2119x0x On this Turkish trail, kindness is the compass
- Jul 3, 2014
On this Turkish trail, kindness is the compass
By Candace Rardon
Iznik's Istanbul Gate
When I arrived in Hersek, a Turkish village located 160km south of Istanbul across the Sea of Marmara, Refik Ertürk was standing in the doorway of his kahve (teahouse). Men sat at card tables outside, filling the dusk air with the clicking of backgammon tiles and the clinking of spoons against their tulip-shaped tea glasses. Next door, pomegranate and fig trees grew along the stone walls of a blue-domed mosque; in the distance, I could just make out the bleating of sheep and the melodic din of their bells – sounds that would soon become familiar in this bucolic corner of northwest Anatolia.
I was at the starting point of a walking and riding route known as the Evliya Çelebi Way, which runs from Hersek south to the city of Simav. The route is 330km (some 22 days) on foot, and extends to 650km (about 25 days) on horseback, as the riding route includes the Yeni?ehir Plain, the 130km between Kütahya and U?ak and the Gediz Plain. Founded in 2011 by a team of historians and long-distance trekking guides, the history of the path actually extends back much further.
Evliya Çelebi was a 17th-century Ottoman traveller and writer who journeyed extensively through the empire for more than 40 years, documenting his travels in his 10-volume Seyahatname (Book of Travels). As Ertürk’s teenaged daughter Tu?çe told me after her father invited me to stay in their home that evening, “he was acting like Christopher Columbus”. In 1671, Çelebi left Istanbul for the final time to make hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. The route named in his honour follows the first three weeks of his journey.
When Çelebi set out for Mecca, he did so with three companions, eight servants and 15 purebred Arabian horses. When I set out, I was alone. I had an 80-litre backpack full of camping gear, a 15-lira compass from a shop in Istanbul, no knowledge of Turkish except for the glossary in my guidebook and only my own two feet to convey me – plus a litany of concerns from Ertürk, his wife and Tu?çe. Where would I sleep? Who would guide me? I tried to downplay my lack of a map or GPS, but truthfully I shared in their doubts.
Setting out the next morning, I surprised myself by making slow but steady progress toward Simav. The route comprised asphalt road, old paved roads known as kald?rum, narrow goat paths and well-worn tractor tracks hewn from the earth over centuries of use. I often shared the road with flocks of sheep or goats, their whistling, wizened shepherds never far behind, and with farmers who waved as they ferried neatly-stacked crates of grapes, tomatoes, green apples and pumpkins.