Heads in the Mist

Trip Start May 03, 2013
Trip End May 22, 2013

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Nemrut Dagh

Flag of Turkey  , Adiyaman,
Saturday, May 11, 2013

Saturday May 11 Day 9: Urfa/Mt. Nemrut/Adiyaman
"We depart early this morning for the three-hour drive to the UNESCO site of Mt. Nem­rut, the presumed 1st century BCE mountaintop burial site of Antiochus I, with temples, altars, terraces, and decapitated statues of ancient gods – and their heads – scattered about. Having withstood both time (two millennium) and attempted destruction by iconoclasts, the colossal 26- to 33-foot high statues evoke a very distant and storied past. We walk to the summit, where we enjoy this spectacular setting. "

Wakeup at 6:30 for the long day of traveling to Mt. Nemrut. Heading north from Urfa, we drive around the east side of the large lake created by the dam on the Euphrates. And the lake is named...Atatürk! We drive for just a couple hours to Adiyaman and then continue on to the east into Kahta. Here we're met by two minivans at a large gas station. We make the switch in order to deal with the much narrower roads heading up into the mountains. And end up with a much tighter seating arrangement! I'm in the back at the window and on the wheel well.

We drive north now, higher and higher into the mountains, changing from our former flat plains into foothills. The views back down into the valleys is spectacular. We stop off at the Euphrat Hotel- something of a lodge on the hillside looking down into a long valley. We have some lunch- delicious lentil soup, slightly spicy bulgur, and lamb. Sorry, no kebaps!

Then back into the vans for the final push up to the entrance to the national park. Fog has been settling in during our drive. We eventually reach the end of the road and some small buildings housing a tea room and WC.  We're at 7000 feet. The wind is strong and wet and very cold. The pathway, which is made of loose limestone shards with occasional steps and rocks, runs along the edge of the mountain with no rails or hint of fencing. Looking off into fog, I bundle up in my fleece and scarf with the rain parka over everything else. I pull the hood tightly over my head. The adventurous half dozen or so of us begin the 3/4 mile walk to the top. There's minimal visibility. I can see a red jacket ahead of me. That's my lifeline to the top. I occasionally stop to gather some oxygen.

Finally, I reach the top for the magnificent photo op---of gray clouds, snow and puddles. Why am I here? Mt. Nemrut, or Nemrut Dagh, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It 'houses' the Hierotheseion (temple-tomb and house of the gods) of Antiochus I (69–34 B.C.) who reigned over Commagene, a kingdom founded north of Syria and the Euphrates after the breakup of
Alexander's empire.  It was built by the king as a monument to himself. It once included two sets of five giant seated limestone statues, one set on each of two terraces. These statues were flanked by a pair of guardian animal statues – a lion and eagle – at each end. The base of the statues remain lined up, but their massive heads are now on their own. The two sets of status are done in distinctly different cultural styles, one to honor Antiochus' Macedonian and the other his Persian ancestry. The ruins were discovered by chance in 1881 by Charles Sester, an engineer. it was not until 1953 that exploration of the site was undertaken. The actual tomb is somewhere in the middle of  a mound of stone chips, but hasn't yet been excavated.

We all head back down the mountain. The weather has gotten worse and it begins to snow. But then it turns to hard, cold driving rain. It actually hurts! We are all strung out along the path back down the mountain side. I'm in the first group to reach the tea house. I'm soaking wet, both inside and out of the rain parka. I have a hard time pulling it off as I wait in the dark and crowded tea house for some warm beverage. But, as the last of us are arriving, Mustafa rounds us all up to head back to the vans. He's very concerned about the weather and the roads. I gather the rain parka around me and my camera again. The wind is strong, blowing the rain like hard pellets against us. I can barely walk down the few steps to the parking lot and then on to a nearby van-which luckily is one of ours, although not the one I rode up in.

We head back down the mountain toward Kahta. The windows of our little van are steamed up and we're cold and wet. We're glad to exchange it for the larger, comfy bus. We head west back toward Adiyaman. Our hotel is small and lovely. Our room is fairly large, but the beds are narrow and the chairs look like they're made for children. A buffet dinner is served in a large, newer addition that sits next to a lovely lit pool. The tables are occupied by fellow tourists, many of whom are Turks. I can envision all of us on the caravan route- buying up tourist trinkets on the way.

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