Day Two: Rawanduz Valley, Iraq

by - August 13, 2012

The Hamilton Road, Northern Iraq
As we would be flying home from Erbil, we knew that it made sense to get out an explore the rest of the country in the knowledge we would end up back in the capital eventually.  After an exhausting day of travelling yesterday we allowed ourselves a bit of a lie-in before having breakfast and meeting Sipan.  As it is Rammadan, food is not as readily available as it would otherwise be.  Luckily, some Muslims are less devout than others here and some restaurants remain open - though they put up white sheets over their windows as a mark of respect to those who are fasting.  After breakfast we got a taxi with Sipan to the share taxi stop for Rawanduz, a small town in the north.  The ‘garage’ as the share taxi stops are called, is also the place where taxis to Mosul leave from - so we had to make it very clear where we wanted to end up.  The share taxi from Erbil to Rawanduz cost us 10000 IQD each and took about 2 and a half hours.

The Rawanduz Gorge, Iraq
The journey itself was very impressive as we snaked along the Hamilton Road - named after the Civil Engineer from New Zealand who built it in the 1920s.  We had hoped to find some hotels in Rawanduz, but all we found was an odd holiday camp that was half built.  The share taxi driver dropped off the people that we had shared the taxi with and then we convinced the driver to drive us around to the various sites in the area - he charged us 50000 IQD each, which was a bit steep.  The main sites in the area are three waterfalls - the 'magic’ waterfall, the Bekhal waterfall and the Gali Ali Beg waterfall.  This was the order in which we visited them.  The magic waterfall is so called because the water only appears at certain times of the year - and, as this is the driest part of the year, there was nothing to see at all - just a smelly muddy pool.  Moving swiftly on (and hoping things would get better) we headed for Bekhal waterfall.  To reach this, we had to travel along the Rawanduz Gorge, perhaps one of the most spectacular gorges in all of Asia.  We were still on the Hamilton Road and you had to marvel at what an impressive feat it was, as well as just how stunning the landscape is.

Me and Tom at the Bekhal waterfall
Thankfully, Bekhal waterfall had a little bit more to it, with a bazaar and food stalls (not to mention some actual water).  We climbed up the fairly precarious and slippery steps to the top of the waterfall to make the most of the nice view over the little settlement that had risen up around one of few bona fide tourist spots in the country.  Gali Ali Beg was further down the valley (back towards Erbil) and was also impressive - a different kind of waterfall to Bekhal, with a large plunge pool and a collection of small boats available to hire.  Our taxi driver was in a bit of a rush unfortunately as we still had a lot of travelling to do.  We were dropped off in the town of Diana where we caught another taxi to the city of Dohuk, costing 20000 IQD.  This meant another 2 hours or so of driving and also meant that we had to commit the potential no-no of leaving Kurdish administered territory.  We travelled to Dohuk via Acre, a city that is ethnically Kurdish but technically (from what we gather) Arabic.  We felt safe doing this because the Kurds are almost as unwilling to go to the Arabic parts of the country as we are, and our driver lived in Dohuk and knew the area well.

Gali Ali Beg Waterfall, Iraq
Arriving in Dohuk at around 5pm we settled in at our new hotel and then walked to the town’s luxury hotel for the rare privileged of a cold beer by the hotel’s pool - a 5 star hotel in Kurdistan is very unlikely to turn away two guys from Britain, even if they are scruffy and only want a beer.  We sat by the pool until the sun went down and then got some dinner on the way back into the city centre.  By now, as in Erbil, the sun had gone down and the people were out and about, so we made the most of it and ducked into a Shisha Bar where they were showing Olympic coverage.  The people were very friendly and welcoming, despite the fact it was obviously a place for locals (I dread to think how my village pub would react if two Kurds turned up in traditional dress).  After an hour or so of Shisha we retired to our hotel to watch the Olympic closing ceremony - the kindness and hospitality of the Kurd’s thus far in trip, made John Lennon’s “Imagine” seem particularly apt.  Who would have thought that two Brits could sit and smoke Shisha at 11pm on an Iraqi street in the middle of Rammadan, feeling totally at home?  The surprises just keep coming.

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