Wednesday, 23 December 2009
All horses finished up sound and well. None was ever lame, and nobody even lost a shoe.
Horses (all Turkish-bred mares supplied by Ercihan):
Anadolu, Akhal-Teke Thoroughbred cross, completed the ride
Titiz, Thoroughbred who looks like an Akhal-Teke, completed the ride
Sarhosh, Arab-Anatolian cross, completed the ride
Ilos, Arab-Anatolian cross, completed the ride
Elis, Arab-Anatolian cross, no rider for last section of ride
Asya, Arab-Anatolian cross, no rider for last section of ride
Hidalgo, purebred Arab, no rider for last section of ride
Ercihan Dilari, Akhal-Teke Horse Centre, Avanos, Cappadocia, Expedition leader
Metin Aker, Artist, shaman, chef, driver
Sedat Varis, Horseman, logistics expert
Donna Landry, FRAS, Professor of English and American Literature, University of Kent
Caroline Finkel, FRAS, Honorary Fellow, Edinburgh University
Gerald MacLean, FRAS, Professor of English and Co-Director of Turkish Studies, Exeter University
Susan Wirth, Photographic editor of Der Spiegel, New York
Therese Tardif, Advertising executive, Montreal, Canada
Patricia Daunt, Writer, wife of a former ambassador to Turkey
Andy Byfield, Botanist, PlantLife International
Ayse Yetis, Vet, Turkish Jockey Club
Ozcan Gorurgoz, Entrepreneur, restauranteur, Cappadocia
Alper Katranci, Entrepreneur, balloonist, Cappadocia
Pinar Durmaz, Trekkist and academic, Istanbul Kultur University
Ramazan Bey, Muhtar of Ucbas
Route and Maps:
The initial idea had been to follow Evliya's route from Istanbul to Izmir (see first map on blog). However, research revealed the importance of Kutahya as his ancestral town, and the appeal of the city itself as a final destination for sustainable tourism, rather than urban Izmir. The thriving rahvan (ridden pacing racing) community is another important feature of Kutahya, alongside its historical restoration projects and interest in Anatolian and Ottoman heritage culture. Hence the second map on the blog. This one shows the route Evliya took, and which we followed, a route that is indeed a typically Evliyan circuitous route from Kutahya through Afyon, Usak, and Simav, before heading back to Kutahya.
A second change of route was made during the ride; this change too proved felicitous. There was a problem or perhaps textual crux in Evliya's description of his route between Afyon and Banaz. He appears to have gone in two entirely different directions and we could not see a way of combining them but hoped to choose the better route. Instead of following Evliya from Afyon to Suhut and Sandikli and thence to Banaz as originally intended, we decided to ride from Afyon to Boyali, Sinanpasa, and then Banaz. Evliya's descriptions of these latter places are much richer than what little he has to say about the plain between Sandikli and Banaz. Since we discovered some of the most fascinating horse country and stunningly beautiful landscapes of the expedition during this part of the ride, we think it was the right decision.
Shortening the route in this way also meant that the expedition was completed before the coming of winter.
Following Evliya has proved to be a more rewarding research exercise than any of the expedition party had ever imagined it would be.
Thursday, 10 December 2009
The interviewer's father was once the chief veterinarian at the Karacabey Arabian stud near Bursa (http://www.tigem.gov.tr/)—horse habits are for life!
Sunday, 22 November 2009
We had arrived at dusk at Sefa Koyu the night before. The day’s ride to Sefa Koyu had unfolded during the first seriously gloomy weather since our journey began in September. A cold wind was intermittently blowing. Ercihan, Caroline, and I had been joined on horseback by Pinar, a trekkist and friend of Ercihan’s from Istanbul. Mac was still riding the cab with Metin, Sedat, and the puppies Emine and Pamuk, trying every day to get his boot on over his wounded toe and not quite making it. He had hopes of being able to ride into Kutahya in a few days’ time. Mountain passes, mountain villages where apples and apple peelings were being dried on the terraces and in the streets, occasional drifts of woodsmoke, and many cats, marked our journey from our camp outside Kalkan near Simav. We rode through Kalkan and Senkoy, which both had lovely curving streets and old wood carvings on many houses. Then we skirted Inlice, another mountain village built of wood, but unlike the others not humming with life. Inlice was indeed the Turkish equivalent of Oliver Goldsmith’s deserted village. All the population except one elderly woman had gone, leaving her, as Goldsmith wrote, ‘the sad historian of the pensive plain’, or in this case, pensive hillside.
