On our second route what we called “On the footsteps of nomads” a German cyclist Thomas Joas accompanied us. Thomas is traveling around the world by his bicycle and we all met on the top of the Taurus. He photographed our adventure. We rode on the top Taurus range crossing the Dumbelek pass used since the ancient times to explore the unknown routes of Anatolia. Nowadays, these routes are used only by migrating nomads and few villagers. We crossed one of the highest passages of Turkey (2962 m) by bicycle in frame of Young Explorers Project.
It is 4 o’clock in the morning the alarm sound wakes us up. He have to leave within an hour to escape the scorching heat of Mersin. We are in a hurry to leave the city center cutting connection to the city, riding on the road up to Gozne plateau. As the sun rises the temperature increases immediately. Just before Gozne we decide to take a rest. We take some snacks from a small store and after a short rest continue to ride. As we arrive in Ayvagedigi (quince pass) the temperature drops down to a pleasant degree. We call Huseyin Abi (Abi – elderly brother in Turkish). He tells us that we have to ride about 20 km to reach Kizilkaya (Red rock, an Alawite village) where we planned to stay overnight. On the way to Kizilkaya we arrive Degirmendere (mill creek) village known for its peach trees. As we arrive in Huseyin Abi’s house on the top of a slope with an impressive view we forget all of our tiredness. If you happen to come around visit Huseyin Abi and drink chai (tea) with him. You’ll enjoy his company.
After a good breakfast in the morning we start to pedal towards Topasir fire lookout tower. Now we are on dirt road again. The road passes through fruit gardens with occasional small cottages here and there. We have to climb to 1938 m to reach Topasir. On our way to Topasir we meet a Yoruk (Turkmen nomads of West Taurus range) family who invite us and offer fruit. As we had witnessed on our previous route Yoruks are very hospitable. Then, we run into a herd of cows. The owner of the cows on a motor vehicle called pat pat (due to the terrible noise its motor makes) salutes us and invites for lunch at their camping site. The owner Nuri and his friends are from Sebil village. They joke with Thomas and say “Let Thomas stay with us in Sebil for a month, we teach him Turkish”. : )
People of the region gather pine and hemlock cones and sell to the Department of Forestry. After the cones are dried their seeds are collected and planted. As we climb higher hemlock, cedar and juniper trees become dominant.
Nuri and his friends visited us that evening at Topasir. We had dinner all together, a beekeeper family also joining us. The conversation of this evening on the roof of the lookout tower with all these friendly people was unforgettable. The fog was arising from the lowland towards the lookout tower on the edge cliff a perfect place to watch the stars.
In the morning having breakfast with the officers of the tower we got ready to set off towards Huyuk Alani. Our dirt road was passing through hills up and down with stony path. But the breathtaking view fascinated that we didn’t get bothered from the roughness of the dirt road. The Yoruk obas (oba – nomad’s camping site) were scattered here and there on the treeless territory above 2000 m. At noon time we found ourselves in a Yoruk’s tent.
While chatting with the Yoruks the topic comes to ibex which is called as deer by the people of this region. We are in a wild life reserve and those ibexes are under protection. An ibex had merged into herd of this Yoruk family. We go out to see the ibex a strong and noble animal. When you touch his neck it horns and ramps. While the women prepare the meal we talk about country diary and general situations. On the contrary to our belief, these Yoruks were following news and were well informed. We got surprised. People and the mountains continue to astonish us.
We cross a hill. Now we are on the plain of Huyuk Alani. We feel like we were coming home. This place is so familiar to us.
Looking at the barren mountain faces, one thinks how the herd nourishes, to which herb the goat sinks his head. But if you take a careful look you’ll see the small dun herb just above the soil called which the goats like to eat.
We came back to Huyuk Alani just one week after we rode on the route we called “Riding through history”. Huyuk Alani, also named as Dumbelek plain is a vast area at an altitude of 2500 m with a ridgeline reaching 3000 m. We notice that all Yoruk families but two had migrated from Huyuk Alani. Also the remaining two families were to move the next evening. They were in hurry preparing for the migration. Therefore we decided to stay the next day to watch the migration of Yoruks. This time we didn’t put up our tents and asked for permission to stay in the mosque.
The next day, the nomads go on preparations for migration with the sun rise. They tell us that there isn’t enough grass for their herd, therefore they do not want to waste any time. The migration from here to Huzurkent takes about a week. In the morning the shepherds gather the herd which had stretched over the plain over night. The whole plain is echoing with sounds of bells and of sheep and goats. As women gather the household men do heavy work outside. Everything gets ready. Now, they are waiting for the tractor to arrive. After the tractor arrives all the household is loaded. The shepherd will follow them with the herd.
