KARS, in Eastern Anatolia, is situated on a high volcanic plateau, where there is more animal husbandry than horticulture. We are half way there on our coach journey from Erzurum. Following the river down the hill, we pass many blue beehives neatly arranged in rows, much as I'd seen them in the South Western region of Turkey around Marmaris and Turunc many years ago. This region we are travelling through is known for its butter and honey, both some of the best in Turkey apparently.
The volcanic rock outcrops glistened with OBSIDIAN, once used for tools as it is naturally sharp when broken. With our left turn at Karahurt, KARS is just 74 kilometres to go. We'd be there in plenty of time to explore it before checking in to the next hotel.
In the middle distance I saw some trees with cups attached to the bark, presumably the trees were being tapped for sap. I think they were birch trees and I know this sap is harvested for human consumption in some countries, such as Latvia, Estonia, Russia: Turkey also? Although it is the beginning of winter now and sap tapping would be done as it rises in spring. Perhaps this one was forgotten! The rock formations were incredible, and we came into the coniferous tree line as we climbed again. There were small stone cairns dotted over the hillsides; presumably these are simple boundary markers between farmers?
We were driving up into the clouds now. It was becoming colder and there were dustings of snow on the hillside. The soil was now much darker, colored by the OPSIDIAN in the basalt rock.
I'M NO EXPERT ON TURKISH BIRDS BUT I SAW WHAT LOOKED TO ME LIKE A CRANE STANDING IN THE RIVER. COULD IT HAVE BEEN?
Everywhere there were the minarets. In every village we passed, high above the surrounding landscape, these fine white and slim pencil like structures stood out; even if the mosque itself was nothing more than a shack, a small basic building sometimes with only a flat roof. The herds of cattle were now becoming huge, although still free to roam anywhere, it seemed. As we approached KARS, at 1800 meters above sea level, and under a sullen wintry sky, we saw block after block of flats, with colorful walls and roofs, but many seemed to be not occupied. I wondered why? As the coach negotiated narrow roads between high stone walls through the old part of the town towards our hotel for the night, we could peer over the walls into small courtyards of simple houses.
Sometimes these were crammed with geese, and I discovered that these are a local delicacy usually made into a stew. KARS is such a mix of the old, the new, the historic ruins and the positively squalid. It is interesting for all those reasons.
IT IS A SHAME THAT PEOPLE TEND TO USE KARS SIMPLY AS A TRANSIT TOWN EN ROUTE TO THE RUINS OF ANI, 28 MILES TO THE EAST ON THE TURKISH - ARMENIAN BORDER. BECAUSE ACTUALLY IT IS WORTH LINGERING AWHILE FOR WHAT IT HAS TO OFFER IN ITS OWN RIGHT.
Not only that, it is the setting for the novel , by Orhan Pamuk. I have yet to read it!
Over the next couple of days I will describe all the many interesting sites we stopped to see in KARS before checking into our hotel for that night....and a short history lesson may be needed to put all this information into the context of our pilgrimage...