This was a district of wonderful textiles as well as late season harvests of fruit and vegetables. Alongside or under the drying apples were colourful kilims and chuals -- woven storage bags. We found a big kilim partly burned and discarded by the side of the road, in shades of brown, black, green, cream, and yellow. Stopping to perform a Nomadic Artifact Rescue Operation, we cut away the burned sections and tied what would become exceptionally eye-catching and comfortable saddle blankets back home in Avanos onto the backs of our saddles.
Stopping for tea at Kestel, we were reunited with the van crew and warmed ourselves at the kahvehanesi with several glasses of chai. A few kilometres more, we were told, and there would be a suitable campsite. But when we arrived at it, it turned out to be at the edge of a ploughed field on a windswept hillside just off the road, with hardly any grass for the horses and hardly any flat spaces onto which to pitch tents. It was cold, and growing colder by the moment.
As so often happens in Turkey, some people turned up just then, telling us that, if we rode on, in less than another ten kilometres, we would come to another village with a hamam, a ‘misafirhane’ or guest house, and plenty of good grazing. We agreed enthusiastically to press on since there was still just enough daylight left.
And so we came to Sefa Koyu, where thermal springs have been providing local people and weary travellers with hot bathing pools, showers, and spa treatments for millennia. Inside an enclosure, but open to the sky, lay a stone terrace with a deep pool steaming in the cold. Next to it an even hotter shower plunged perpetually. The horses were turned out in grassy parkland, dotted with picnic pagodas, which provided them with windbreaks and us with shelter as the rain came on. We pitched tents in torchlight because the promised guest house had not been cleaned in some time, and Metin declared it ‘pis’, and entirely unsuitable. But with a thermal spa on hand, dating from before the Roman occupation, and a reasonable place for the horses to spend the night, we were content.
It was the end of October, and the weather appeared to be turning with the calendar page. November beckoned, promising to feel less like autumn and more like winter in this hill country.
The next day we said goodbye to Pinar. Ercihan, Caroline, and I were partnered with our usual horses – Anadolu, Sarhosh, and Titiz -- with Ilos (who had been, and was intended to serve as, Mac’s mount and had carried Pinar) as stand-by or ‘yedek’. Our policy with yedeks had been to lead them if there was any danger of traffic or interference with local lifeways, or if we were following tracks where we needed to leave as few traces as possible. But in open country, if they peaceably followed the others, there was no need to lead them. Ercihan’s horses are usually very good about this, as about being picketed, or if one of the ‘serbest’ or free ones, staying in camp even if not tied.
There had been days of riding along in rivers, for instance, with the sunlight glancing off the ripples, and beautifully clean river bottoms glistening in the sun. We might ride for a long way in the river itself, cooling the horses’ legs, or we might make frequent crossings from bank to bank. Usually the yedeks behaved themselves, splashing along happily as if being ridden, and making it easier for us to negotiate steep and wooded banks without being encumbered by a led horse.
On this morning, however, Ilos, who is very forward going, seemed determined to enjoy herself in wilful ways, rushing ahead of us, taking her own line, attempting to lead the ride instead of Anadolu, who resented this, and even disappearing at times as we tried to stick to our course and not be diverted by her antics.
Ercihan’s brilliant sense of direction and eye for country meant we kept making good time in spite of having to outwit Ilos. On steep and wooded hillsides, away from roads, it made more sense not to lead her but to keep persuading her by various strategies to rejoin us.