There are a few Yoruks still practicing nomadism under the harsh climate of Taurus which influence the Yoruks deeply. Their joy, anger, their methods of awarding and punishment reflect character of the Taurus mountains.
The midday heat scorches you before you know it. The goats and sheep are lying still. The chicks stroll around their mother. One caught a worm, tries to eat in secret. But the others raise the hell. At noon time we go in an empty nomad’s tent to escape the scorching sun and also to prepare our lunch. The Yoruk family sends a dish made with white beans and yoghurt. Hanifi the cook of our crew prepares a delicious dish. While we were hiding from the scorching sun in the tent, a heavy rain started at around 2 p.m. and continued none stop till 5 p.m. The nomad’s tent was covered with plastic sheet and the border of the floor lined with stones. Despite this heavy rain shower, even a single rain drop didn’t pass through the tent cover.
While we were wondering whether the Yoruks would wait the rain shower to stop, the shepherds came around 4 p.m. to say goodbye. If you live in Taurus mountains you have to keep up with the harsh conditions. The last preparations are accomplished. We all helped to load the household. Now, time for migration has come. May god speed you, the brave people of Taurus mountains…
We were the only ones in the oba which was so crowded a week before. The next morning two families were expected to arrive which would stay till bayram (sacrifice holiday – religious holiday of muslims). While we were having breakfast they arrived in the oba. We gathered our belongings and went to welcome the family. We also helped them to empty their truck.
From Huyuk Alani we rode towards Ulubel (howling pass). The nomad family we met a week ago welcomed us and asked us whether we wanted to eat the delicious Kilan borek. Guess what our answer was, although we had our breakfast just one hour ago? : ). Okan’s tire blew out the second time at the same place just as one week ago.
From Ulubel we turned to the right this time towards Kirkpinar (forty springs). The dirt road to Kirkpinar going through narrow gorges, high plateaus and over dried river beds was the worst part of the entire route. The stony and rough path made the tires slide and unbalance the bicycle.
At the skirts of Bolkar mountains nothing but ash colored stones are found. Aside mullein and milk vetch other grasses and herbs are rare. The herbs knowing that winter comes early grow up and flower in a hurry and before the winter spill their seeds on the ground and dry. The rules of Taurus mountains are strict and harsh.
We saw stones put on top of each other on the top of the hills on both sides of us. These stone blocks are indications of human presence. Also they function as the border of Yoruk oba’s.
Riding through gorges we came to a lush plain called Kirkpinar, forty springs. There were cold springs flowing from every corner of the plain. We came across old graveyards in Kirkpinar. Our initial thought was to camp here but since we arrived early we decided to shortly stop and talk to the shepherds from Berendi village and then continued to ride.
At the site of Cakarcan we meet a young mathematics teacher working in Urfa. During summer time he comes to help his family grazing their herd. He asks us whether were are hungry or thirsty. We thank him and continue on our road. Meanwhile, as were thinking whether there were other mad cyclists other than us we came upon an officer of Forestry Department on a motorbike. We got really surprised seeing us riding on bicycles. That was what we were thinking about us a couple of minutes ago : ).. Here we crossed a pass having an altitude of 2962 m one of the highest passes of Turkey riding on dirt road.
We came across a stone on which was “dangerous” written with red dye. Really the short path was very narrow and dangerous. So narrow that a car can make sharp the turns only by two maneuvers. It needs a brave driver. The path leads to a plain area suitable to camp called Sarı göl (yellow lake) which dries out during summer time. Now there are tiny green herbs on the ground giving a pleasant look among the ash colored stony slopes. After putting our tents up we take a walk to explore the surroundings. This place is one of the rare places where we had mobile connection for the last three days since the beginning of our tour. We catch civilization from its end. From our ridge we can see Topasir fire lookout tower, the dirt roads we crossed towards Huyuk Alani and the ridgelines above Mersin. The view is so fantastic hard to put into words. One must come and experience this aura on his/her own. This time we look down to Topasir from 2800 m altitude. We drew an U riding from Topasir to this place.
As the weather darkened it got pretty cold. But Hanifi’s hot really very hot soup warmed us up : ). With great effort we drank the soup (PS: Even for us from Adana it was too hot) While grumbling to Hanifi for the soup he cooked we realized that we didn’t feel the cold anymore. We all fell asleep and didn’t get chilled that night tanks to Hanifi. : )
Early in the morning Hanifi and our teacher go out for a route search, while the crew prepares breakfast and puts down the tents. They find a better route than the planned one and come back. So we don’t need to re-climb that terrific path again. The Yoruk stops by on his way grazing his herd. We ask him for bread. His wife cooks us flat bread and we give them a glass of honey we bought from the beekeepers to show our appreciation. Filling our water bottles from the water tank we leave this place. The only spring in this area has dried out and water comes from Kirkpinar in water tanks.
