x0x YALNIZCAM MOUNTAINS
By Ali Ihsan GOKCEN
The Yalnizcam Mountains running from northeast to southwest in the
Eastern Black Sea region are covered by forests of spruce and fir, and
vast alpine meadows. They are one of Turkey's loveliest scenic areas
and due to their unspoilt natural beauty have been declared a national
park. The range, which is largely volcanic in character, rises in
places to over 3000 metres and its large plateaus lie at an altitude
of over 2500 metres. It is to these plateaus that people move in the
hot summer months, and this traditional sojourn on the high pastures
known as yayla is an important part of the local culture. Most famous
of all is Bilbilan Yayla, one of the largest alpine pastures in
Turkey, with around forty summer villages.
Families from the districts of Hopa, Hemsin, Ardahan, Gole, Ardanuc
and Borcka arrive every year, carrying household essentials in baskets
on their backs and bringing thousands of sheep and cattle to graze on
the rich grass.
For this reason the yayla is also an important livestock market,
attracting large numbers of people from surrounding provinces who come
to buy sheep and cattle. The colourful lively crowds in the
marketplace, local costume, traditional ways of striking a bargain
that have remained unchanged over the years, and the coming and going
of the animals make it a fascinating sight.
One of the many pleasures of life on Bilbilan Yayla is walking through
the magnificent scenery in the fragrant mountain air. Lake Karagol,
for instance, is just an hou'sn walk away in the district of Ardanuc.
As the summer progresses and the water level in the lake recedes,
Karagol divides into four smaller lakes of various sizes and colours.
Set in a bowl overlooking deep ravines, the lakes with their green,
dark blue and light blue waters surrounded by vegetation and volcanic
rock are an enchanting sight.
Turkey's highest mountain pass, the Yalnizcam (2650 metres), is in
this mountain range, as is the third highest, the Cam Pass (2460
metres). Approaching these passes from the northwest the mountain
flanks are covered with spruce, fir and Scots pine, and nestling like
ornaments amongst this forested scenery you catch glimpses of wooden
houses and bridges. Forestry is the mainstay of the local economy on
this side of the mountains. Crossing the pass, however, you find the
scenery undergoes a startling transformation: instead of forests there
is treeless steppeland, and instead of wooden houses adobe cottages
with flat mud roofs. Plots of maize are supplanted by fields of golden
wheat stretching into the distance.
The Yalnizcam Mountains have been home to various civilisations over
the course of time, and many historic monuments are to be seen here.
Remains from the Georgian kingdom of Klarjeti include numerous
churches and castles standing in sheltered spots in the Tortum, Coruh,
Kura and Berta river valleys. The monastery church of Satberdi was a
celebrated centre for the production of illuminated manuscript bibles.
The Klarjeti capital of Old Ardanuc stood on the banks of the Cehennem
river just outside the Cehennem Gorge, or Hell's Gorge, a name
entirely appropriate for this intimidating gorge with its towering
walls.The invincible Ardanuc Castle is perched on cliffs several
hundreds of metres in height, commanding an extraordinary view over
the surrounding land. New Ardanuc is situated five kilometres away on
the plain. There is an old Armenian church in the town, where time
seems to have stood still. All the houses, and even the mosque
minarets, are made of wood, hay is carried in ox-carts, and
oldfashioned horse-drawn ploughs are still in use. As in other rural
parts of Turkey the people are friendly and hospitable, readily urging
complete strangers to share meals with them. Their kindness reminded
us of what we lose by living in big cities.
Savsat is a town on the northern flanks of the Yalnizcam Mountains
southwest of Ardanuc. Its origins go back to 4000 BC, but the oldest
monuments still standing date from the 10th century Georgian kingdom
of Bagrat. These include the Tibeti Church in the village of Cevizli
and Rabat Church in the village of Koprulu. Savsat is a place of
castles. Apart from Savsat Castle itself, the town is virtually
surrounded by six others: Bilbilan, Dutlu, Parih, Petrikisman,
Tukharis and Ustamis.Arsiyan Yayla 30 kilometres from the town is well
worth visiting, with its numerous mountain lakes, large and small. The
biggest and highest of them is Lake Boga, which lies at the edge of a
steep slope overlooking all of Arsiyan. Lake Davar is surrounded by
reedbeds and home to abundant wildlife, but the most fascinating of
all is Lake Sedeva, whose surface is covered by diverse water plants
and floating islands of reeds. In September Arsiyan Yayla's meadows
burst into a colourful carpet of autumn crocuses.
So next summer head for the Yalnizcam Mountains to savour their
spectacular and diverse beauty, make the acquaintance of the
hospitable local people, and experience the festive mood of summer
life on the high pastures.