Then we came to a narrow river overhung by trees, which looked black and possibly fathomlessly deep, but it was difficult to tell in the gloom. No obvious ford presented itself. Ercihan and Anadolu went down the bank cautiously, but Anadolu, having put one foot in the water, trembled on the brink. She danced from side to side and finally tried to jump across instead of fording sensibly. She cleared the water, but only just, hitting her knees on the opposite side and scrambling to her feet. She and Ercihan recovered instantly, no harm done whatsoever. However, I thought it would be better for my horse not to have to have me on board if she too were to hit the bank. I had spotted a makeshift bridge nearby, a single plank, the wooden equivalent of a granite clapper bridge, and, dismounting, ran across it to the other side of the stream. Holding Titiz’s reins, I encouraged her to jump across to me. ‘Look out! She will jump on you’, shouted Ercihan. But by this time, our partnership was such that she knew exactly what to do, and she jumped across to land safely next to me, although she still hit the bank and landed partly on her knees as Anadolu had done. Not like Irish hunters, these otherwise handy Cappadocian steeds.
As the least experienced rider, Caroline was frightened and worried about what to do. She too dismounted. Giving my horse to Ercihan, I went back across the plank, took her horse’s reins, and got Sarhosh to jump across to me just as Titiz had done. Caroline then walked the plank, visibly relieved. Ilos was left alone on the other side. We thought she would jump across to join us.
Normally Ercihan’s horses are phenomenally good about this kind of obstacle. They do the sensible thing rather than panicking or causing trouble. We had learned much from our Turkish horses about how spoiled and silly most English and North American horses are. But on this morning, Ilos behaved perversely. She refused to cross. We mounted up, calling to her. Even when we attempted to ride on in a tempting fashion, she stayed on the opposite bank. She was not behaving like a brilliant Akhal-Teke Riding Centre expedition horse, but like . . . a normal horse. Which is to say that like cats, horses can and will be perverse. How I wished I had just gone back across the plank again and led her while she jumped across, as I had done the other two. And which I would have done if riding on Dartmoor or in the States, because one does not expect the kind of rational cooperation from most horses that we had come to expect from Ercihan’s. In the end, he dismounted, went across to Ilos, and led her over. Everybody was beginning to feel a bit tired and pinched with cold and impatient to get going again.
This was the only river crossing during our entire expedition in which the horses did not ford quietly and sensibly, or on rare occasions of leaving the floor, pop over without a fuss. I have to say that jumping is not a strong point amongst these horses. Although they are very sure-footed, and excellent at climbing and descending even the steepest of mountains, they often leave their legs behind if there is a biggish ditch or other obstacle to jump. Sarhosh, Caroline’s little gray mare with the heart of a lion, was the only horse to jump the stream cleanly that day.
After Karbasan, we stopped to eat the biscuits we were carrying in our pockets. We had alternated between field and forest crossings and unmade roads.
The cold is now unrelenting, and we can see what must be snow on the high tops of distant mountains. We dismount and lead the horses for a while. Then we come into Dushecek, a name suggesting a village at the end of the world. Here we are delighted to find tea available in the centre of town, and a small market in progress. Many men in tailored jackets and flat caps gather round to admire the horses. We buy carrots for the horses and bananas for ourselves and gratefully drink the hot sweet tea.
We are about to descend to the plain in which we will find Cavdarhisar, ancient Aizanoi, a city of Hellenistic and Roman antiquity. It is reportedly a fantastic site, though not much known about on the tourist trail. Having only heard the vaguest of descriptions, I am filled with anticipation to come upon a city of marble with bathhouse, amphitheatre, and great temple . . .
Sleet begins to fall as we descend. We are now riding on earthen tracks between ploughed fields in red clay country. The horses pick up galoshes of red clay on their feet.
Then suddenly the footing improves. We decide to pick up the pace a bit. Caroline, who began the ride not really having ridden since she was a girl, and rather apprehensive about riding at speed, is now willing to have a go. First we trot, Titiz stepping out as she does, with her lovely floating action, so that I can see her putting her toe out with every stride. We sustain this pace steadily for nearly the first time on the whole expedition. We have most often walked at a smart marching pace, with occasional bursts of speed. Often the going has been uncertain or treacherous. Many enticing stubble fields are riddled with ‘gelincik’ holes. (These gopher-like long-tailed weasels hibernate for the winter and had already gone to ground in late September. We have only seen one on our entire journey, though many signs of their existence.) For almost the first time ever, Caroline manages to keep Sarhosh happily trotting behind Titiz. Without Caroline and Sarhosh breathing down his neck, about to gallop on his heels and upset Anadolu, Ercihan too is trotting purposefully. He and Anadolu appear carefree. The kilometres fly past. We draw rein and walk for a while to catch our breaths. Then Ercihan mischievously says, ‘Why not canter?’
