The end again, in Bitlis

Three and and a half months from Antalya to Bitlis.  This was my longest bicycle tour in Turkey (my Erzurum to Bayburt tour was a couple weeks longer, but I spent a month of that in Georgia).  By the end I was getting tired, but that’s more because Ferda didn’t allow us a rest day.  She was anxious to get back to Antalya.  With some rest I could have kept going to Nemrut, Ahlat, Van, and beyond.

You can take the main highway from Güroymak to Bitlis, but you can also choose the old road.  It’s not well maintained, but most cars could get through, I think.  There’s probably one problematic stream crossing.  With bikes, it’s easy, of course.

That's Nemrut Volcano in the center of the photo. by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200909_144831 by bryandkeith on flickr

Missing Ahlat this trip I was excited to poke around a bit in the cemetery in Yukarı Kolbaşı.  The rocks are from Ahlat, and it’s in the style that makes Ahlat popular with tourists.

IMG_20200909_111400 by bryandkeith on flickr

If you choose the main road, you’d miss that cemetery, and you’d also miss the wonderful village of Kuştaşı.  We stopped before arriving to take this photo:

IMG_20200909_121935 by bryandkeith on flickr

and were warmly welcomed to the village.  When we commented on the pretty setting, they told us we really must stop for tea in the village.  However, they were leaving so how was that going to work?  Well, we had barely paused at the first intersection when we were invited for tea which turned into breakfast in the family’s garden.

IMG_20200909_125831 by bryandkeith on flickr

An offer of tea turned into this. by bryandkeith on flickr

Sadly, we listened to Evren’s story of going to university, getting an engineering degree, and yet he’s unable to find a job.  It’s a common story, a situation made even more difficult by covid-19.

Ferda and I climbed up the pass and came to a summer shepherd camp with over 300 people from Siirt.  The most talkative person, an older woman, didn’t speak any Turkish, and it was hard to tell just how displeased she was that we were there.  A boy on a donkey spoke Turkish but didn’t do any translating for us.  Turkey’s an upper middle income country, but the urban-rural divide is sharp.  I was reminded of villages in Ethiopia or Central America 25 years ago but rarely do I see such abject poverty in Turkey.

IMG_20200909_150856 by bryandkeith on flickr

Summer camp for families from Siirt who raise animals here by bryandkeith on flickr

From the camp it was all downhill to the provincial capital of Bitlis.  It seemed to be turtle heaven.  We saw dozens in a rather short distance.

IMG_20200909_160230 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200909_162652 by bryandkeith on flickr

I’m sure we didn’t see all the Ottoman monuments in Bitlis, but in four days I think we did a pretty good job.  The castle looms over downtown.

IMG_20200910_124558_601 by bryandkeith on flickr

I was told not to leave Bitlis without checking out some of the stone mansions.  Well, I’m not sure you can even get into the center of the city without seeing a bunch of stone mansions.

IMG_20200911_110903 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200912_121822 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200911_104602 by bryandkeith on flickr

This one is now used as a school:

IMG_20200912_120341 by bryandkeith on flickr

Bitlis is probably most well known in Turkey for its five minarets, made famous by a folk song, beş minare.  The minarets of the song are Ulu Camii:

IMG_20200911_104306 by bryandkeith on flickr

Gökmeydan Camii:

IMG_20200911_101714 by bryandkeith on flickr

Meydan Camii:

IMG_20200911_104905 by bryandkeith on flickr

Şerefiye Camii where the portal:

IMG_20200911_105654 by bryandkeith on flickr

is more interesting that the minaret:

IMG_20200911_105419 by bryandkeith on flickr

and the 5th?  Well, there are plenty more minarets in town, but no one’s sure which one belongs to the song.  The best photo I have is of this one, which may be a restored medrese:

IMG_20200911_110605_7 by bryandkeith on flickr

This is definitely the restored Yusufiye Medresesi:

IMG_20200912_123729 by bryandkeith on flickr

and the nearby Küflevi Türbesi:

IMG_20200912_122310 by bryandkeith on flickr

Bitlis was a fun city to walk around.  It’s set up for pedestrians with narrow pedestrian streets connected with hidden stairways, bridges, and alleys.  The main highway is routed around (under?) downtown largely (all?) in tunnels.

IMG_20200910_130533 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200912_124520 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200910_152003 by bryandkeith on flickr

And the highlight of all these monuments?  İhlasiye Medresesi:

IMG_20200911_100359_402 by bryandkeith on flickr

Normally visitors can go inside to look around, but it’s used as an office building.  Attempting to keep the workers covid 19 free, visitors are not currently allowed.  Yusufiye Medresesi, Küflevi Türbesi, and Şerefiye Camii were all also covid-19 closed.

In the spirit of Curt and Cathy I’ll end this trip with some numbers.

  • 2665 tour distance (km)
  • 62085 total elevation gain (m)
  • 107 days of the tour
  • 70 cycling days
  • 66 nights in the tent
  • 66 most distance cycled in one day (km)
  • 1899 most elevation gain in one day (m)
  • 38 average distance on cycling days (km)
  • 887 average elevation gained on cycling days (m)

It’s the last number that says the most!

antalya_bitlis by bryandkeith on flickr

This entry was posted in Bicycle touring, Turkey, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The end again, in Bitlis

  1. Derek+and+Jennie+Werner says:

    Wow, what a great trip! Derek and Jennie

  2. Curt Bradner says:

    Spectacular trip and very impressive numbers!

  3. Jeff says:

    envious…I’m going to tour with you for sure!

  4. Mike Painter says:

    What a great trip and as always, wonderful pictures!

  5. Kristin Turner says:

    Great pics and stories. I love this blog!

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