Turkey’s portion of the Silk Road ends at Doğubeyazıt, a frontier town that has lured increasing numbers of independent travelers to its ruins and rugged terrain. Flanked to the north by the majestic double peaks of Ağri Dağ (Mt. Ararat) and to the south by the hilltop İşak Paşa Palace, the valley between teems with traffic from Turkey to Iran. High and dry, with a frontier feel and a dusty, windblown main street, Doğubeyazıt also represents the northeastern border of Turkey’s Kurdistan the “nation” of ethnic Kurds that stretches into Iraq. Visitors in late April may get a chance to take part in the annual Kurdish nevros festival, but visitors can enjoy warm Kurdish hospitality and traditional cuisine year-round.
Most visitors arrive either at the otogar, at the east end of Belediye Cad., or the minibus stop, at the other end of the same street. No major bus lines operate out of Doğubeyazıt; smaller companies offer limited and indirect service to: Adana (13hr., $18); Ağri (1hr., $2); Ankara (12hr., $20); Antalya (22hr., $27); Erzurum (4hr., $6); Gaziantep (1hr., $17); İstanbul (20h, $22); Malatya (9hr., $15); Mersin (16hr., $18); Sivas (8hr., $14); Şanlıurfa (8hr., $15). Minibuses leave for Van (3hr., $5) via Çaldıran ($3) and Kars (4hr., $6) İğdir ($2) from 7am-4pm; be sure to buy your ticket ahead of time as they tend to fill up quickly. Bus tickets can be purchased at Meteor Tourism 312 47 99), at the west end of Belediye Cad. Also at the far west end of Belediye Cad., near the dolmuş stop and above the çay house, is the THY office, 5 Meyramane Cad. 215 95 13), which offers flights out of Ağri. Open daily 7am-8pm.
ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Doğubeyazıt’s main drag is Belediye Cad., with the otogar at the east end and minibuses lining the westernmost intersection with Büyük Ağri Cad. Cheap hotels are clustered near the east end of town, and the PTT and banks are near the middle. Murat Şahin (312 34 34) and Ahmet Özgül (542) 713 25 39) offer free tourist information in English and organize all tours from Doğanadolu Turzim at Büyük Ağri Cad., 2nd floor, near the BP sign. Currency exchange is available at T.C. Ziraat Bankası, on Beleyide Cad. (Open daily 8am-12:30pm and l:30-5:30pm. No commission.) Cirrus/MC/V ATMs are prevalent throughout town. In addition to the produce bazaar just east of the minibus stop, a large supermarket can be found at the junction of Hastanesi Cad. and Guven Cad. Pharmacies are clustered at the intersection of Belediye Cad. and Büyük Cad.; rotates between them. The sparse but clean urgent care facility Acil Servis has some English-speaking staff. >312 60 42. Open 24hr.) Internet cafes line Belediye Cad., the cheapest being Omega 312 75 48) at the corner of Çarsi Cad., and Klas 312 49 18), which doubles as a pool hall next door. The PTT is on Belediye Cad. (Open daily 8:30am-12:30pm and 1:30- 5:30pm. Phones available 7am-11pm.)
ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD
A cluster of enjoyable, very cheap hotels lies around the far east end of Belediye Cad. Of these, the best value is the Hi Hotel Kenan , on Emniyet Cad, which features a kilim-lined lobby with an aquarium and rooms with TVs and baths. Breakfast included. 312 78 69; fax 312 75 71. Singles $5; doubles $8.) For less money (and less character), try the Hotel Erzurum , which has clean but frayed rooms with limited hot water. 312 50 80. Singles $2.50; doubles $4.50; triples $7.) Hotel Tahran, on Küçük Agri Cad., one block south of Beleyide Cad., near the otogar, also has tidy rooms with bath, at budget prices. 312 01 95. Singles $5; doubles $8.) Of Doğubeyazıt’s upper tier hotels, by far the best value is Hotel Ararat , a bright and cheery place with balconies and breakfast on a roof terrace looking out toward Mt. Ararat. 312 49 88. Singles $5, doubles $8.) Near the Palace (see Sights, below), visitors can now stay at Murat Camping . Nestled beneath the ruins, guests can camp with access to toilets, hot showers, the restaurant, and traditional evening entertainment. 312 34 34. Camping $1 per night; limited doubles with views $5 per person.)
