Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mt. Nemrut

Around 2,000 years ago, a guy named Antiochos ruled the small but rich Commagene Kingdom.  They made all their money by taxing both Roman and Persian trade.  Well, business was booming in the late BCs and they got so rich that Antiochos had only one choice.  That's right, he built himself an elaborate burial site in the middle of freakin' nowhere and incorporate gods of Persia, gods of Rome and gods from everywhere else.  Well, he built it with very large statues facing east and west.  And then, sadly, he croaked.  According to his wishes, they ended up burying him under about 200 feet of rock.  To this day, that's where he remains.  The glory of the Commagene Kingdom was short-lived and everybody forgot about them for centuries.  Mt. Nemrut was just a weird-looking mountain that nobody climbed.  And so it remained.  Like so many other things around the land, it was rediscovered in the 19th century and has since become a symbol for all the strange stuff you can see in Turkey.  As far as weirdness is concerned, this is perhaps one of the weirdest places you can visit in the entire world.

They got us up at 3:30am, as promised.  We piled into the van and headed out.  There are no photos of that portion of the excursion.  Dark countryside looks the same everywhere, as do tired people.  I sat next to a very nice lawyer from San Jose and we talked about saxophones.  He was at one time a reed man, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, the works.  The road eventually got steeper as I assumed the countryside became more mountainous.  I still couldn't see anything.  

I had been to Nemrut before.  It was a long time ago.  I recalled that in the last few miles, the road had been bad.  I mean really bad.  It was made of basalt blocks, which meant that there were potholes of various sizes everywhere.  This time, however, I kept waiting for (and warning everyone else of) the horrible road up ahead, but it never materialized.  In the time between visits, they had managed to improve the road.  Well, thank you, Turkish road repairers.

After winding steadily up for a long time, we reached the end of the road.  Quite a bit below the summit was a cluster of buildings that housed a cafe, restrooms and the obligatory souvenir stand.  Beyond that and further up was where we wanted to be.  See, the whole point of getting up at this ungodly hour, driving in the dark and climbing to the top like a bunch of goons at the coldest part of the entire day is to witness the sunrise.  It is memorable.  

We jumped out of the bus - at least I did - and began up the mountain.  I was the only one wearing shorts.  It was surprisingly cold.  And the wind was blowing like crazy.  I couldn't remember how far I had to hike the last time.  It didn't seem very far.  Yeah, but I also didn't remember hiking up in the dark, so basically, I remembered nothing correctly.  The way to the top was long and steep.  And cold.  Did I mention that?  After I warmed up, I started sweating.  And breathing hard.  I was out in front of most of the group, being really enthused and all, but all the climbing in the dark was taking something out of me.  Well, it wasn't completely dark.  There was a hint of light to the east.  This is where we'd get our sunrise.  

As the climb progressed, the path became steeper.  This was not a welcome development.  The wind was blowing harder, it was colder and I was more out of breath.  I can't say how far it was.  I want to say at least two miles, but that's a total lie.  It was probably only half that.  All I know is that the latter stages were quite agonizing - I was huffing and puffing like I'd never quit smoking.  The very tall German gals (who were smokers) passed me up, as did the two doctors from Portland.  At last, Emre the guide held us up for the final push.  At this point, let me say this: if you go to Nemrut, be prepared for an uphill ordeal and wear warm clothes.  For God's sake, wear warm clothes.  I was wearing - as I previously stated - shorts, several layers of light shirt (that were fairly soaked with hiking-sweat), some kind of jacket and a baseball hat that I had to turn around to avoid losing to the wind.  Everyone else was far better equipped.  They had long pants, sweaters, real waterproof, wind-proof jackets, wool caps and the good sense to take their time.  But in my defense, I was laying on the beach at Patara only a week before, trying not to look at the old, naked Germans and never imagining that I would be in this locale a week hence.  Seriously, this tour was an impulse buy.  
We got to the top and the sun's status looked like this.  So we waited.  The wind was blowing like some kind of crazy-wind.  I tried my best not to freeze.  There was a platform of sorts at the base of the statues.  I used that as a windbreak.  It actually worked really well.  
That's Emre the guide with the scarf around his head.  I heard later that on a high school trip to Nemrut a few years ago, he actually got pneumonia and spent quite a while near death.  Well, this time he was no better prepared.  He actually had to borrow that scarf and the jacket he's wearing from the guy who was working at the cafe below.  Anyhow, our people are mixed in with some others.  In addition to us, there were Spanish, Japanese and, of course, Turks, who were having a better time than anyone.   
The sun took its damn sweet time.
Come on, you lousy medium-sized, main-stage star!  I'm really cold!
Is it a sunrise yet?  No.
Almost there!  Still freezing.  
Ah, there we go!  What followed was a complete photographic phrenzy.  
This is why I came on the trip - for the heads.  
 They're all over the place.  This one is either Zeus or Hercules.  I could never tell them apart. 
They once were on these bodies, but time would not allow that.  
 More heads; gods, eagles, all the important stuff.
At this point, it's worth saying that this is one of the greatest places on earth.  Seriously, it is.  Despite the wind and the cold and the hike and the sweating, it should be on everybody's bucket list.  Just go when it's warmer. 
Here is our handsome group.  There's me in the shorts.  Look at how much better prepared everyone except Emre is.  
OK, so Antiochos had all those statues built to greet the rising sun, but he wasn't done.  Oh no!  He had an identical set built on the west side of the mountain to bid farewell to the setting sun.  So more heads!  Oh, and the thing that looks like a slag heap in the background is Antiochos' burial mound.  It added another 200 ft. or so to the mountain's height and it's never been excavated.  
 West heads!
 More west heads!
OK, there's me.  The backwards hat is not to alert you to my 'tude.  No, the wind was blowing so hard that I would have lost it had I been wearing it frontwards. 
 West heads again!
 Oh, and here's a bas relief of Antiochos doing something important. 
 The west heads have a great view!
I have no idea how long I was up there, but like all things, this wonderful experience came to an end.  We headed down the path.  The descent was much easier than the climb.  
And here's the sun once again.  

We met up and had tea at the cafe.  My tea had a fly in it.  I was feeling kind of dazed by the whole experience.  But the day was just beginning.  And soon things would get very bad for me.                


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