Sunday, 11 October 2009

Made it to Kutahya, the city of Evliya

After Bursa, the route became trickier and more challenging day by day. We left the comforts of the ranch, carrying gifts from the Cilek company as well as the Bursa Belediye. Now little girls along the route have Cilek key rings and perfume as well as impromptu history lessons to remember. We climbed through the hills to the west of İnegol and found villages visited by Evliya. In Babasultan we found a beautiful dede's tomb ensconced in a garden with the hugest and most majestic plane tree we have ever seen. The villagers of Babasultan are very proud of their long history. They refuse to marry with more recent arrivals, even those who came to Turkey from the Balkans or from Georgia in the nineteenth century as the empire shrank. Each village has a different demographic profile, and we hope to learn more about Ottoman policies for settlement of the many Turkish-speaking peoples of the empire who took refuge in Anatolia when imperial frontiers contracted. Skirting İnegol by the high ground, we enjoyed mayoral and municipal hospitality at Cerrah and Deydinler, including the famous İnegol kofte (spiced meatballs made of lamb and beef). We rode into the forest near Domanic, climbing higher and higher. Evliya waxes poetic about these mountains -- but as the hideouts of robbers, bandits, brigands, and highwaymen. The closest we came to being held up by brigands was being hailed from a cliff top by a man with a gun and two dogs. He was hunting wild boar but hadn't found any. There were also meant to be bears ın these here woods but we failed to encounter any, and also feral horses whose forebears were 'let go' by the vıllagers as tractors took over. Later on the trail, this hunter hailed us again to help us find the right path to Bahcekaya. The user-friendly wayfarer and man of the forest seems to have replaced Evliya's highwaymen. Two nights later, though, in Seydikuzu, we had to convince the muhtar, or head man, that we were not brigands ourselves. Word of a sort of travelling circus who might be sheep rustlers had reached him and he didn't want us to camp in his domain. Once we had met, and the local jandarma had spoken to him as well, and we had showed him our letters from the Turkish ambassador in London and from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in London and in Ankara, he was most hospitable and even gave us a load of firewood for our campfire. The next day we faced a long ride ın the forest to Senlik without many villages along the way. Ercihan had left us for a week to take riders from the USA on a tour of Cappadocia, so Sedat had to take the lead ın route planning and learning from local people. We were feasted royally at Elmali for lunch. This picturesque and friendly village should be on the list of Slow Food capitals of the world. Everything we were fed was grown organically and produced by the residents of Elmali, and cooked for us by Selime Hanım. There was homemade soup, pasta to die for, brilliant tomatoes and peppers both roasted and fresh, and honeycombs just harvested as well as bread, crumbly cheese and fresh butter. The horses also ate well -- beautiful aromatic hay was given to them in fresh bundles. And so, well fortified, we set off. We were given two different sets of directions by Osman, who drew a map, and by the muhtar İlyas, and after a very steep descent on foot, leading the horses on a path more suitable for donkeys than for our thin-legged and spirited steeds, we came to a lovely river valley. But the rocks were volcanic, treacherous, and very slippery. We had to cross the river several times, each crossing more perilous than the last. When we arrived at the Yorukler Cesmesi, the fountain of the Yoruks, the ancestral nomadic people of Elmali and other nearby mountain villages, we had to decide to follow Osman or İlyas. We went righthanded and not left. Three hours later as it was getting dark we came to a crossroads of mountain paths. We were clearly not where we were meant to be and had taken a wrong turn. We built a fire to send up smoke signals, phoned the ormancilar, the forest rangers, giving them our GPS coordinates, and waited for advice or help. As sirens resounded around the surrounding mountain tops, we knew we were at the mercy of the Turkish government. Modernity had arrived in the shape of the forestry fire engine. The ormancilar were very kind and didn't make us feel as foolish as we felt. We rode for another hour in the nearly full moonlight far behind behind their red tail lights to where Metin was waiting for us at a new forest campsite. We were the only night riders this time, not brigands but foolish travellers who had lost our way.

And so to Kutahya. Several visits to this city that is Evliya's ancestral home, and boasts a rich history from the days before the Ottomans became Ottomans, brought us generous sponsorship through the agency of the Mayor, Mustafa Ica, and the Vali. The foremost commercial
enterprises here are those of the Gural family--Kutahya Porselen, Gural Porselen, and Gural Art and Craft--and their support has enabled our project to become a reality. We thank them fulsomely. Entering the city was not an experience we would choose to repeat. We were accompanied on the last kilometres by Birol Babanoglu, chair of Horse Sports here, on his rahvan (pacer) Sultan. Our horses took agin her, of course, but worse was the traffıc roaring past as we rode along the main road into the city. A safe haven for our horses was the new Horse Sports establishment that Birol is building with the support of the Municipality to promote horse(wo)manship and remind people that horses are not just part of their history but also their present.
We rolled into Kutahya only 2 hours later than planned, to find the Mayor and the Vali's assistant and the press and various dignitaries waiting for us under the hot sun. Horses are not machines was our cry, our excuse for tardiness.
Our arrival coincided with the city's European Cultural Days, when the Minister of Culture came to celebrate Kutahya's remarkable past and the monuments that have survived the ravages of time. We attended the opening ceremony, but then went back to the horses with our great
supporter, renowned equine veterinarian Professor Ross Williamson, who examined our horses for wear and tear, and also the rahvan horses of Birol and his fellow rahvan enthusiasts--from head to toe, we spent a fascinating day learning much about local practices along the way, and the local horsemen were likewise exposed to information that they otherwise have trouble accessing.
Another highlight was a visit to the Balikli Hamam, which Evliya mentions at length, especially
celebrating the lovers who hung out there. The fish, of course, are in the men's side... Ayse Hanim who scrubbed us receives few visitors, what with domestic plumbing and all, but locals do go on Sundays, she says. The hamam is in need of serious attention if it is not to become a ruin. It is apparently the only haman still functioning as such in Kutahya. Many monuments have been repaired recently, and so we make a plea for the Balikli Hamam also to be repaired.
We visited the Evliya Celebi Museum, where Mucahit Bey and Edip Bey received us as on earlier visits. Evliya is commemorated in this house which is locally thought to be his family home. He left no likenesses nor possessions behind, and the Museum honours him by being a centre teaching the arts of Anatolia, notably music, calligraphy, painting, and Sufi philosophy.
Ercihan has now rejoined us, and Ross's veterinary skills have been supplemented by those of the best horse vet in Turkey, Ayse Yetis, who will be with us for a few days. Tomorrow we head off on the next big adventure, the next section of our route through Afyon, Sandikli, and Usak, making a meandering loop as Evliya himself so often did. . .

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