Some of us have been longing for this moment, having sneaked in short canters and even shorter gallops here and there, but not having been able to suggest that the entire group move on at speed in a sustained way with confidence. Now happy with how Sarhosh performs when settled behind Titiz, Caroline agrees. We canter. We are neither running away nor being run away with. We are rolling merrily along in a hand canter. No pulling or throwing our heads in the air. The rhythm of our hooves drums excitingly on the earthen track. We are flying, but not in an uncontrolled way. It might even be called a good ‘hunting’ pace, perfect for covering whatever terrain looms up out of the unknown when travelling across country. If only we had all been in such tune with our horses from the beginning; if only the going had been as good as this; if only . . .
When Anadolu’s canter slows, Titiz and I begin to trot. Titiz has a big stride, both at the canter and at the trot. Her ordinary trot is the equivalent of many shorter-legged horses’ canter. Sarhosh sees a trotting horse ahead and makes a dash for it, passing us, laughing a horse laugh. Ercihan and Anadolu pull up, now that this mighty lion-hearted dynamo is once again on their heels. . .
We are coming into the red clay galoshes country again now, anyway. The plain has become like fenland, with ditches and dykes and concrete irrigation watercourses on legs ranging alongside the ploughed or fallow fields. It is drizzling lightly and the light is failing although officially there is still an hour or so of daylight left. We come to a main road and are joined by Sedat and our new hosts from Cavdarhisar in a car. Sedat and Ercihan switch places, though Sedat rides Ilos, bareback and in a headcollar, and leads Anadolu. We follow directions, cross fields, come to another road where the car is waiting again with further instructions.
Is that a temple we can glimpse in the distance? On the other hand, I think, it could be a sugar factory. . . We continue to cross fields, come to a village where a man in a suit escorts us on foot in the gathering dusk though orchards and gardens, and finally come to a main road lined with ancient remains. There is indeed a temple, and what a temple. A huge temple of many columns. A veritable Parthenon. I have been told that this was Zeus’s easternmost outpost in mainland Anatolia. The road is lined with huge blocks of marble, many of them carved, Corinthian capitals on their sides, sarcophagi. We have arrived at Cavdarhisar.
I believe we have another three days’ easy riding to Kutahya from here, first on the plain but then again in mountains. And there is snow on the mountains already.
Once during the day, on a particularly cold hillside, Ercihan had whispered to me that he thinks that this will be the last day’s ride. I want to protest but cannot at that moment. Our journey cannot be over, surely, not yet, not yet. I want it never to end, but at least we should have another week or even a few more days. At least enough time for Mac to get back in the saddle. At least enough time for Caroline to put her newly found confidence and pact with Sarhosh about travelling calmly at speed into effect again and again.
Ercihan thinks he cannot go on, and he is worried about the horses. The weather is certainly against us. Crossing the mountains that surround Kutahya will be particularly hazardous if there is snow and ice. If it is this cold already on the plain, what will it be like up in the high country? The horses must not be kept outside in the cold if there is snow.
Tonight the horses will be stabled in the village, and we will be put up in the belediye guest house.
Little do we know that the police will impound our van the next morning because of a question of title left over from a previous owner. This logistical difficulty has nothing to do with Ercihan and everything to do with the dealer who sold the truck to him.
So go to Kutahya we must, with greatest possible speed, our support vehicle under police escort, and with the horses riding in another truck, kindly supplied by our friend and mentor in all things cultural and equestrian in Kutahya, Birol Bey.
After a press conference in the mayor’s office the following morning, we will officially have fulfilled our obligations. We will have completed the initial phase of the Evliya Çelebi Ride to establish the Evliya Çelebi Way. But nothing is over until it’s over. And there are miles to go and further reports and reflections to convey. Watch this space.
