x0x Dreaming in green Caglayan Valley
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x0x Dreaming in green Caglayan Valley
By HALIM DIKER
Drenched in the Black Sea's luxuriant green, Caglayan
Valley boasts three plateaux, Mese, Catak and Camlik...
Lush, spanking fresh green dominated the mountains. We
were bumping along a narrow mountain road in the back
of a truck that drowned the whole valley in its roar.
At the end of the two-hour journey starting from
Findikli, a coastal township of Rize province, a few
scattered houses came into view in the forest. The
engine quieted down. `This is it,' said Yilmaz Oksuz.
`You'll have to climb the rest of the way on your own.
This is our plateau, Achozli.' The rushing Caglayan
River was audible from the depths of the valley. I
struck out on a muddy stone path and started to climb.
The mist falling from the sky, the droplets of spray
from the river, and the dark valley bristling with
giant trees reminded me of the haunted road in fairy
tales that leads to the mysterious realm. The path got
terrifyingly steeper as I climbed, and I grabbed on to
the moss-covered box trees so as not to tumble headlong
over the precipices. Next to a high waterfall I took a
rest, mesmerized by its foaming cascade.
UNCLE OSMAN'S MOUNTAIN CABIN
By sundown I had managed to climb in close to seven
hours a path the locals take in four. In the end I
reached the Mese Yayla, a handful of charming wooden
houses built on a sloping clearing in the forest. This
is the first `yayla' on the path that starts from
Caglayan Valley, the one the Findikli people come to
first with the arrival of spring. When the pastures
turn green they climb up to the higher plateaux once
every two months, coming down again in autumn to spend
winter in their villages. The plateau dwellers watched
closely as I pitched my tent. A hoary elder motioned
with his hand, `Come'. I went over to him. From a pot
boiling on his wood-burning stove he poured milk onto a
plate, set a large sheep's trotter in it and gave it a
stir. Pulling a stone plate from the hearth ashes, he
deftly removed a steaming corn bread, which he cut in
two and set on the table. The house was redolent with
the pleasant scent of the chestnut wood panelling that
covered its walls. A large black jug suspended on a
chain over the great hearth, expertly built of granite
slabs, was boiling away. Catching me eyeing the house,
he declared proudly, `I built it. I have two more
One on the next plateau, at Catak, the other on the
highest one, at Camlik Yayla.' His name was Gunner
Osman. After dinner he offered me tea steeped over
coals. I told him I was going to climb to Camlik Yayla
in the morning. `Leave early,' he said, `the road is
There's nobody up there yet. I'll be up too in a couple
of days.' We said good-bye and parted. In the morning I
awoke to the chirping of the birds as the sun's rays
were beginning to caress the valley. I opened the door
of my tent. There stood a small jug of milk, still
steaming, a thoughtful breakfast offering from the
SIPPING THE WATER OF LIFE
I found Catak Yayla on a broad clearing where the
forest ended. The yayla dwellers who had come up that
morning were busy repairing their houses. Here the
valley divided in two. I took the path to Camlik Yayla,
climbing for hours among the rocks alongside yellow
Pontic rhododendrons. As I climbed, Mt Marsis loomed
into view in all its splendor.
I was a little closer to it at every break in the thick
layer of mist that had settled over the mountains. The
sun had saved its red tinge until the very last. Just
when I reached Camlik Yayla and sat down to rest beside
a spring, the valley and all the mountains were
suddenly bathed in cotton candy pink.
One by one I tried the doors of the yayla houses of
wood and stone built on the slope. Finally I found one
that was open. I immediately tried to start a fire in
the fireplace to warm up. The yayla was 2400 m above
sea level, and the water started to freeze as soon as
the sun went down. There was no one on this yayla yet.
For two days I wandered in the surrounding hills,
gazing for hours at the snow-capped mountains, the
frothy rushing streams and the emerald green forests
far below. I quenched my thirst with the `water of
life' from ice-cold springs that burst from beneath the
rocks. The Caglayan, whose real name is `Abu Hemsin' or
Water of Hemsin, is the purest and bluest of all the
rivers that empty into the Black Sea. At the end of the
second day Uncle Osman showed up with a heavily laden
mule at his side. He was as happy as a boy.
It was his first time back here in eight months.
Unfastening the double lock on his wooden house, he
opened the door with a prayer and pointed to the
snow-capped mountains. `It's just your luck,' he said,
`there was a lot of snow this year. You can't make to
the summit of Marsis. Come back in two months and
you'll be able to catch the Salikvan Yayla bus from
Yusufeli and get up to those two peaks across the way.
I'll come with you up to the summit.'
THE MARSIS SUMMIT
The two months flew by. This time I wound around behind
Mt Marsis. The passengers for Salikvan Yayla got out at
their stop. Twisting and turning, the driver reached
the upper slopes of Marsis in an hour. `Do you know the
way?' he asked. `Follow that path there, you'll be at
Camlik Yayli in two hours.' He wished me luck and
quickly disappeared back down the road to Salikvan. I
wrapped my muffler tightly around my face and neck.
Although it was August there was an icy wind. I took
the slope down to the yayla at a run, went up to a
house and knocked.
At the door, with a beaming smile on his face, was
Uncle Osman. He hugged me tight. I was up early the
next morning. His woollen saddlebag hoisted on his
back, Uncle Osman had already taken his cows out to
graze. Climbing among the little streams and steep
rises, I was breathless by the time I caught up with
him. We reached the foothills of Marsis and, skipping
over rocks and precipices, wound our way up to its
3200-m high summit. While I rested, totally winded,
Uncle Osman kept an eye on the cows through his
binoculars. Ten minutes later he stood up again. `Rest
up,' he said, `but budget your time so you'll get back
down again before it gets dark; otherwise I'll worry.'
And with that he vanished between the rocks with the
agility of a goat.
Gunner Osman was still full of life, as vigorous as any
youngblood. In winter he picked the oranges, satsumas
and grapefruit that he grew in the large garden of his
house and gathered chestnuts from the forest and
roasted them on the stove, all the while yearning for
spring and the yayla season to roll round again.
He was sad to see the traditional yayla way of life
fading out and very incensed that today's young people
never go up. On my last evening on the yayla he took
out three big keys. `Here', he said.
`This one is for Mese, this one for Catak, and this one
for Camlik. Nobody will go up to those yaylas after I'm
gone. But you come whenever you want, those houses are
yours. Once you get a taste of this place, I'm sure
you'll come back often.'