Zakho Things to Do
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On the way to the bridge, you'll see a huge Kurdish flag on a traffic roundabout. These are a big feature of Kurdistan, and every town has several fluttering away in prime locations...but I didn't know that at the time, so took a few photos.
Apart from the bridge and the flag, Zaxo is a fairly scruffy sort of place...friendly, and not unpleasant, but not really a destination in itself. The market area is small, but worth a look if you're killing time. Zaxo has several mosques and one or two churches, but nothing really old or spectacular...or maybe I just didn't find any.
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Zaxo's big attraction is the old stone bridge over the River Habur. It's not the easiest thing to find without a map, and Zaxo is bigger than it seems at first. Head to the big roundabout with the enormous Kurdish flag at the end of the main street, and turn right, which will take you down to the riverside, and the bridge is about 5 minutes' walk to the left.
The bridge itself is quite high up. There is no hand rail, and it isn't the widest of bridges, so maybe not a crossing for those with vertigo...a steep path leads you over the three stone arches and down to a collection of makeshift sweet stalls on the other side, where you can clamber down to the rocks below and view the rushing river close up. The bridge doesn't really take you anywhere nowadays, as Zaxo pretty much ends on the other side, so the best thing to do is cross back over, where there are a number of outdoor teahouses, some of them offering nargileh.
I bought a packet of biscuits at one of the stalls, and sat down to eat them by the river. The place was empty on a cloudy Wednesday morning, but it wasn't long before I was spotted. A boy, maybe about 6 or 7 years old, dressed in a dirty t-shirt and trousers with holes at the knee, came and asked for a few dinars. I don't like giving money to kids, and I didn't have any small change anyway, so I offered him a biscuit. He took the packet, ate one biscuit and handed the rest back. Take some more, I said...he placed his right hand over his heart, a way of saying no thanks. His name was Ali. He was an Arabic speaker, which surprised me...most kids in Iraqi Kurdistan speak kurdish only, so I asked where he was from. Mosul, he told me. Mosul...one of the most dangerous places in Iraq. Then a bus went past, crammed with kids leaning out the windows screaming and waving and singing. Ali shook my hand, then ran off to wave back at them.
Back to the bridge. I don't know who built it or how old it is, and looking online I can't find it out either, but it's a fine piece of architecture and worth seeking out if you're passing through Zaxo.
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Ask any taxi to take you to Karaj Dohuk, a patch of wasteground some distance from town where shared taxis wait for Dohuk-bound passengers. Iraqi taxis only take four passengers, and as this is close to a border and Dohuk is a major city not too far away, you won't have to wait long. 6000 dinars (roughly £3.50) is all it costs for the hour long trip to Dohuk.
The trip is spectactular in two senses. First you have the mountain scenery leaving Zaxo, and secondly you have a six lane highway with no lane markings. The gradient is steep, the corners are tight, and signs shout "Danger of Death" at regular intervals. Taxis speed past slower cars on either side, they're not fussy. Also, they're not too bothered whether they drive on the right or on the left when it comes to oncoming traffic. Add in a few too many long lorries attempting to take corners without braking, and you have a white-knuckle ride. But don't think you can show your fear...oh no, you're meant to sit back and not even flinch as you narrowly miss colliding with the taxi that's hurtling towards you flashing its lights, its driver just as reckless as yours. Thankfully things calm down a bit once you reach flatter ground.
Once in Dohuk, taxis drop you off close to the main street outside the Hotel Bircin, where all the taxi offices are...very handy if you want to carry on to Hewler (Erbil) straight away.
To the Turkish border at Ibrahim Khalil, you can take a normal taxi from the street and bargain hard...it should be between 5000 and 10000 dinars, even though it isn't more than ten minutes away. Your driver will take you to the taxi rank at the border complex, where you can find onward transport to Silopi, Cizre and beyond...but don't leave it too late in the day to cross, as most vehicles are made to wait several hours on both sides of the crossing.