Thoughts reverent and irreverent from the road in Turkey


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daren1Sometimes I strike it particularly lucky with taxi drivers as was the case when I arrived in Darende, midway between Kayseri and Malatya. Mehmet, my driver, was immaculately dressed in a shirt as clean and neatly pressed as if he had been a teacher. He had his price list ready to hand. He knew where he was going and what he was doing. What’s more he had plenty of information to impart along the way.

I’d come to Darende to admire the shrine of Somuncu Baba that squats beneath the rockface at the mouth of the Tohma Gorge. To my surprise since my last visit it had been given a glistening makeover. Quite literally glistening, that is, since a highly polished marble pavement had been spread out in front of the modern mosque built right beside it.

In the gorge the cafes were closed, the picnic grills cold since I’d arrived midweek before the school holidays began. But a new path had been laid that trailed the river through the gorge and brought me back out at the opposite end of town. The scenery was glorious with the rocks soaring up on either side to create a hidden world while the river at their base hopped and skipped over ledges, forming pools, then breaking away again until finally it heaved a sigh and calmed back down again by a bridge. daren2

The trouble was the litter. Britain may not be the cleanest of countries but never do I remember taking a signposted walk through a beauty spot that involved turning a corner and coming face to face with the local rubbish tip which is what happened here. Unfortunately.

It was soon after this unhappy encounter that I bumped into Mehmet. Off we set on a trip to the waterfall at nearby Günpınar. While Mehmet parked himself in the tea garden I teetered along the edge of a concrete water channel leading to the waterfall, managing to reach it by great good fortune just before a coach pulled up and disgorged a hundred-odd day-tripping students. Inching back around the vanguard was painful enough. Inching back around the laughing, carefree, oblivious-to-other-people rearguard would have virtually guaranteed a ducking.

Mehmet was determined that I should visit the tomb of one Hasan Gazi at the back of Darende. I was equally determined not to do so. “Turks love those shrines,” I moaned. “But foreign tourists don’t know who these people are …”

daren3But he was insistent. “I’ll take you there anyway, then drop you at the bus stop” he wheedled. “You’ll see.”

The road he took wound up through the back streets of Darende passing some of the few remaining beautiful adobe houses for which the area is noted. The road was dusty and poorly made. “It’s been like this for at least 30 years,” Mehmet said contemptuously. “But the Başkan (then Prime Minister Erdoğan) came recently. He sacked the mayor immediately. He hadn’t got anything done.”

“Why was that?” I asked cautiously. “Was he particularly lazy?”

“No! He was just uneducated. He was a lorry driver. He didn’t know anything about anything.”

“But people here must have voted for him…”

“They voted for the party. He was AKP. That’s how it is around here.”

By then we’d reached the summit of the hill and at once I could see why Mehmet had been so keen that I should come here. The view out over the barren, yellowy hills was spectacular, provided only that one looked firmly west towards Kayseri and not south towards Malatya where a crop of the usual TOKİ-tower housing blocks had been dumped on the hillside in what looked a wholly impractical location, sans shops, sans school, sans everything.daren4

As we drove back to the centre Mehmet pointed out some of the finer surviving houses to me. I asked him about a huge late Ottoman-era konak I’d spotted on the way into town. “It has three owners,” he told. “They’re all elderly. They live there in summer. The rest of the time it’s empty.”

We’d come to the end of our whip round the delights of Darende. Mehmet dropped me at the bus stop. The dolmuş was packed to capacity. Too late to do anything about it I found that I’d been assigned a box seat wedged in between the driver and the front passenger. It had no back to it which meant that in an accident I’d either have been thrown through the windscreen or tossed backwards along the aisle.

By the time I finally reached Malatya that spectacular hillside view felt like a very distant memory. 

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