6 September 2009:
The plan today will be to cover the south-western part of Cappadocia, visiting some underground cities which the Christians lived while escaping the invading Seljuks. Right after will be the Ihlara valley, dotted with rock cut churches. Quite obviously the church will be just the same as the others I have seen in Cappadocia so far so the interest is more in the scenery. I plan to rush through it and not walk the whole valley.
After a heavy breakfast made of olives, goat cheese (like the french chevre) and bread, it’s time to start the day before 10am. Will drive past Uchisar and its hill top castle hewn out of a rocky hill and pass Pigeon Valley lookout point. You know the view here is good when you see tour buses. Valley on the right, and the ancient city of Uchisar in the background. And true to its name, there are pigeons around.
I don’t plan to stop too long at all the interesting spots. Soon I’d go southwards, passing highway 330, Kavak and on the way to Kaymakli through Cardak. The views are of rolling plains, a pleasant drive in the morning. The road is not too wide, enough for 2 lanes to and fro. With the windows wound down, the smell of garlic permeates the air. There are sacks of garlic fresh off the field on the roadside. No, it didn’t come across my mind to nick one. But this is a nice drive, about 40km to go.
Eventually I hit the main north-south road connecting Nevsehir and Kaymakli. It is still farming area here but soon I’d hit Kaymakli. Signs abound pointing to the underground city there, but right at the same spot I branch off to the right towards the satellite town Ozluce, with a lot less tour buses. As quickly as Kaymakli started, once I turned right I was in the open fields again and it is possible to see Ozluce in the distance.
1107hrs: Typing this out at Ozluce Underground City next to the village of the same name, minus the ‘underground’ part obviously. The place is right inside the village, follow the signs and you will not get lost. This one definitely looks out of the way for the tour groups that prefer the other 2 more popular underground cities, Derinkuyu and Kaymakli.
I drive the only car parked at the small shaded area. A guy comes up and ushers me into a small little stone house numbered 18. Inside is a small room with nice carpet strewn sofa and old farming tools and an old pair of leather shoe hanging on the wall. Naturally a good place to let go a barrage of B&W film on. I asked the guy how long to do the whole place and he says 10 something in part sign language. Can’t be hours so I guess must be minutes. Hope it is not 10 storeys of caves to explore. Stairs go down about a floor underground and first thing you come across is a medium sized chamber with a wheel as a door to block the entrance. There is a well as air ventilation shaft and potteries all over the place. The tunnel is lit with 60W incandescent bulbs requiring ISO1600 to shoot properly. At 400 I was able to do half second with my Ricoh. A few passages leads away from the main chamber and I follow it until it winds a little too much. I am the only one here and GPS don’t work so I thing better to play safe and not get too far. The air is cool here, easily 20C or slightly below when it is scorching hot outside. Nice. I will rest here for a while. The caves here look like they are dug out of clay, none of the rocky or crumbly caves which most churches I have seen in the last 2 days were made of.
On the way out, I had a chicken-duck, or Japanese-Latin type conversation with the caretaker, after donating some electricity and cay money to him. He sure looks like he could do with some. So if I heard right, Ozluce is 4 levels deep, probably mostly accessible, but I visited only one, should give me enough idea of the whole city-cave thingy. Spent some time chatting to him about the farm tools that adorn the wall of his lodge that is also part of the cave entrance. Right next to it is a little room that used to be the stable on ground level when people go into the cave. No idea what the old entrance looked like though it has to be a hole in the ground.
A short drive out to the main road I’m at Kaymakli again. I cannot afford to see multiple underground cities that cost 15TL each! I see many tour bus parked at this one so I decided to head off to the next and biggest underground city. Thus a drive to Derinkuyu which also has the deepest underground city in this area.
