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Kurdistan Trip review by Kaylee Dall

Being a young traveler I’ve had few Middle East experiences having only been to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain if you count those. Being in Kurdistan was an experience I didn’t think I would ever have. The culture and landscape was nothing I was expecting considering I was technically in Iraq. The people were unbelievably kind and interested in our presence there. The city’s for being so poor still had life to them and these beautiful resorts and 5 star hotels. To say the least Kurdistan shocked me in all the best ways.

I started in Erbil, first with a stop at the small museum that had ancient pottery found in Kurdistan. While we were there, there were some school boys at the museum who were extremely interested in us and took pictures with and of us. It was fun to see the two groups interacting.

We continued to the 7000 year old citadel which is the oldest inhabited city on earth as there is still one family remaining inside. It started a long time ago and each new group built on top of the old. The history was just layered inside and they still haven’t reached the bottom layer. They are slowly renovating it, but recently had to pause because of the lost in funding from the government. We spent a lot of time there which there was a lot to see. We saw the bath house, the only one for the whole city which was amazing because it could probably only hold 50 people. Then we saw one of the mansions still left, there used to be 30 and now there are a few that remain standing. The mansion was restored to its formal glory with big windows and a nice courtyard space. We continued to the textiles museum which stored the culture and history of the Kurd tribes through there weavings. The most interesting part was how nothing dated back past 1990 as older weaving were not kept and saved. After we walked out of the main gate to see the above view of the bazar. It was great to see the hustle and bustle from above and to view the beautiful founts they put between the bazar buildings.

I never thought I could eat so much until I reached Kurdistan. The Lunch was a massive amount of food with chicken, lamb and beef with a lot of rice and veggies. It was all piled up on a platter that was fit for kings and the color of all the food together just made the presentation ten times better. After lunch we stopped at the mosque to view from outside as there was a funeral so we couldn’t go inside. The outside was marvels with the blue Arabic tiles you normally see on mosques but standing right next to it and looking up as it towered over you was unbelievable. It felt so powerful looming over you with the two minarets spearing the sky. We continued to were the old mosque was located before it fell apart. The only part still standing is half of the minaret. You could only see a little detail left, these little blue tiles on one side.

I have never seen such an energetic and crazy shopping spot before and that after I’ve been to countless black Fridays at 4am. The bazar was filled with people and everyone is yelling for you to come this way or that. People are arguing about prices and traffic around the bazar has no order. If I didn’t follow our guide I would have gotten lost. It twisted and turned and there were so many different sectors, that you could get anything you wanted there. We kept walking through the bazar until we reached the money exchange did I think it was kind of normal place to buy goods. These guys had stacks on stacks of money just sitting on these counters and they had money counters sifting through there stacks. You walk by and you could hear them arguing about currency exchange (or I assume that what they were yelling about) and the shuffling of the counting machines. If I didn’t know better I would have thought it was the cartel. They were so open with the money and even asked me to take pictures of them. We continued walking through the different parts of the bazar until the group met up and headed to dinner which was at a local restaurant buffet style.

The next day to Duhok we had a full day drive. We started the drive to Dayro d-Mor Matay Monastery in the mountains. Getting there we had to cross into the disputed area of Iraq so we were in the part the Iraq controls but Kurdistan still has presence. The monastery is tucked away at the top of a mountain which means we drove switch backs all the way to the top. On the drive up we drove past a herd of sheep walking up as well. The monastery up close was breathtaking as everything had clean sharp edges but the coloring of the building fit right into the mountain, almost like camouflage. Looking out the front of the monastery you could see miles of mountains and fields.

We drove back down the mountain and continued to Gaugamela, site of the famous battle between King Darius III and Alexander the Great. It is currently farm land so it was hard to view the battle in your mind’s eye. The kids in the village followed us up the hill and were as intrigued as we were. They seemed to be fascinated with us learning about something that was down the street from their houses.

Jirwan, the oldest aqueduct and bridge ruin in the world built in the time of Sennacharib (690 BC) which was our next stop. The site was once part of a vast complex that was built to water the gardens of Nineveh. Huge stones transported by hand from quarries hundreds of miles away. I was told that engineers around the world have studied this bridge and still use this design in current bridges. The blocks were massive and probably weigh more than me. The bridge was between small rolling hills and was so wide and long it was really unbelievable.

After our lunch stop at a truck stop, which is nothing like our truck stops and was a fantastic restaurant, we continued to the temple for the Yezidis people to experience there pilgrimage. The Yezidis who are a group from Kurdistan that were slaughtered by ISIS and descendants of the Zoroastrians – one of the most mysterious people in the world. Once we got there we had to leave our shoes on the bus. We walked in and there was a baptism going on and they were singing and yelling and clapping. They welcomed us to join in and experience the joy the family had as they brought their son into their traditions. All the Yezidis people were happy to have us there and fascinated that they wanted to take pictures with us. The experience in the temple was one of the best I’ve had traveling. The energy inside was happy and loving and I felt so welcomed. Maybe it was because they kissed everything as it was like there sign of the cross, thankfully no one tried to kiss me. Inside the temple there were cloths tied around these poles and they believe that once you untie a knot that persons wish comes true and once you tie your knot you make a wish. After experiencing all the smiles and warm laughter I was satisfied for the night and was ready for bed.

The next day we continued our journey to Rawanduz, our first stop was Amadiya. On the way to Amadiya sits one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces, it is surrounded by a wall and sits up on a hill. We couldn’t go up to it because it was surrounded by land mines and is now mostly destroyed by the Kurdish people. The wall surrounding the palace now is painted with a mural of the Kurdish people’s victory over him. After our stop on the side of the road to see the palace we continued to Amadiya but made a quick stop at the madrassa that is connected to the Egypt school in Cairo. The ruins of the madrassa sat beautiful in the mountains and the trees. There are a few rooms left standing and you can look out the windows into the mountains.

The town of Amadiya is Located on a high promontory above a breathtaking landscape and fed by a geothermal spring originating far below the mountain, it was once an almost impenetrable fortress. The small roads circled around the houses that hung off the cliffs with a view of the mountains. We saw the city gate (Bab Zebar) on one edge of the city with a spectacular view of the mountains. The gate was built in 500-600AD and you can still see old carvings on the wall.

The group made a quick stop for lunch along the river on our way to the mullah Mustapha memorial (father of modern Kurdistan). They are currently working on the buildings surrounding the grave that will house a library, cafeteria, and museum. The site once it’s done will be absolutely beautiful; the grave itself is off to the side and has two stones on either side with little stones down the middle which is unusual for a Muslim grave.

We continued to Shanidar Cave in the mountains where pre—historic remains were discovered. The grave is home to history’s most famous Neanderthal – “Nancy.” They also found a tunnel system that they will exuviate soon that goes deep into the mountain. The site where they found the barred Human remains is surrounded by a fence as they are still digging. We continued to the resort which is located at the top of a mountain. The resort was absolutely beautiful and the rooms were so spacious with fire places and little kitchens. The restaurant there was an amazing and had all different kinds of food to try.

My stay in Kurdistan was short but my experiences were not. I will forever remember my time with the Yezidis people and the drives through the mountain. I’ll remember the bazar and the men yelling with stacks of money in front of them. I’ll remember this trip fondly as a great cultural experience.    

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