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Getaway: Lake Van by bike

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Posted 01 September 2004 - 12:27

Fed up with work and endlessly delayed meetings, I decided to vent my frustration by taking a bicycle trip by myself around Lake Van. I set off from Van and travelled clockwise. My bicycle weighed 15 kilos and I carried another 24 kilos of equipment including two litres of water, clothes, a camping stove, fuel, pots and pans, an emergency meal, a sleeping bag, a tent, a camera, a bicycle repair kit and a first aid kit. Believe it or not, I kept everything to the bare minimum.
On my travels, I met many generous people who offered me food and conversation: the Babahans in Ahlat, the Koçaklı family in the village of Esenkıyı and Ferzande and Cevdet at a Highway Maintenance Station where I took shelter. On my 5-day trip, I learned a lot about Turkish history and hospitality, and about pushing my physical limits.
Former glory
This region has always been an important area of human settlement. The city of Ahlat was once a major centre of arts and sciences. It was home to many civilisations including the Assyrians, the Persians, the Romans, the Seljuks and the Mongols before it was conquered by the Ottomans in 1514. Today, Ahlat is a ruin'a shadow of what it once was. So is Nemrut, the nearby volcanic mountain that last exploded in 1441.

An extract from our Captain's Log
"...having cycled 97 kilometres since morning, I enjoy a filling lunch. After lunch, I leave Tatvan and turn left onto the Bitlis road. The sign at the turnoff to Mount Nemrut reads 'Nemrut 13km'. Although the steep road means that the journey will take me three hours at 5km/hr, I decide that I have enough time before sunset to complete the trip. A little way down the road, I run into two kids on bikes coming towards me. They tell me to head back that the road is much longer than 13 kilometres and is covered in flocks of sheep and sheepdogs. I decide that they must be exaggerating. Pretty soon, I wish that I had listened to their sound advice. The sky begins to darken and I curse the man who wrote the sign that lead me on this ill-fated adventure. Still, I press on, imagining the laughing faces of the two kids if they saw me give up after ignoring them. At the end of 13 kilometres, I find myself beside the crater, 2600m above sea level. But I am a long way away from my final destination: the big lake. In the fading light, I can barely make out three roads in front of me. Two are blocked by scary looking sheepdogs, so I take the third. The sheepdogs snap at my heels as I ride away downhill. A long way down, I run into two young men who tell me that I have taken the wrong road! As the sun sets, I retrace my steps and take the correct road which leads me to a small lake. A group of nomads have set up camp here. They tell me that the big lake is miles away and offer me shelter for the night. By now, I am determined to finish my journey. I thank them for their kind offer but carry on to the big lake.
It is now pitch dark. I come to a fork in the road. I take my chances and head left. Further on, another fork in the road. I toss a coin and decide to take my chances. At 20.30, I finally spot a small hut and three people" one of whom is carrying a gun. I have travelled 129km in one day. They greet me and refuse my offers of payment for food and shelter. "We don't take money from odd visitors like you." Grandfather Hazni Ontas is in his eighties. The other two men are his grandsons, Birol and Ramazan. They set a table of delicious fare and beg me to dig in. After pedalling non-stop for 14.5 hours, I am more interested in some water. I lie down in my tent beside Lake Van under the shining stars and rest my weary, aching legs.

I wake up at dawn, take an invigorating dip in the lake and have a filling breakfast with my hosts. Again, they refuse to take my money. "Just speak well of us. Say that we are good people." I bid these 'good people' a fond farewell and set off towards the village of Serinbayır..."

In an article dating from 1946, Dr. Resat İzbirak wrote that the coming of the railroad to the region would bring wealth and prosperity, adding that "its faded villages, towns and cities will shine like pearls once more." Personally, all I can think about is where I'm going to find my next meal.

By The Gate Magazine

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