Thursday, 23 September 2010

Scenes from the Evliya Celebi Rides, September 2010

Evliya Celebi Rides, September 2010

Following the route pioneered by Ercihan Dilari and his mare Anadolu during the first Evliya Celebi expedition in 2009, the first commercial Evliya Celebi Ride set out from Hersek on 31st August 2010. Baking heat one day, torrential rain the next: extremes of weather settled after two days into dazzling Turkish sun by day and crisp nights around the campfire.

The destination was Evliya's paternal ancestral town of Kutahya, the midway point as well as ultimate goal of the original expedition last autumn. In 2010, twelve riders came from Turkey, New York, London, California, Scotland, New Zealand, and Canada (British Columbia and Alberta). Four riders had been participants in the original expedition, as had six of the thirteen horses. Some riders joined as a result of the efforts of Bayard Fox of, whose enthusiasm for the experimental and adventurous is legendary.

The Evliya Celebi Way wends along the Yalak River, through the orchards, vineyards, and city walls of Iznik, hill villages perched above the Yenisehir plain, Bursa with its precious monuments dating from its years as an Ottoman capital, the villages of Uludag giving way to those in the Domanic mountains, and finally the grassy plains leading to Kutahya, gateway to ancient Phrygia, nestling on a mountainside. The first 2010 Ride set out during Ramazan, in the heat of early September, and finished after the Seker Bayrami with rahvan (ridden pacing) races at the Atli Spor Kulubu (Horse Sports Club) in Kutahya.

Now a second 2010 Evliya Ride is following Ercihan back from Kutahya to Hersek. What will have happened to George, the beautiful kangal who attached himself to the first Ride at Ortakoy and followed us faithfully all the way to Kutahya? How is Panoramic faring, the unlucky though lovely one, who suffered a kick on the second day and had to be left behind to recuperate, courtesy of the Cilek stud at Sukraniye?

Ercihan's horses at Hersek, September 2010

Rules of the road

Pursuing the strange and surprising along roads that never come to an end: this is the dream of committed travellers everywhere. Travelling on horseback, the day properly begins when one mounts up. Nothing is the same as it was for a mere pedestrian.

The view from between one's horse's ears changes things profoundly. The route maps studied at the campsite now unfold topographically in three and even four dimensions, the fourth consisting of a horse's sense of the appropriate pace for tackling each piece of terrain. The going is everything. Surfaces take on new meaning.

The red earth of forest tracks may translate into the desire to fly along twisting paths, or pick one's way daintily, acquiring galoshes of holding, clinging mud with every stride. Some mountainous ascents invite scrambles up ancient patikas, roughly paved stone paths unmoved by generations of farmers, shepherds, traders, and their working animals. Other ascents command more respect from the four-footed kind. They gather themselves, powerful hindquarters revving, to walk lightly uphill without wasting energy.

How often did Anadolu say to Ercihan, as clearly as horse can speak to human, THIS is the way? When he deferred to her, she was always right. Sometimes humans in the landscape can help with directions as well. Two tractor-borne farmers heading for Bahcekaya materialized seconds after we had not taken the sharp left turn uphill that would have been the most direct route. Such occurences happen so often in Turkey it is hard not to become complacent. The rule of the road, however, is that one must never take such magic for granted.

A view from the horse's mouth

The Evliya Celebi Way is beautiful at any time of year