The mountain road from Derince to Bahcesaray, Bitlis and Van provinces, Turkey.

To find Derince, access Google Maps and in the search engine type “Hizan, Turkey”. From the centre of Hizan follow the road west for about 3.5 kms to a junction where a road goes south and then south-east. Follow the southbound road as it goes through Gayda and remain on it until arriving at a junction where another road goes south to Pervari. Ignore the Pervari road by continuing east for about 5 kms. You now arrive at a road junction where the asphalt road swings to the left to ascend a mountain and a dirt road continues east along the valley. Follow the asphalt road, which, after 3 kms, arrives at the westernmost edge of Derince. It is now quite obvious which road leads to Bahcesaray. The road goes more or less due east and crosses the boundary dividing the province of Bitlis from the province of Van.

The easiest way to enjoy the Derince to Bahcesaray road is with your own transport, of course, but with your own transport you risk missing the chance to engage more intimately with the scenery and the local people. But be warned: traffic along the Derince to Bahcesaray road is very light, and public transport would appear to be non-existent, except possibly on days when markets are held in Hizan and Bahcesaray. This said, minibuses run regularly from Tatvan (a large town on Lake Van with many hotels) to Hizan (where no hotels operate at present), and the occasional minibus runs from Hizan to Gayda, so you can get part of the way to Derince quite easily. The roads from Tatvan to Hizan and from Hizan to Derince are almost as beautiful as the road from Derince to Bahcesaray.

I was dropped at a beautiful spot in the valley where the road to Bahcesaray swings to the left to ascend a mountain by a series of hairpin bends. The man who had given me the lift (from just outside Hizan) drove along a dirt road leading further up the valley toward a distant village, a village which I saw below and to the south when further along the road to Bahcesaray. Down the valley, in the direction we had just come, a small village of old stone houses was perched above the road.

I decided to wait in the hope a vehicle would come in the direction I required. I did not want to ascend the steep road with both my bags. It was a delightful place to wait. The valley had steep walls on both sides, a river tumbled gently over rocks glistening in the sunshine, and I could see lots of trees and wild flowers.

Forty-five minutes passed without a single vehicle going either way, so I began to ascend the road. I had walked about a kilometre when I heard behind me the unmistakable sound of a small car struggling up the hill. The driver and his companion kindly gave me a lift for about 2 kms. The men were going as far as the first village along the road, a village half way up the mountain. We arrived at the point where a dirt road leads from the asphalt road to the nearest houses in the village.

We had driven to the edge of Derince, a village larger than many in the area. A majority of Derince’s houses are built of stone and have been positioned on the side of the mountain so as to secure uninterrupted views south. Gardens, fields, orchards and trees add significantly to its beauty. Even the modern concrete and breeze block houses look quite appealing, largely because of the stunning mountain scenery that surrounds them.

I had to press on so bid the two men farewell. As I continued to ascend, superb views opened up to the south with the village of Akca far below. I soon arrived in the village of Kalkanli, which is smaller than Derince despite being strung along the main road. Women and children were busy with chores close to home or in the nearby fields. One family group harvested the recently cut wheat stems to feed livestock during the forthcoming winter.

I walked past a small mosque without a minaret. Below the road were some of the village houses. One pitched roof comprised of sheets of rusty corrugated iron, but all the other roofs were flat. I examined how the flat roofs had been made. The walls of each house supported beams made from logs. Stone flags rested on the logs and a layer of mud or concrete lay on top of the stone flags. Occasionally, thin branches lay between the logs and the stone flags.

In need of a rest, I stopped to overlook a small playground and the valley far below. Two men aged about twenty arrived from behind a small elementary school and asked where I was going. They sounded quite concerned when I said Bahcesaray. I was beginning to share their concern; not one vehicle had moved along the road for quite some time.

I had walked about 500 metres (just below the road was a productive lemon grove) when one of the two men rode up on an old 125cc motorbike. Moments later his companion arrived with 3 metres of rope to tie my large bag to the bike. I was offered a lift of about 3 kms to reduce the length of the walk.

With the road still ascending, I resumed the walk. About 1.5 kms further along two boys aged twelve and fifteen were sitting under a tree about 50 metres from the road. The boys’ vantage point was above the road and commanded spectacular views to the east, the south and the west. They were responsible for a large flock of sheep and goats, which, because it was now midday and the temperature almost at its highest, had sought shelter among some nearby trees, bushes and rocks. The boys urged me to join them, which I was happy to do to have another short rest. They kindly provided me with glasses of tea.