Near the hotels, three restaurants, serving lokanta-style food, receive local acclaim. The Derya Restaurant, opposite the PTT, is packed with locals. 312 34 44. Open 24hr.) Equally good is Tad Lokantası , 134 Belediye Cad. 312 44 30), serving kebap and asure (regional Turkish pudding; $.60). The restaurant at Murat Camping , at the foot of the îşak Paşa Palace, commands a magnificent view of the valley below. Its specialty is traditional Kurdish fare such abdigor köfte (a large, tasty meatball) and the multi-layered mongol kebap. After 9pm, the restaurant doubles as a lively nightclub, with singers and dancers imported from İstanbul. (312 34 34. Meals $3-4.) For dessert, by Meşhur Diyarbakır Burma Kadayıfları ( 312 41 17), on Belediye Cad., which has several varieties of kadayıfları, a Kurdish delicacy resembling baklava, at $.60 a plate.
Aside from the spectacular view of Mt. Ararat, the sight most visitors come to Doğubeyazıt to see is the astonishingly well-preserved Işak Paşa Palace. The road runs 6km from the Hotel Saruhan to the palace’s rock ledge, making for a peaceful walk or a $2 taxi ride. In 1685, a local Kurdish chief built the palace using tariffs extracted from Silk Road travelers who passed nearby. The intricacy and beauty of the structure shows taste and nobility, beginning with an ornate entrance way covered in relief work and muqarnas (stalactite ornaments). From the southwest comer to the left, walk past the giant holes in the ground that once held a garrison. The large entrance way with lion reliefs leads to the harem, the master’s chamber, and the kitchen. A nearby hole in the ground is the archetypal “loo with a view,” a squatting toilet that allowed the ruler to gaze at the kingdom. Starting again at the outer courtyard, the northwest corner has an eight-sided türbet, a mosque, and a sarcophagus. (Open daily 6am-5:30pm. $1, students $.50.)
Farther uphill from the palace, next to an Urartian mosque, lies the important Ahmedi Hami Türbesi, which holds the remains of Hani Baba, considered the first Kurdish author. A 2000-year-old Urartian fortress, blending imperceptibly into the mountainside, towers over the entire scene. Ahmet Özgül of Doğanadolu Turzim leads tours of the fortress; those who reach the top early enough can catch the sunrise between the two peaks of Mt. Ararat. Below’ the palace, shepherds tend their flocks in the ruins of old Doğubeyazıt, destroyed by Russian bombings.
There are several other sites in the Doğubeyazıt area, including the supposed spot where Noah’s Ark landed (Üzengili). One of the world’s largest meteor craters is 39km from Doğubeyazıt and 5km off the road to Iran. To avoid the hike, most trav¬elers lake a taxi ($30) or join a tour. Options include five days in the surrounding areas for $150 per person or tours into Iran. Two-lo-three day horseback riding expeditions cost $60 per person and include all meals. The route can incorporate Fish Lake, Üzengili, nomadic villages, and the Kaplicari hot springs. Tire latter are easily accessible from Diyadin dolmuş (30min., $1) or by contacting any of the local tour companies. Memet Arik, Belediye Cad., No. 6 ( 312 67 72; fax 312 77 76), runs regional tours, taking in all the highlights. Pickups can be arranged.
DAYTRIPS FROM DOĞUBEYAZIT: MT. ARARAT
Would-be climbers should contact Murat Şahin ((543) 635 04 94 or 710 00 67), who has summited the peak 75 times and can help expedite matters such as permits. Movement on Mt. Ararat is still subject to military restrictions, given the current tensions with Armenia. Permits are now being offered to foreign climbers, however, and visitors without a permit can be escorted as high as the snow line (around 3500m) with the invitation of a local and the cooperation of the local jandarma. At present, climbers require a military clearance from GenelKurmay Baskanligi military headquarters in Ankara. Though a formality, regional approval in Ağri and local military permission cause delay. With the correct papers, climbers pass the two military road blocks and climb to 4200m on day one, then reach the summit early the next morning. Equipment is hard to find in Doğubeyazıt.
On the north face of the mountain lie the ruins of Korhan (2000m), a 2500-year- old city. Two churches are still intact, and on a clear day climbers can see the modern city of Jerezan, the former capital of Armenia. Ararat is still inhabited by nomadic Kurds; at high mountain yaylas you are likely to be welcomed by friendly shepherds and them less-than-friendly sheepdogs. Mt. Ararat borders three countries, but moving between them is not as simple as rolling downhill. Travelers wishing to visit Armenia will have no luck here; at the time of publication, the quickest land route to Jerezan was by way of Georgia. In both directions, the Iranian border (35km east of Doğubeyazıt) is far easier than it has been in previous years. Technically, a letter of invitation must be processed through Tehran, which takes at least a week. Well-connected travel agents, such as Murat (see above) can expedite the process by fax in as little as 2 days. The visa itself, however, requires a visit to the Iranian Consulate four hours west, in Erzurum. Alcohol, playing cards, pornographic material, and evidence of previous visits to Israel are likely to complicate matters with Iranian officials.