Seven times larger than Lake Constance, this drainless and highly alkaline Lake Van is located in eastern Turkey. To the south lie the snow-covered Taurus Mountains, while to the west and north a chain of volcanoes stretches all the way to Ararat. The most striking is the white cone of Süphan Dagi in the north, but it is almost constantly shrouded in clouds.
We arrived at the lake by night bus, in which we hardly found any sleep, the bus was shaking and vibrating like aspen leaves in the storm, as the driver was driving like a berserker. Maybe he had to remember that two days before, not too far away, in Batman province, the PKK had blown up a bus… In Tatvan, on the western edge of the lake, we arrived 2 hours too early, at 5 am. We dragged ourselves unsuccessfully to one hotel and another, but in one of them nothing happened when we knocked and in the other one, after hammering on the door, a guy with an angry face opened the door and sent us away. We found a restaurant that served meat soup for breakfast at this time of day and despite being overtired we took a taxi to the volcano Nemrut (which only has the name in common with the other Nemrut).
Nemrut Dagi has a beautiful caldera with a diameter of 7 km, which is filled with all kinds of innards such as lakes, dams and obsidian streams. Unfortunately, it became more and more cloudy on the way up and after a short walk inside, we found ourselves in a heavy snowstorm that covered everything with a white layer in a few minutes. Due to lack of visibility, we made our way back. In the process, we had to push our taxi twice, which with its worn tires had no chance on the freshly snow-covered track… We spent the rest of the day catching up on much needed sleep.
On an island in the lake called Akdamar we see our first Armenian church. It is bigger than I expected and richly decorated with reliefs. A beautiful picture with the lake and the mountains in the background.
Van is a modern town a few kilometres away from the lake. At the bus station, a young man with wispy curls and a black and yellow leather jacket speaks to us in perfect English. He doesn’t understand at all why Europeans travel to Asia. For him it is like a prison, he says. He seems like a foreign body here and feels like one. In fact, he comes from Afghanistan, spent some time in a tiny place in Iran (where he was not allowed to work) and is now here. He works in a school, but is not allowed to leave Van. We have it good, he says, we can come here, see what it’s like and then leave again.
The highlight of this city’s nightlife is a Kurdish bar on the top floor of a concrete block, a band playing ethno rock far too loudly. The room is divided in half by a step, but not into smokers and non-smokers, but into mixed and all-male tables! At least there are women here, unlike the tea houses in provincial Turkey, which seem to be an all-male domain.
In fact, there is also an ancient lakeside Van dating back to 900-600 BC, with a fortress perched on a high rock above the foundations of this town, which also has an inscription in cuneiform carved into the rock.
We are surprised at the relatively low military presence in the region, especially in view of the fact that Turkey has been conducting operations in Iraq against PKK positions in recent days. We are only checked shortly before the Iranian border.
The border town of Dogubayazid lies in an impressive landscape at the foot of Mount Ararat. Nearby, in the mountains, is a romantic little castle that nestles perfectly into the rocks and valleys of the mountains with its courtyard, minaret, dome and richly decorated portals.