This is going to be a quick visual run-through of our trip to Van--I think images are really the only way to explain this place after a point because the landscape was just so mindblowing.
The first place we stopped was the small city of Tatvan in Bitlis province. This is the home of one of Turkey's Mt. Nemruts--not the one with the famous heads of the Komagene kings, but the other one, you know, with the chain of volcanoes filled with crater lakes?
From Tatvan, you drive up the inevitable horrifying road, straight up past villages and goats into the mouth of the ancient volcano. Sometimes the sides of the dirt road are washed away. Sometimes the potholes are so big you have to descend into them and ease out, but once you make it to the top you are rewarded with stunning scenery. We took a detour down a cowpath that barely accomodated the width of our car--at times we actually had to jump small faultlines in the road where there was nothing for the tires to hold onto, but we ended up in a place like this.
The plant life here was very curious. First there were these luminous coils of wheat colored grass. Then there were the spiky purple flowers that you find all over Kurdistan. Not exactly something you want to stick your nose into because it's a bit thorny, but nevertheless very pretty.
The carvings on the side are extraordinary--stories from the Bible and animals and intricate vines.
After Akdamar we head to Van and go straight to Van Castle, the stunning medieval fortress that sits over the city. It was occupied by the Russians during World War 1, but abandoned when the revolution started, leaving the Armenians to protect it alone. The Ottomans made short work of them and now the castle and everything around it is in utter ruin--here once stood centuries upon centuries of churches and mosques together. We were guided around by one of the Kurdish boys who roam the ruins looking for tourists--this one was quite informative.