1202hrs: At Derinkuyu, after following the signposts in the small town, parking is 2TL and entrance 15TL, you can tell this is a tourist enterprise in the highest order. The underground city (aka Yeralti Sehri apparently in Turkish) entrance is also more elaborate than the crappy surrounding city. Its like going to a mansion in the middle of a slum. Rightly so, tour buses are all over the place.
After a few minutes tapping out the coordinate of the place and updating this blog plus checking out a well that is supposed to be a ventilation shaft for the subterranean city, I start my way into a little door and stairs downwards.
Bloody hell right after going town, got stuck behind a large Korean tour group explaining away the functions of the chamber we are in while blocking off the whole passageway!
No idea where I am going but the idea is to head lower and lower till I hit the bottom of this ‘deep well’ city, as it is called. I will not remember what is what anyway, and at least I know they live, eat, shit and store things there. Managed to escape the Koreans in a large chamber.
1219hrs: Now about 4 levels down and stuck at a one way direction stairs deep down due to a large group of Spanish tourists on the way up. The stairs are one lane only, and most of them are not exactly fit i.e. fat, so not possible to squeeze through 2 abreast. There are old ones, young ones and slow and fast ones, as I say ‘Ola’ to them as they passed. Has to be 60 of them coming past! I shall spend my time blogging this underground. Good it is not hot down here.
And before I know it right at the bottom of the city, I bumped in to the Koreans again. Since I’m destined to follow a Korean tour this time, might as well just follow them. There are also arrows indicating the direction to go. Guessing that red arrows are for down, and blue for exit direction, since I see more red than blue so far. This cave is a lot bigger than Ozluce but I think some of it is cordoned off. There is no where it will fit the thousands that it is supposed to if what I have seen so far is the whole thing. At the bottom I measured 1332m with my Suunto Observer and at the ticket booth, it was 1364m, so only 30m down the well almost at the bottom. Walking between rooms is not fun at all, having to crouch down as I am 6 feet tall. Some staircase tunnels run tens of meters and sometimes my small backpack scratches the roof of the tunnel as I walk quasimodo style.
But it is good to back in the open after a half an hour down there.
1300hrs: Back in the car at Derinkuyu. Having a drink and an almond bar for my semi-fasting lunch. The tour groups are gone for lunch now, the Koreans just leaving before me.
I’m heading off to Ihlara Valley now, not too far away, another 50km or so according to my not-to-scale map. Good to know no more underground city along the way, in fact, I’m sure there are more but I have seen the mother of all underground cities, so there.
To tell you the truth, if I was living back in the Byzantine times, I’d rather convert to Islam than to have to live in these tunnels.
1352hrs: Arrived in Ihlara village after almost an hour in the plains from Derinkuyu, passing a crater lake and Guzelyurt on my left. Took a slow drive. At Guzelyurt, it was possible to see the gorges the town was build on top of. Same when entering Ihlara village, rock cut abodes and churches in the dark red rocks are visible from the road, all in a narrow valley. I park at the entrance to the village at a square where old muslim men are gathering around tables, 2-6 each, just chatting and counting prayer beads. Unfortunately stopped too early and nothing tourist will enjoy here in the village center, I move on farther away.
1424hrs: Reached the tourist center which is a few kilometers out of the village center. Entrance fee is this time 5TL to enter the valley floor and the view here is amazing. No one comes to collect parking fee so I try to play dumb.
Ihlara valley is narrow, I’m guessing with my duffmeter that it is 100m-ish across and goes straight down about 75m. Obviously the only way down is by a knee busting set of stairs. It starts from the ticket booth and gets to the valley floor in no time. Good that the bottom is flat and has tree shade, and a pleasing stream running through it. Not to clean though so my DSLR stays in the bag at the valley floor.
Visited Agacalti Church and Yiyanli church but they look absolutely the same as the other churches, all the same. I think I might have seen too many churches cut into rocks. They all look the same. I think I need to mention the word ‘same’ many times to drive it across.