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
Monday, 16 November 2009
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Saturday, 7 November 2009
Dream horses: hayal—huyul
It all seems so very long ago. We were suffering bouts of nostalgia even before it ended. The Ride is now over, and we are back on the hard ground. It feels rather like returning to normal life after a time spent at sea. Every slope, every forest, every field, every river one drives past seems to invite a return to the saddle, and the landscape all around demands to be crossed in the gentle and harmonious fashion that was our privilege for the past weeks. Indeed, in retrospect the Ride seems like a fleeting dream. It is no wonder that Arabic and Ottoman have words for dream/hayal and horses/huyul that share the same root (correct me if I am wrong).
Simav is where we left Evliya's route to return to Kütahya, his ancestral home. From Simav he continued towards Izmir and eventually reached Mecca as was his aim. From Simav our remaining riders—Donna and Ercihan and Caroline—rode around the north of the Şaphane Mountain, so as not to retrace their route from Eski Gediz to Simav, which followed Evliya's southerly route. For the first day, which took us from the Simav plain up into the mountains, we passed through the villages of Şenlik, Inlice, Kestel, and Halifeler, to camp at Sefaköy where there are hot springs of ancient date. We had with us Pinar, a friend of Ercihan's who is more at home on her feet, as a climber and mountaineer, but who soon felt relaxed on Ilos. The usual mixture of patikas, village roads, old roads, no roads, and a few unavoidable stretches of asfalt.
It was a wet, wet night, and the weather turning colder. Stories of floods elsewhere in the country dampened our spirits, and we had a late start the next morning but set off, minus Pinar, to reach Çavdarhisar—site of the wonderful yet too little visited site of Aizanoi with its stunning Zeus temple and ruins scattered around for miles. A cold, cold wind harrassed us for much of the way, but mercifully the rain was not continuous. A route through the villages of Karbasan, Düşecek, Abaş and Ağarı—probably some 40 kilometres—brought us to Çavdarhisar where the horses had a stable and we a room in the Belediye guest house. It was cold, and the first snows had begun to fall right on cue, 31 October/1 November, after weeks of T-shirt weather.
We had no idea that our Ride was to come to an abrupt end in Çavdarhisar, with our last day or two back to Kütahya unridden, but in retrospect we choose to believe that fate intervened to make it last for a blessed 40 days and 40 nights. The streets of Çavdarhisar were empty of cars that Sunday night—except for our exotic support vehicle (see Susan's photo)—and the police ran a check on the number plate and found that it was saddled with an outstanding debt. The fact that this was not ours but that of the previous owner did not concern them, and if it had not been for the intervention of high-level authorities in Kütahya, we might yet be in Çavdarhisar. Our van was eventually allowed to leave under police escort, and the next stop was the Kütahya police pound where Ercihan and Metin managed to resolve the problem after some effort.
But, the Ride was ended. Without the support vehicle we could not continue. Saved from inclement weather by the police of Çavdarhisar.
Kütahya again, where we were greeted with hospitality by the Mayor, Mustafa İca, and his colleagues all—particularly Aylin Hanım and Yaşar Bey—and entertained by our dear rahvancı friends—notably Birol Babanoğlu and Mehmet Koçak, who have helped us so much along the way, and to whom we are deeply grateful.
Sedat returned to Avanos with the remaining of our calm, brave, horses, in a truck supplied by the Turkish Jockey Club; Ercihan and Metin drove the van back home; Mac and Donna and Caroline returned to Istanbul by minibus (courtesy of Kütahya Municipality).
We have incurred so many debts, to our sponsors certainly, but also to the numerous individuals who gave generously of their time and expertise, as well as to the people we met along the way who greeted us with interest in what we were up to and with open hands and hearts. We think warmly of you all.
Now the work begins. First of all there is a guide book to be written and a documentary film to be made. Both these pleasurable tasks are in hand—Ajans21 in Istanbul already has 15 hours of rushes taken on the Ride—and there are TV and press interviews to do.
We returned to the exhilarating news that 2011 has been designated the year of Evliya Çelebi by Unesco. We set out on the Ride intending to commemorate this great traveller in our own modest way on the 400th anniversary of his birth, and now find we will be joined by many others around the world who will ensure that his 40 years of journeyings (again that 40...), and the 10-volume record of them that he left to posterity, become far more widely-known and deservedly-appreciated for the remarkable phenomenon they are.