Our plan is to arrive in Yazigol via Akrep (scorpion). The lake Yazigol is a suitable camping place where a couple of Yoruk families put their tent up. But before we have to cross a pass at an altitude of 2950 m. While on the pass the crew asks: “Would we see 3000 m on our bicycles?” But unfortunately the pass falls 50 m short. Never mind, Hakan carries his bicycle on top of a nearby hill to 3000 m. Such high altitude is mostly achieved by mountain hikers but we travel on summits of mountains by our bicycles, that is on our iron horses. On top of it, to explore unknown routes of Anatolia. We sit at 3013 m and drink tea accompanied by an breathtaking panoramic view.
Opposite to the hill on the other ridge we could see Topasir fire lookout tower and to the north the impressive Aydos summit second highest of Taurus range rising among the shorter hills. Our route today is not difficult but somewhat intricate. There is a high possibility to take the wrong way due to the many branching paths. Therefore, one traveling in this region must carry enough provision and water.
We have lunch at the site called Akrep where there are 3 stone houses and a well. The Yoruks at this camping site have had already migrated.
After lunch we continue to ride till Yazigol. As we arrive there, a nomad family was just putting up their tents. In this Yoruk oba there are five families all relatives.
An old woman saluted us inviting to her tent. Hanifi and she had a long talk but failing to understand what the other is saying. Presumably she didn’t hear so well and Hanifi didn’t understand her dialect. : ) As we entered the tent the wood stove was lit and inside was pretty warm. The old woman asked us whether to lay some food. Thomas responded the quickest and said: “Evet, ekmek lutfen. (Yes, bread please)” with his spare Turkish vocabulary. : ) We got a little ashamed and smiled. Thomas had also recognized the hospitability of the Yoruk families. We ate lentil soup, cheese and flat bread all together with the children. Afterwards we drank chai (tea). We played with the balloons we brought to the children and had an enjoyable night. Okan did not allow the kids win the balloon game using the advantage of his height. We gave first aid to Munevver who fell down and injured her face and then returned back to our tents. Whenever we walked from one place to the other children protected us from the huge aggressive shepherd dogs. At night they look even more scary.
A red bag lying in front of the tent catches our attention. We call Thomas to take his red bicycle bag. But he says that it doesn’t belong him. Nuzhet Hoca has also a red bag which we thought was left at home. We open the bag find the bread loaves, chocolates and small presents for the children we bought in the city. For days we kept asking for bread at almost every nomad’s tent. In thought that the red bag belonging to Thomas we didn’t open the bag. It was Hanifi’s responsibility to take care of food. : ). The whole night we ate all the chocolates and cracked sunflower seeds between our teeth, we all but Thomas. We weren’t able to teach Thomas crack the seeds between his teeth. He insisted that these seeds were for birds and not for human consumption. : )
In the morning we put down our tents. Our plan is to have breakfast at the shores of lake Alagol. Alagol lies high hidden among hills at 2750 m altitude. After breakfast we walk around to explore the lake. Hanifi not able to resist the call of water dives in to the cold water. The obruks (obruk – natural sinkhole) at surrounding slopes is still filled with snow.
Our road after Alagol goes all downward. We are riding to civilization. Just thinking that we were to accomplish this hard tour without any injuries Hakan loses his control and fells down. Boy, it is the last day Hakan, just 1 km to accomplish. We go to the camping site of the Yoruk Salim abi. Since Hakan’s injuries look bad we drive him down to Ulukisla to the hospital and let his leg x-rayed. He is lucky, no broken bones only contusions and scratches. After taking the medication given by the doctor we return to the Salim abi’s oba.
Salim abi and his family insist us to stay at night. After dinner Salim abi shows the guest tent we’ll sleep in. There are two tents, one for the family, the other also used as storage room for the guests. The youngest son of the family sleeps with us. The camping site of Salim abi has a breathtaking view. On the right hand side ridgelines of Aladag are stretching through the horizon and on front of the cliff Hasan and to northeast Erciyes mountains raise. This place was the final destination of our 8 days route what we called “in the footsteps of nomads”. There are so many things to mention about Yoruks and Taurus mountains, we wish you to come here and witness on your own.
At almost every spring there is a camping site of Yoruks, the last representatives of this nomadic culture, in the Taurus mountains. Finally, we recommend the book “Son Yorukler – The last nomads” written by Osman Sahin telling about the history of the nomads of this region.