Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Iraqi Kurdistan - Dohuk and Erbil

I am in Iraqi Kurdistan.  This part of Iraq is safe to visit, unlike the rest of Iraq.  The Kurdish Regional Government has its own military (the Peshmerga) and they control the border with Turkey.  You hardly ever see the Iraqi flag, and when you do, it's always alongside the Kurdish flag.  The sectarian violence that characterizes much of the rest of Iraq does not happen in Iraqi Kurdistan, for the most part.  However there are some places, such as Mosul and Kirkuk which are just outside of the area controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government, and which are extremely dangerous.

Yesterday I got a bus from Mardin to Dohuk, the nearest major city to the Turkish border.  The bus left Mardin about 11:45AM on Friday.  Not long after leaving Mardin, we traveled right along the Syrian border.  The road that goes towards Iraq runs mostly parallel to the Syrian border until reaching the town of Cizre in Turkey.  In some areas the border fence is right by the side of the road, and we could see Syrian towns on the other side of the border.  Just past Cizre the Tigris River forms the Syrian border.  The border seems very heavily fortified.  There were lots of watchtowers and military activity on the Turkish side.
That fence is the Syrian border fence.

Cizre, Turkey bus station.  The little kids were begging for money.

Iraqi Dinars

Around 3PM, as we started to get closer to the Iraqi border, trucks (almost all Turkish - they seem to do a lot of commerce with Iraqi Kurdistan) were lined up for miles, not moving at all.  A lot of the truck drivers were outside of their trucks, chatting with each other.  We went right past all that.

At the Turkish checkpoint we had to all get off the bus and get stamped out of Turkey.  Then we got back on the bus and went to another checkpoint, where had to take all of our luggage and put it through a scanner.  Then the bus company took all of our passports to hand over to the Kurdish authorities, after  which we went to a huge waiting hall where they called out our names and handed us our stamped passports.  There was a whole lot of waiting around, and by the time we were back on the road it was probably about 6PM.

We stopped again to get fuel, not long after passing the border (because it's so much cheaper than in Turkey, I assume).  By the time we arrived in Dohuk, it was after 7PM.  The bus dumped us on the outskirts of the city but with some help I was able to get a taxi.  I wasn't sure where I was going to stay but I just picked a hotel that, from the Lonely Planet description looked promising and asked to go there (the other hotels are all pretty close to there anyway).  I ended up staying at that hotel, the Hotel Bircin, because it seemed okay enough, and I didn't feel like doing a bunch of looking around.

Just outside my hotel in Dohuk

The center of Dohuk

In the market - picked vegetables

A shop and the owner.

The next morning I went and found the "garage" for taxis to Erbil.  In Iraqi Kurdistan, a garage is a place where drivers of shared taxis go to wait for passengers.  I found a taxi headed to Erbil.  After waiting about half an hour we had a full car and we went with five adults and a child crammed into that car.

The garage in Dohuk where you go to get a shared taxi

The driving was quite frightening - about like I experienced in Georgia and Armenia.  To make things more interesting, the road leading out of Erbil is a wide, new looking road with a few lanes of traffic in each direction.  But there are no lanes drawn on the road - not even a center line.  So the drivers just have to judge where the lanes are, and where the center of the road is.

There were many military checkpoints, manned by the Kurdish military - the regular Iraqi army is not even in this part of Iraq.  Most of the ones we were just waved through,  until we got closer to Erbil.  There we had to produce our documents a couple of times.

I am staying at the Kotri Salam (Peace Pigeon) hotel in Erbil.  It's right in the center of the city, right next to the market and the Citadel.  With the market right here, there are a lot of interesting things to see.

Helva (or halvah) in the market.

Dates and other stuff.

The wires are a mess

The Citadel, right in the middle of the city next to the market.

Road signs

Hawler is Kurdish for Erbil.

Enjoying the park

Entrance to my hotel

Place next to the hotel where I had lunch

The infrastructure kind of reminds me of India.

Food is less inexpensive in Iraqi Kurdistan than in Turkey.  Hotels are a little more expensive - depending on your standards.  I think you can stay in some quite cheap places here, but some of them look pretty bad.  They drink tea here that looks just like Turkish tea, served in the same little tulip shaped glasses.  But it is served already sweetened, and they put tons of sugar in it.  It's like drinking a little glass of hot syrup.

This morning my main task was to figure out how I am going to get back to Turkey tomorrow.  The guy at the hotel desk told me that one of the bus companies that goes to Turkey has an office at the Family Mall - a shopping center on the outskirts of the city.  So I got a taxi out there.  I walked around in the mall and didn't see a bus company office.  Then I asked someone and they pointed to a place down the road where there is a new bus station behind a huge gas station.  I went in and found the bus company and was able to get a ticket for tomorrow to Diyarbakır.  Unfortunately it's an afternoon bus that gets into  Diyarbakır in about 5:00 the next morning (and I figure a good chunk of that time will be spending several hours at the border).  So that's going to be grim.  I will probably just get the next bus to Van as soon as I arrive in Diyarbakır, then spend a day or so there before heading to Iran.

Family Mall in Erbil

Glum cheese seller in the market.

Musical instruments near the market.

Fountain in the middle of Erbil

1 comment:

  1. Hi Charles! I was just wondering why you didn't take a bus straight from Erbil to Iran? I was hoping to do that next month...