Watch this space. The show goes on.
Friday, 30 October 2009
Delighted with Susan's pictures, posted from New York, those of us remaining are already remembering the Evliya trail with nostalgia. Her photos capture so much of the spirit of our adventure so far. Village hospitality has been overwhelming. Our stays in or near cities and towns have also been made most comfortable by thoughtful hosts. Metin Bey continues to provide feasts of all descriptions, again as Susan's photos show. Metin also continues to make our arrivals in belediyes and villages much smoother and more graceful than they would otherwise be. He can speak of Evliya and the project more eloquently than anybody else. Every project should have a shaman and Sufi philosopher to back it, a fixer and diplomat who can charm the most recalcitrant of officials.
Ercihan Bey continues to find the way with panache. His horses (our horses, for the duration, and we wish they could be ours forever by now) are brilliant. They cross rivers, climb mountains, hardly ever run away from camp, and are as feisty at the end of the day as at the beginning. They are wonder horses indeed. And all Turkish horses! İ cannot imagine parting from Titiz, who has been such a sensitive and gallant companion on all of the route. She is also a fruit eater extraordinaire, which makes travel with her more fun as we can share what we pick or are given along the way. Ercihan has an uncanny knowledge of country, and an eye for a landscape and how it might be ridden that is unmatched by anybody else we know. He can also speak persuasively about the project. One of his missions is to improve local knowledge of horse culture and horsekeeping. He has advised the cirit players of Usak about harsh as opposed to gentler bits, for instance. Always he finds an attentive audience. Maybe this will make a difference eventually. Four hundred years ago, when Evliya was travelling, Ottoman horsemanship and the regimen of 'kind leniency', as one European traveller wrote, were the envy of the world.
Sadly, we have begun the countdown of the last days remaining until our return to Kutahya. Some of us, perhaps all of us, don't really wish the ride to end. We would much rather continue to travel, as Evliya so often did, month after month. Did he enjoy riding the horses he prized and acquired as we do ours? Or were they much more like vehicles, means to an end?
Mac, who injured his foot on the ramp of the van (while awaiting the arrival of Tricia Daunt and Andy Byfield back in Aydinlar, outside Afyon) wonders whether he will be able to get a boot back on in time to ride again before the tour ends. He has had the stitches out after a fortnight but can only imagine riding barefoot and bareback at the moment. Given the mountainous terrain we have been crossing and continue to face, a saddle would seem to be recommended. He has been part of the camp and logistics crew since the accident and is developing a new angle on the tour which might indeed have pleased Evliya beyond expectations. (Watch this space.) İt should be said that the only accidents so far have not involved horses at all but motorized vehicles (Mac's slip up on the van's ramp and Bekir's motorbike accident on the very day he arrived from Avanos.) İnshallah these will be the only mishaps.
We sent three horses to Kutahya by small lorrie from Eski Gediz three days ago. The four remaining are enough for Ercihan, Caroline, Donna, and Mac, if he can get his foot in the stirrup in time. Or for any visitor or friend we meet along the way. Meanwhile, we hope to be joined by Mahir from İstanbul in a very few days. İf he can get away from Gocmen Ranch after the Yirmi Dokuz Ekim holiday, he will ride with us too. And somebody can try the van's eye view as a contrast to the view from the saddle. Which is, after all, a very particular view.
Simav, which travellers used to speak of as lying on Lake Ancyra, is where the routes of Lady Anne and Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and of Evliya converge again. The Blunts travelled from İstanbul to Bursa as we did, and as Evliya did, but then they went westwards rather than to Kutahya. Simav in 1873 was situated in a pampas-like plain, according to Lady Anne, spring fed, and full of flocks, herds, and fine horses grazing. This plain lay adjacent to a lake that used to be much bigger than it was when they saw it, she speculated. Wilfrid caught fever in this marshy country. Now the lake is largely dried up, and poplars stud the plain, but there are still hot springs, kaplagis, where people go to take the healing waters.
Tomorrow we set out for Cavdarhisar and the old road to Kutahya.