Yavuzlar, near Baskale, Van, Turkey.

To find Yavuzlar, access Google Maps and in the search engine type “Baskale, Turkey”. From the centre of Baskale follow the main road north (the road eventually goes through Guzelsu on its way to Gevas and Van) for about 10 kms to a junction on the right. Take the road to the right. The road first goes south and then north-east (as if heading toward the border with Iran). After about 10 kms the road arrives in the large village of Albayrak. Yavuzlar lies about 7 kms further along the same road in a north-easterly direction. Asphalt seals the road all the way to Yavuzlar. Public transport to and from Yavuzlar is very infrequent (it is a little more regular between Baskale and Albayrak), but almost everyone with a motor vehicle will provide you with a lift all or part of the way.

With a river behind me and the village of Yavuzlar in front, I was confronted with a view exactly like parts of Cappadocia (a very popular tourist destination in Turkey). Tufa rock has been eroded into an eye-catching jumble of peaks and chimneys; caves have been enlarged into homes and storage facilities, some of the latter still in use; and houses have been built wherever the land is sufficiently flat. Where the ground is devoid of vegetation, the pale tufa reminded me of the eroded tufa hills near Goreme (Goreme and the area immediately surrounding it are Cappadocia’s most famous tourist attractions), but small patches of fertile ground have, as in Cappadocia, been cultivated with great care to maximise food production. In fact, my first impression of Yavuzlar was one of gardens, small fields and orchards, all of which lie close to the river. Most of the village houses stand below a hillside dominated by the tufa peaks and chimneys. The hillside is penetrated by two small valleys, but in August the streams in both are dry. One valley, as I soon found out, leads to particularly attractive but dry and barren slopes, so much so that I thought I had strayed into parts of Texas, Arizona or Utah. It is in this valley that you can enter a hole in the ground resembling a small cave. Once in the hole you notice that a tunnel has been cut within the rock, yet again in the manner known so well in Cappadocia, and the tunnel ascends about 40 metres to an opening with stunning views along the valley. In places the tunnel benefits from steps cut into the rock, but the steps are quite badly worn. It was a bit of a scramble, especially for someone my age, but, with the help of a man aged about thirty and a boy aged about fifteen, I got to the top from where I could take some excellent photos.

Because it was about a kilometre away, and Yavuzlar and its immediate surroundings have so much to offer, I did not ascend a flat-topped hill higher than all the others where it is said that the ruins of a castle exist. However, the hill featured in quite a few photos because it adds significantly to the area’s already considerable appeal. What also adds to the area’s appeal is the friendliness of everyone I encountered. It was not long before a gang of children were following me as I undertook my first look around, but even the boys were well-behaved (perhaps because adult males were always nearby who would have reprimanded them for any bad behaviour). It was not yet mid-morning and many women were engaged in chores in their back yards or gardens. Four young women aged about sixteen to twenty washed clothes at a source of water in someone’s dusty garden, but were happy to chat with an unknown foreign male.

One family invited me into their house to rest in their best room, the room with a large flat-screen TV, a sofa, two easy chairs and a tall cupboard with family treasures displayed behind glass doors. The four daughters of the house, who were aged from about thirteen to eighteen (I did not see the mother), came in and out of the room, once to bring tea and biscuits, and the rest of the time to chat or look at my photos of Hilary and Pippa. The house was interesting in that it had an old stone core, but two concrete and breeze block rooms have been added as the family had grown in size. Quite a lot of Yavuzlar’s old stone houses have external walls that are covered with plaster or mud. Such walls are always painted a bold colour, but sometimes more than one colour is used to create strikingly simple patterns. The house that I entered had plaster walls, which helped to disguise the transition from the old to the new parts. Almost every house in Yavuzlar, old or new, has a flat roof. Families in the village are not rich, but almost every house has electricity, a satellite dish and plumbed water flowing into the kitchen and the bathroom. As far as I could tell, every house is clean and tidy. The villagers also make an effort to look after the streets, the paths and the open spaces. However, I found that people took great care of the environment in almost every village I visited. It is in the towns and the cities where litter, piles of garbage and mounds of building material make life in Turkey quite a trial.

It was inside the house where I first met the man aged about thirty. He was keen that I see everything that Yavuzlar has to offer, but I was not allowed to leave until I had had something to eat: cheese, yoghurt, a most unusual cacik that was itself almost a cheese, and a sweetened round bread. Somewhat embarrassed with yet more outstanding hospitality, I pulled a packet of biscuits out of my rucksack and left it in the house to be shared among the children.

Not long after leaving the house we were joined by the boy aged about fifteen. Additional to the things identified earlier, we walked to a cliff near the river where caves had been enlarged to create much bigger spaces, all with remarkably flat walls and ceilings. At least one of the spaces had once been a church, yet another aspect of Yavuzlar that reminded me of Cappadocia. We also crossed the fields near the river where people grow wheat and other crops. To irrigate the fields, narrow channels carry water from the river. Two men were scything down the stalks of wheat from which the grain had already been harvested. When we approached, the men stopped work to provide us with glasses of tea. Earlier, in the village itself, I noticed that there were a lot of dogs, albeit old and not in good shape. Once used to protect flocks of sheep and goats, they were now retired and did not look as if they would live much longer. The plain between Baskale and Yanal Koyu is dominated by pasture, so, that morning, I had seen many flocks of sheep and goats. Inevitably, every flock had at least one dog to protect it. While the dogs in Yavuzlar were too old or weak to pose a threat, those on the plain looked fit, fierce and very agile. They were happy to attack most things, cars, vans, small lorries and tractors included.

Yavuzlar was one of the trip’s highlights, partly because of the people I met, and partly because the remarkable scenery was far more exciting and extensive than I had expected. This is a place where austere, bleached, verdant and other-worldly landscapes combine in such an intimate but thrilling manner that you cannot help but be impressed. Add to this that the village itself is so picturesque, that a castle seems to exist on the flat-topped hill (if nothing else, the flat-topped hill provides outstanding views of Yavuzlar below) and that two remarkable ruined Armenian churches are only a few kilometres away, and you have a village that is unlike almost any other. Yavuzlar ought to be far better-known, but even Turks and Kurds rarely bother to visit. I felt exceedingly lucky to have seen Vanadocia.

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