eyes and causing me physical damage. Thank God for the heavy woolen blankets that the proprietor of the meeting place rented out for 5 Turkish lira each. 

While the climb to the summit was not a long one - 30-40 minutes - it was made all the more arduous because of the wind chill factor. With Murat heading Peter and I with a flash light, Peter grasped my hand firmly as I stumbled behind him. Clutching my blanket tightly to my body, I was terrified of it flapping open and turning into a sail, which would have swept me off my feet and sent me hurtling down into oblivion. By the time we made the steep climb to the top, my heart was pounding like a jack hammer. 

The mountain provided a spectacular backdrop for the stunning ruins of the temples and funerary mound erected in the mid- first century BC by King Antiochus I, of the Commagene Kingdom. With the Kingdom sitting upon vast lands encompassing different cultures between the Taurus Mountains and the Euphrates River, Antiochus I had the rare notion to unite disparate groups. I thought this was highly appropriate, given that Murat, Peter and I - a Muslim, Jew and Christian - sat down together in companionable silence to watch the sun rise from the East. Gazing at that majestic fiery ball slowly make its appearance in the distant horizon to welcome a new day, the question of race, creed and politics faded into insignificance.

Completing the Nemrut portion of our tour, our original plan was to continue to Harran and Sanliurfa, two areas with very deep histories. Unfortunately for us, Sanliurfa is located next to the Syrian border. We’d received word the day before that 10,000 refugees were flooding Sanliurfa per day to escape ISIS. Feeling unsure about our security, we checked the website of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) for any travel warnings for Turkey. Sure enough, the website advised travelers to reconsider their need to travel to the area due to the risk of terrorist activity and high military presence. Our decision was validated when we’d heard that another tour guide had been held up at knife point and robbed by a group of starving children who had crossed the border from Syria. Driven by desperation, they would have had nothing to lose.

Enduring another eight hour drive from Mt Nemrut back to Cappadocia, we spent another night at the MDC hotel before flying out of Kayseri airport for Izmir the following day. While it was a crying shame to have missed out on Harran and Sanliurfa - nothing less than Abraham’s home town and site of the world’s first Islamic University - it was by far the safest option.

Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 26th September, 2014 | Trackbacks
Categories: Turkey

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