Backpacking Eastern Turkey – Van, Kars & Ani

We arrived in Van in the evening as well as checked into our hostel we had booked. had a quick bite to eat as well as were off to bed…totally exhausted after the hotbox of a bus ride! The next day we went to see the Van Castle, set high up on a large rock overlooking the lake. There were only a few people there so we basically had the whole area to ourselves. since being in Eastern Turkey we have been able to count the number of foreign tourists on our hands, it’s been great.

Views of Lake Van from Van Castle Rock, Eastern Turkey

We hiked up the rock to see a mosque as well as some incredible views down below of the remains of Old Van City, which was destroyed during WWI. We then hiked down the rock as well as decided to go around it at the base as well to see what we might find. We were greeted by some kids who wanted to state ‘hello’ as well as have their photo taken as well as we likewise saw two men shearing sheep.

What a process: very first they have to catch the sheep, then provide them a drink of milk with a sedative in it to calm them down, then they hog-tie them on their sides as well as when the animal has stopped kicking as well as freaking out, they cut off all of the hot wool with a large pair of scissors…then the sheep carries on much happier to be rid of its coat.

Talking to a regional on the edge of Van Castle Rock, Eastern Turkey

Kids smiling for the camera. Van, Eastern TurkeyStay Still! Sheep shearing in Van, Eastern Turkey

Time to take off the hot coat. Shearing sheep in Van, Turkey
Around the base there were Armenian inscriptions on the rock, tombs cut into the rock as well as parts of old mosques, hammams as well as buildings from the Old City which date back to the 1500s! We headed house after that as well as relaxed as well as wandered around aimlessly before satisfying up with some other backpackers from our Hostel-Philip (Germany), Moson (Iranian, born in Bangladesh, living in Vancouver) as well as Lucas  (Switzerland).

We all went for dinner as well as then to a teahouse to have chai as well as play backgammon, which is precisely what all the regional men do every day as well as every night. There wasn’t (and never is) a single woman in there so they all kind of looked at me funny when I came in as well as sat down during “men time”.

Wandering around the base of Van Rock, Eastern Turkey

Ancient mosque. Van, Turkey
After 2 nights in Van we took yet one more bus to the City of Kars…Van to Kars, perhaps there will be a ‘truck’ city next? That bus trip ended up being a nice temperature, say thanks to God. We discovered our hotel (after some assist from a local) as well as went out for dinner. Kars is known for its honey as well as specialty cheeses so along the way we stopped into a little store to sample some of the goods.

The honey was sooo delicious, wonderful as well as sugar free as well as the cheese was a different texture, kind of like jerky however truly great as well as not too salty. We ended up sitting with the manager as well as his friends for awhile chatting as well as having chai as well as taking pictures. Yet one more excellent encounter with the local, hospitable people. We were planning on transiting through Kars on our way to Georgia however decided to stay two nights instead….which I’m happy we did since the next day we went out to the ancient city of Ani on the border with Turkey as well as Armenia.

Us with the shop workers in Kars, Eastern Turkey

Delicious regional honey for sale at a shop in Kars, Eastern Turkey
Ani was when a excellent prosperous city completely situated on the East-West Silk road trade route. The Byzantines took over the city in 1045, then the Persians in 1064, then the Kingdom of Georgia, then the Kurds until lastly the struggle for power over the city was taken by the Mongols in 1239. As they were (are) nomadic, they had no use for the city so they just abandoned it as well as moved on.

Walls of Ani, Eastern TurkeyButterfly at Ani, Turkey

As time went on, an earthquake toppled much of the city as well as trade routes changed as well as Ani became less important. So, right here it has sat in ruins since 1239! The setting for Ani was surreal, totally breathtaking. The ruins are dotted all along grassy plains covered in flowers with a rock cut river on both sides as well as rolling hills in the distance. We spent 3 hours there walking around as well as seeing all of the old ruins. Each of the old buildings were incredible however we had a few favourites.The Church of the Redeemer (dating from 1034-1036) stands as a tall building….but only 1/2 of it is there. The other half of the church was struck down by lightening in 1957.

1/2 of the Church of the Redeemer, Ani, Eastern Turkey

Beautiful plains of Ani, Eastern Turkey
Next was the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator. It’s set on the cliffside overlooking the gorge as well as river down below. The relief work as well as frescos (pictures) of the Holy bible as well as Armenian church history inside of the church are in such incredible condition even after all these years.

Church of St. Gregory The Illuminator. Ani, Eastern TurkeyFrescos inside of the Church of St. Gregory The Illuminator. Ani, Eastern Turkey

There was one mosque at the site which is said to have been the very first mosque built by the Seljuk Turks in 1072. The style of the mosque was totally different than the other ones we’ve seen on our travels: the shape was more rectangular rather than circular, as well as there were no domes, it looked like an strange church actually. We climbed the twisting narrow stairway all the way up to the very top of the minaret as well as enjoyed the excellent views of Armenia in the distance, the rushing river down below as well as an overlooking view of all the ruins on the plateau.

The ancient mosque at Ani, Eastern Turkey

Looking out at Armenia from the Mosque at Ani. Eastern Turkey
The building that stuck out the most for us was the large well preserved Cathedral built in 937. Whenever Christians took the city of Ani, it was a church. When Muslims ruled the city, it became a mosque. inside it was so spacious as well as there was great deals of details as well as inscriptions on the walls. We’re so happy we decided to spend the additional day in Kars as well as make our way out to Ani, a location that many people who come to Turkey never have a possibility to see.

The very well preserved Ani Cathedral. Eastern Turkey
We headed back to the hostel as well as had some downtime as well as research study time. We were planning to pop into the neighbouring country of Georgia for a few days as well as needed to figure out exactly how to get there as well as what to see when there!

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