I continued along the road. The views were more remarkable the higher I got. Near the summit, where Bitlis province gives way to Van province, I stopped to take in the stunning views to the west. I looked across a few fields of wheat to Kalkanli and Derince, but could see far beyond both settlements. With the highest mountains to the east and the south, those to the west gradually descended in size, which meant that the panorama was one I would long remember.

I arrived at the summit and could not believe my luck: if anything, the views to the east were even more remarkable than those to the west! My immediate surroundings were quite barren and austere, but the road descended quickly past slopes covered with rock and grass. The road entered a very pretty valley where, about 4 kms away, trees provided intimacy and scale to what was otherwise magnificent mountain scenery. I stopped again to take in my surroundings. To my right, at a position higher than the highest point on the road, a small army camp stood about 200 metres away. Directly ahead lay the pretty valley into which I had to walk to access Bahcesaray. I suspected that a small settlement or two had to exist among the trees, but could see no evidence for this from where I stood. To my left, far below, beehives had been arranged just above a narrow stream tumbling out of the surrounding mountains. Flowers grew on the slopes above and below the beehives. But the strangest thing of all was that, beside a hairpin bend between me and the beehives, a lorry stood beside the road. From a distance the lorry looked roadworthy, but, when I arrived beside it a little later, I realised it had been involved in a crash. Because the front of the vehicle had hit something very hard, the windscreen had sustained a thousand cracks but without breaking up.

I walked past the beehives beside the stream. Although most of the beehives were the common cube-shaped variety, there were a few old cylindrical-shaped ones similar to those that were once so popular in the Hemsin region near the Black Sea. Some of the cylindrical-shaped beehives had been woven from wicker and therefore resembled baskets, but others had been fashioned from planks to more obviously look like those found in the Hemsin region. The latter resembled slim barrels, but they lacked the bulge that barrels have at what might be called the waist.

About half a kilometre nearer the trees I came across more beehives. The second group of beehives were on a gently sloping shelf above the road. Two men were responsible for the beehives and they urged me to join them for a rest. I left my large bag beside a vehicle they had parked on the road and ascended to where they had erected two tents, one to sleep in and one to store the honey they had harvested. I was urged to enter the tent where the honey was stored in a large cylindrical metal drum. At first I was reluctant to enter the tent because of the many bees that were inside, but it soon became apparent that they were not going to sting. I was offered some tea and encouraged to scoop honey from a honeycomb still in its rectangular wooden frame. The honey tasted sublime. I learned from the men that they remained with the beehives for almost four months. Roughly once a week they drove to Bahcesaray to buy supplies, their favourite time being when the town came to life with the weekly market.

I resumed the walk and soon came across a sign that caused me considerable concern: Bahcesaray still lay 20 kms away! It was now about 3.00pm and I was worried I might have to walk all the way to my destination (still no vehicle had passed going east, despite the fact that the asphalt road remained in good condition). At least the temperature was slowly declining and I would soon be in the shade cast by the trees that lay ahead.

At last I entered the valley where it narrows and supports the trees. Houses existed among the trees, as did small fields and orchards. Women were busy in their gardens. Sheep, cattle, horses, butterflies and lots of birds added interest to the scenery, which was still dominated by mountains. White clouds had built up in the deep blue sky and they looked especially pretty when, in the foreground, a few cypress tress provided a splash of deep green.

It was interesting to walk along a valley supporting humankind after having come over the highest, very sparsely populated section of road where Bitlis province gives way to Van province. High mountains were still everywhere, but houses and hamlets peeped from among the trees. Women worked in the fields, orchards and gardens; boys and girls took responsibility for small numbers of sheep, goats and cattle grazing on the pasture; and birds and butterflies flew among the attractive vegetation, which included a surprising number of flowers. So benign had my immediate surroundings become that I momentarily thought I had strayed into a remote part of upland France or Spain. However, the vernacular architecture and the women’s clothes soon brought me to my senses.

It was now 6.00pm and, although about twenty vehicles had passed me on their way west, for over six hours only one car had gone east, and that car had been driven only 200 metres ahead of me to a small shop in a village from where family members picked up a few things for iftah (the meal that concludes the daily fast during Ramadan).

I arrived at the edge of Kirmizikopru, a village beside a river with a very pretty restored bridge. The bridge has a single high arch that reminded me of similar bridges in the Hemsin region. I saw a man sitting under a tree. The man said that Bahcesaray was still 4 or 5 kms away, which meant that, if I had to walk all the way, I could get there just as iftah began. But I was told that a walk to Bahcesaray would be unnecessary. I was urged to rest while some food was prepared, then the man would drive me to the town after I had eaten. I could not believe my luck.


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