Day Six: Lake Dukan/Chemi Rezan, Iraq

by - August 18, 2012

We had now explored most of the north of Iraqi Kurdistan - two of the three provinces that make up the region.  All that remained was the Sulimaniyah region to the east of the country.  To get there from Erbil would have potentially meant going through the city of Kirkuk - a city that is ethnically Kurdish, but not part of Kurdistan, meaning that ethnic tensions do exist.  We decided to kill two birds with one stone by getting a private taxi to take us to two sites that we were interested in that form an arc around Kirkuk.  This turned out to be a wise decision in hindsight, as we would later find out that a car bomb had gone off in Kirkuk the very day that we had planned to pass through it.

Dokan Lake, Iraq
The two sites that we had chosen were Dokan lake and the Chemi Rezan caves, both along Kurdistan’s eastern border with Iran.  As the journey was reasonably long and difficult, we were willing to spend $100 to do the journey - getting the receptionist at our Erbil hotel to make the arrangements with our driver.  We set out at about midday and arrived at Dokan lake at about half 1.  Our driver was a bit rubbish and seemed to have no sense of direction, so Tom and I had to lead him to the lake.  The journey had taken us through the flat desert badlands at the foot of the Kurdish mountains - a vast desert expanse more like the Iraq that we had expected to see.  When we reached the lake it was a refreshing burst of blue.  The lake is totally manmade and has built up behind the Dokan hydroelectric dam.  There were a few resorts being built around the edge of the lake, but these seemed deserted, with a few fishermen being the only people around.

Chemi Rezan cave entrance, Iraq
After we had visited the lake, the taxi driver seemed to get a bit confused and insisted that we head straight to Sulimaniyah and skip out Chemi Rezan.  We obviously weren’t very happy with that as we had paid so much to do the trip, so we rang around some of our Kurdish friends who eventually managed to convince the driver to uphold his agreement.  The caves at Chemi Rezan had been recommended to us by one of the British consul employees that we had met last night.  There was scant information about the site online - it was only discovered in 2006 by some German archaeologists.  From what I gather (and this is unconfirmed), the caves are amongst the first human settlements on earth.  There are another set of caves near Dohuk that are better known, and these are world famous as neanderthal sites, and I THINK that Chemi Rezan is along the same lines.  Anyway, we were unable to go inside the cave but stood outside and marvelled at the carvings around the entrance.  It wasn’t too difficult to imagine our ancestors walking around the lush valley that the caves are in - a small river runs through it with small herds of cattle grazing.  Its a shame that we didn’t know more about the history of the site, but it was an amazing place to visit nonetheless.
Chemi Rezan gorge

From Chemi Rezan we headed on towards Sulimaniyah, arriving in the late afternoon.  We found a hotel quickly and met up with Nabaz from Newcastle who we had met in Erbil on our first night.  He brought his cousin Omed along - who is from Swansea (though I originally mistook his broad welsh accent for Kurdish and spoke to him verrrrry slowwwwly).  Both of them had sought asylum in the UK a decade ago and had set up successful lives there.  We walked around the town with them and then went our separate ways for dinner, only to bump into them again at a shisha bar later on in the evening.

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