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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

August 24th: Van in Eastern Turkey

On August 24th 1978 I was in Van in eastern Turkey.

I had arrived with friends the previous day on the overnight train from Kayseri.  In the morning we passed along the narrow Murat valley with bare hills around, and reached Lake Van at Tatvan. We crossed the lake to Van during the middle of the day on a ferry journey which lasted several hours.

Akdamar, 2006:  Picture by Simon Hooks,  CC
This day we went to the island of Akdamar, without too much hassle, but I had the pleasure of finding the information and the transport, and getting together a party, 9 foreigners, 2 Turks and one child.  The ride to the island was good and the church was beautiful with all the reliefs on the outside, Armenian about 920AD, really ancient frescoes unprotected on the walls; the style, the inscriptions and the pictures were unlike anything I had seen before.  The lake water proved to be warm and slippery; we swam and sunbathed and enjoyed being in the country.  The mountains behind were bare and high, the little areas of green carefully kept, the few people friendly. Back in town there was a fine sunset.  We wandered around the backstreets, had a meal outside in a lively area, as men in turbans walked past.

Van Citadel, 2009:  Picture by Simon Taylor, CC
The next day we went to the citadel, a huge rock near the lake, a place full of history. There was a hollowed sanctum in the side of the rock and a huge Urartu inscription outside, from a kingdom dating back to 850BC. With a minaret at the top and the massive walls and crags all round, it was an impressive place.  The large site below was the old city of Van destroyed during the attack on the Armenians in 1915.  The outlines of the streets and houses and the four mosques was a poignant sight.   Beyond was today's agriculture, cows and horses and donkeys.  I sat high up on the rock and stared. 

In the late afternoon we walked out to the railway station to get the night train to Teheran.  I wrote a piece in my notebook:
First border hassle on the way east, getting out of Turkey, sitting around in the waiting-room wondering if the train is ever going to leave; first it was 7, then 10, then 12, so who knows at what hour we're going to get away from here.  There must be about 30 of us altogether, an English guitar player we met at the bank this morning, three English games players (I played declaration whist, bridge, backgammon) the Canadian from Urgup, the German/Swiss couple from the ferry, "nice" English couple going first class, 6 Pakistanis (4 roughish and a nice couple) sitting on the floor playing cards, 4 Germans we've been with somewhere else.  There are some Turks hanging around as well but I don't know who of them is travelling.  Lots of hassling over the changing of money: you've got to have a form saying you've changed so much money for the journey (took a long time in the Central bank this morning) and in addition a change slip for 500TL, which there was no mention of previously.  There is as yet no ill-feeling.  I thought it might be difficult.
And later on the train:
Fairly comfy Iranian train, the old first class couchette gives everyone space to sleep.  We didn't leave the border till 10.30 this morning, but no hassles, everyone polite.  Some beautiful mountain scenery with lovely greener hills and a river at the bottom, flocks of sheep and goats, and long tunnels.  Now we're in the plain or plateau, dull at first until we came to Lake Oroumieh which is vast and has green patches beside with cultivation.
I remember that we stopped at the huge station in Tabriz for a while around lunchtime.  It was completely deserted as was the vast square outside.  Not one person in sight, no officials.  Very strange.

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