Mount Nemrut

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I also had a wonderful trip to Nemrut Dagi. It all started in Goreme when my traveling companion met a guy who ran a carpet shop (she later bought a carpet) who eventually introduced us to Ali Baba (I swear this is not a joke). Ali Baba was from a city about 8 hours away by bus near Nemrut Dagi which we were planning to visit and he was going home but before he left he gave us his real name and his number and told us to look him up when we got there in a few days. He actually told us to ask anyone in the bus station for him by the name Ali Baba. Of course we agreed, but neither of us really intended to ask for ‘Ali Baba’ when we arrived, that seemed like a really strange thing to ask of a random stranger in a crowded bus station in Turkey. We figured we would just phone him instead.

So a few days later when we got to the city we tried to call but we couldn’t reach him. As we were in the bus station there were lots of people around and a nice guy asked in English if he could help us. We told him we were looking for Ali Baba and that he had given us his number but we hadn’t been able to reach him, so the kind young man tried calling for us with no luck. He then asked us to wait for just a moment and we thought he was going to ask people if they knew Ali Baba. This was not the case. He wasn’t asking them if they knew Ali Baba. He was asking them if they knew where he was. Everyone agreed, Ali Baba hadn’t come back from Cappadocia yet (where we had met him a few days before)… except we had been in the car when he was dropped off to catch the bus home. It was a bit of a mystery but the young man said he would help us get to the hotel area of town and he did just that, taking us on a dolmus (a stuffed cheap public bus) to a nice cheap hotel, where he kindly left us, refusing any money even for the bus ride.

The kindly hotel owner had been informed that we were friends with Ali Baba and he treated us very well. I tried chatting with him in broken French and we reminisced about Paris together. He arranged that we could do our laundry in the hotel across the way. He told me that he had grown up with Ali Baba and they had lived just 4 houses apart as children and he told us to mention Ali Baba when we booked our ticket to Nemrut Dagi the next day.

When we got to the place where the tours to the top of the mountain started we got our tickets and sheepishly mentioned our meeting with Ali Baba. At this point we still hadn’t managed to reach him although we had tried calling again. We boarded the vehicle for the four hour ride to the top of the mountain. It was a cross between a short bus and a long van and it was stuffed full of people and bags. It roared and juddered across the landscape leaving the city behind us and began the ascent. We careened wildly around corners, honked slowly past herds of goats and sheep, barely creaked past other vehicles, and somehow managed to remain on the road. Now I call it a road, but really a better description would be rutted dirt track barely wide enough for one car, partially washed out in a couple places by seasonal rains and heavily populated with small herds of belligerent sheep. All of this was wonderful in a pastoral adventure way. The surprising and unsettling part was the incredible speed which our driver maintained around the blind corners and the fact that we didn’t roll off one of the soft shoulders in our mad dash for the top of the mountain felt a bit like a miracle. While we bounced along the driver called over his shoulder to tell me how Ali Baba and him went way back.

When we arrived we dropped off our luggage at the hotel and trekked up to take in the splendor of the monument and the view as the sun set. No words are quite sufficient for the strange magic of that place. Shelley’s Ozymandias does come remarkably close but it doesn’t quite capture the scale and grandeur of the ruins there: the supreme ego and vision of the man who commanded a pyramid of fist sized stones to crown the mountain, all carried up by hand by his people; the breathtaking vanity of including his own statue amongst those of the gods; and oh, the statues of the gods themselves, stunning and overwhelming in their size and majesty, heartbreaking in their pathos; and of course there is the sheer insanity of the location and it’s endless view. Add to all this the alchemy of my own realization that this was my first and only sight of the Euphrates, the closest I would come to it in my travels. It was a heady mixture.

After returning to the hotel and enjoying dinner I tried to call home just as the management turned off the generators for the night so our parents were left not knowing what their 18 year old daughters were doing in the wilds of eastern Turkey. It’s probably better that way. We had promised not to leave the coast of Turkey (supposedly the safe part). It might not have been a good idea to call home from the furthest east point we had reached. A little while later the hotel owner came knocking at our door. He brought us up to the roof of the hotel, gave us free pops, and allowed us to enjoy the stars from the top of the hotel at the top of the world. What stars! The next day he came to our rooms again and gave us each back half of the money we had paid for our trip to the top of the mountain. He told us that he had grown up with Ali Baba.

When we left we tried once more to reach Ali Baba but we never did end up talking to him again. I’ll tell you this, if I ever go back to that town, I am not leaving without meeting up once again with Ali Baba. I don’t really know who he was or what he does, but damn, he runs a tight city and I owe him my thanks for a great experience and a strange story.

edit: a comma here, a word there.

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