Day Three: Lalish/Dohuk, Iraq

by - August 13, 2012

We woke up late in Dohuk and hunted around for some brunch.  This proved harder than in Erbil and when we finally came across a place that was willing to do us some food, they overcharged us enormously. Our plan for the day was to visit a small village called Lalish, about 50km out of Dohuk.  We were told that local taxi drivers SHOULD know where it is, but it took us a while to get the message across.  A local guy stopped to help us and thought he had got the instructions across to the driver, only for us to end at the “Lilash supermarket”.  The guy who helped us was an english teacher who wanted to practise his conversation skills as he gets very little other opportunity.  As amusing as the mix up was, it did highlight just how careful we have to be with our directions to taxi drivers - as Mosul is only about 45 minutes away.  We eventually found a driver who was willing to take us to Lalish who charged us 25000IQD each for the return journey.

Me and Tom with our Yazidian guide
The drive through the mountains was beautiful and we only had to stop at two military checkpoints (as oppose to about 10 yesterday).  As we approached Lalish, there was another checkpoint which had been set up to protect the village.  We went through the standard “who are you and what are you doing here?” routine with the soldier who then asked where we were from.  “England” we said.  “Ah” he replied, “is that in America?”.  We nodded and smiled to avoid confusion, but both Tom and I died a little that moment.

Inside the temple
Lalish is home to the ancient temple of a 5000 year old religion.  The followers, called “Yazidians” are dotted all over the world, but there is only one temple - the one at Lalish.  As we arrived, a local man came out to the taxi to welcome us.  He spoke good English and it turned out that he was in charge of the religion’s website.  He was very keen to show us around, but also to photograph us as the two Englishmen who had arrived at his temple.  We had to take our shoes off and he sat us down in a shaded courtyard to give us an outline of the Yazidian religion.  As it outdates both Christianity and Islam, it is very unique in the Middle East.  They believe in one god, represented by the sun who made himself and made man.  They also believe in reincarnation, and that a good soul will be reincarnated as another human and a bad soul will go to hell.  They practise baptism for babies (and we were lucky enough to watch one while we were there) and have have other ‘good luck’ traditions, such as wrapping your hand in a special blanket in the temple and making a wish.  They believe that black snakes are lucky, but stepping on the stone at the threshold to any door in the temple is unlucky as that is where offerings are made.
Lalish Village, Iraq

After he had showed us around, our guide sat us down again and interviewed us while recording into a dictaphone to take quotes for the website.  The guide had been incredibly kind and urged us to come back and see the Yazidian festivals on 2nd February, 2nd August and 10th to 16th October.  He also urged me to tell my friends about the temple and to encourage them to visit one day too - he gave us all of his contact details so that anybody who was interested could arrange a tour (I will put them up later).

Dohuk Dam, Iraq
We left the temple thoroughly impressed and drove back to Dohuk, stopping on the edge of the city to see a large dam that had been constructed to provide drinking water to the town.  The dam was on the main road to Syria and Turkey and we reflected that it would be very easy to walk to either one of these countries (when we got back to our hotel we found that a Syrian plane had been shot down near the Iraqi border - there is always something going on in the region).  After looking around the dam for a bit, we headed back into town, only to be stopped by a group of local guys in a black Audi who offered us a lift.  The concept of hitchiking in Iraq hadn’t struck us before, but we decided to climb in and see what happened.  It turned out that the driver worked in oil (though we worked that out for ourselves from the car) and that his friend was a policeman.  The policeman in particular spoke good English and gave us his phone number to call in case we got into any trouble.  That night we grabbed some food from a Turkish restaurant (which we ate in the dark as power cuts are a regular occurance here) and then headed over to another shisha bar to try some of the “Obama flavour” that they were advertising.  All in all, a brilliant day.

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