Time to head back to the car and do the shortcut trip to Belisirma in my car. None of those hiking thing today. Once I hike to Belisirma I will need to hike back to get my car. Unfortunately when I got back to the car park the attendant was there to rightly claim his 2TL parking fee.
The drive through Belisirma is quite interesting. I go downhill winding my way down to the river down below the cliffs and soon coming to a car park full of tour buses again. According to the map there should be a bridge and soon I find it hidden away with a tight left turn by the side of the stream.
After crossing the stream, I get to the other side of Belisirma which is like a messed up poor farming village. There are no road signs here and for the most part of the way, the road is uphill on the first gear only and if you get lost looking for your way out of the valley, I don’t blame you.
1553hrs: After leaving the Ihlara valley, I decided to check out Guzelyurt. As I entered the town perched on top of the hill, I see signs for an underground city and a monastery. Sounds familiar. Decide that I have had enough of both. U-turned and back tracked but a left turn on the way towards Ihlara and Aksaray caught my eye. At the end of it is Guzelyurt Golet, which I assume is an old monastery or church. The views here of the valley, lake and Guzelyurt town is amazing.
1635hrs: On the way out to Aksaray, I decided to run through Selime town, at the end of Ihlara valley. There is nothing special about the town, though it is below a hill with many eroded and interesting conical shapes and naturally, someone has carved rooms out of it.
1702hrs: Hit the highway and turned right towards Nevsehir. Just after I got on 330, a caravanserai called Agzikarahan calls out to me. This highway used to be the highway for travelling caravans, thinking it must be part of the silk road but citations needed. So a caravanserai is what you think it is. An ancient hotel for travelling caravans. If you recall, I was at one called Saruhan yesterday.
They are all designed about the same, rectangular in shape, grandish entrance with the carved inversed dome like the ones adorning Ottoman era mosques I have visited so far.
This one, however, is closed, door locked with chain and lock. And a whole gang of village kids comes upon me practising their english. First they ask for photo, and after noticing I have no digital preview to show them as I shot them with my Leica M6, the elder of the lot wanted to give me their address to mail the photo. I obliged, and soon the others are asking for free bicycles, for my camera and so on. Good luck, I turn my ignorance skills. Can’t do too much here as the caravanserai is closed.
Soon back on the highway eastwards, direction Acigol, Nevsehir and hoping to make it to Uchisar castle in time for sunset. Along the way, spotted two more caravanserai, the first on the left, newly restored, but I missed the left turn. The second, also on the left is in ruins and there is a scaffold indicating it is being rebuilt. It is not too difficult to spot caravanserais, look for the rectangular stone building and the features on the arched entrance.
After leaving Acigol, got stopped by the police doing spot checks. Quite obvious they were looking for a certain person and a foreigner like me gets waved past. I did stop my car and when the policeman noticed my GPS he asked if it was a GPRS (sic). Not wanting to extend my stop I just said yes. Before long we were chatting about the spots I passed today, and I showed my cookie crumbs on my Garmin GPS to him.
1838hrs: Made it to Uchisar Castle, waiting for the sun to set. The door closes at 7pm so I probably don’t have time to see the sun going below the horizon, based on the timing from the last 2 evenings, sun setting a little past 7pm here. The castle is an interesting piece of work, and an entrance fee of 3TL is charged. It started off as a rock hill and ages of digging out cave compartments means and it becomes an anthill of sorts. Several flight of stairs later and I’m at the top, being careful not to step off the edge. There is a nice panoramic view of Cappadocia here, but nothing perfect due to the evening shadows meaning there will be spots of utter blackness when shot with a DSLR.
Watched my last sunset in Cappadocia from here, tomorrow I will leave this place and return the rental car. Has been a long drive today, but not too many strenuous walk or climbs, so that is good. Dinner tonight has to be a pottery kebab which this place is supposedly known for. And ending the night with sweet baklava and a glass of Cappadocian red wine.
Tomorrow, I will spend the day in a big city, Kayseri.
Continue to Kayseri…