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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This one is now used as a school:
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:
Şerefiye Camii where the portal:
is more interesting that the minaret:
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:
This is definitely the restored Yusufiye Medresesi:
and the nearby Küflevi Türbesi:
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.
And the highlight of all these monuments? İhlasiye Medresesi:
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!