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The Yezidi holy site of Lalish was where I had hoped to be taken on my day trip from Dohuk, but my taxi driver mistakenly took me to Al Qosh first. We then backtracked and got very lost trying to find Lalish, hidden away in a valley just behind Dohuk, arriving not long before sunset. Visitors are expected to remove their shoes and socks at the entrance to the village, although my taxi driver refused, as it was pouring with rain, and nobody seemed to mind. We wandered around the deserted village, peeking into small tombs and temples, while waiting for the Sheikh of the main temple to let us in and show us around. We must have arrived at a difficult time for the village, as the sheikh was busy dealing with some Yezidi guests and asked us to wait by the door. We waited and waited, but nobody came. Through the door, I managed to see the carving of a snake on the wall by the entrance to the main inner temple, but as the sun went down, we were told by a guardian at the temple that no visitors were allowed to enter once the fires had been lit. We watched him then walk around the village with a fire, lighting candles and fires by every temple. It was a very peaceful place, but our timing was unfortunate and I feel I didn't learn much about the mysterious Yezidi faith during my visit. Maybe a return is in order.
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On the Nineveh Plains, between Erbil and Dohuk, close to the hotspot of Mosul, are several Christian villages where Aramaic is still spoken alongside Arabic. Al Qosh is probably the most accessible, and an easy half day trip from Dohuk by taxi, assuming your taxi driver knows where he is going! Mine was hired to take me to Lalish, but we ended up in Al Qosh much to our surprise, and without really knowing anything about the town, we discovered some old stone churches with Aramaic inscriptions, stone houses with beautiful doors, and a house decorated as if it is Christmas every day. Up in the hills behind Al Qosh is an ancient monastery, but we didn't have the time or the inclination (it was pouring with rain and the track was muddy) to find it this time. Kurdish is not spoken by everyone, so my taxi driver felt a bit uneasy at first, not being able to communicate easily, which was strange as this is only half an hour or so from Dohuk where he grew up...but he soon relaxed and became a tourist himself for the day, taking more photos than I did! Al Qosh is also one place in Kurdistan where you are likely to see more Iraqi flags than Kurdish ones.
I had to confess that I did not know anything about Hatra before travelling to Iraq.
I travelled there together with four more Spaniards, since moving around that country individually was forbidden (it was the year 2001).
In the two weeks program we had many exciting visits along the country, from Mosul to Karbala. With always came a driver and a guide.
We stopped for a few hours in Hatra. One of my companions was very excited and told me that Hatra was the capital of the Kingdom of Araba and was founded over 2000 years ago. Then it was a caravanserai during the Silk Road times owing to its strategic position.
Hatra consisted in a whole complex of ruins, but the feeling to be there and walking around the ruins and the rest of the palaces was pleasant. There were some men that I supposed were the guardians of that site.
In fact the site was impressive.
When I received all the information about Hatra from my companion and from our guide, I started to appreciate more the place, even enjoying it entering in the old palaces.
After the visit to Hatra we headed to Nineveh.Related to:
- Castles and Palaces
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St. Matthew's Monastery
St. Matthew's Monastery or the Monastery of Mar Matta was one of my favourite individual sites I visited in Iraq. It is of Syrian Orthodox faith. Located about 30 km north of Mosul, it's in an area out of Iraqi Kurdistan but still quasi controlled by the Kurds. The entrance had a cop from the Republic of Iraq. The monastery was founded in the 4th century and has been in almost continuous use since then except for a few periods. In 480, it caught fire and was mostly destroyed. It was abandoned again in 1171 and in the 1200s it became a place for criminals and gangs after it was ransacked. In the 1970s it was renovated but not done entirely accurate, but still nice. Today families come to stay for a bit and students study to become priests. There was this old, short priest who spoke excellent English and was very nice. The church was nice except for the red string lights that would flash on and off.
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From my experience, there is only one reason to visit this city that's around 9 miles from the Iranian border. On March 16th, 1988, Halabja was the site of one of the darker moments of humanity in recent history. Part of the Al Anfal Campaign or the Kurdish Genocide, bombs were dropped on Halabja that released a sweet apple smell. Now the reason they choose that smell is because a sweet smell is easily inhaled. The chemical weapons killed 5000 people immediately and shortly after while many more eventually died of suffered long term health problems.
There is a monument (second photo) near the entrance of the city to this attack. The monument is nicely done with photos of the city before and after the attack. What made it for me was there was a survivor of the attack that showed me around. That day, 38 of 40 of his family members died. He is in one of the most famous photos of the attack. He was only 2 years older than I. Inside the city there is a cemetery where many of the victims of the attack are buried in mass graves. There is a sign at the entrances not allowing Baath members entrance. At the back, there are many grave stones representing families that died during that attack. The city itself is not very exciting. There is new construction now going on. For years, many politicians would come to Halabja promising aid. For the longest time, they did nothing. After a while, the residents had enough and rioted, destroying the monument. That got the politicians' attention for a least a little bit.
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The Red Security Muesuem
The Amna Suraka or the Red Security Museum is located in Sulaymaniyah. It's original use was the northern headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service from 1979-1991. Here they imprisoned, tortured and killed thousands of Kurds. It was said you could here the screams of the tortured for kilometres away. They would keep 60 people in tiny little cells and allow out for only a couple of minutes a day to use the washroom. They had a separate area for kids and another area for pregnant women and those who had recently gave birth. After the Kurdish Uprising, this place was taken over and basically became a home for a whole lot of squatters. After it became a museum, they had to clean it up. So the displays are not original but done to make it look as it did back in they day. You can wonder around various places. They have statues representing the torture that happened here. Documents are on display and some military equipment left over from the Kurdish Uprising is outside. Today they hold concerts and charity fundraisers here.Related to:
- Museum Visits
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Duhok also spelled as Dahuk and Dohuk is a city in northern Iraq and also the capital of the Duhok Governorate. This will probably be your first main city you'll visit if you are traveling overland from Turkey. It's a city of over a quarter of a million people. It is a pleasant city although I didn't spend much time here. It has a large bazaar downtown and city is pleasant to look at with mountains as a backdrop to the north and the Tigris river isn't that far away. I don't remember the name of it but there is a really good restaurant with what seems like over a hundred tables outside on a grassy area along the main road. Duhok is fairly close to many sites in Northern Iraq. There is a good selection of hotels and there were a fair amount of tourist buses visiting from other places in Iraq.
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Ahmed Awa Waterfall
There are actually a few waterfalls in Iraq. Ahmed Awa is very close to the Iranian border not far from Halabja. The road up to is quite rough along a valley. They were improving it when I went which is good for tourists but bad for the local economy. A few of the locals would make their money driving people up to the falls. As you walk towards the falls, there a lot of people selling various different things. Once you are there, there is a small restaurant and some rest areas. You can walk quite close to the falls but they are fenced off. The amount of water varies a fair bit between dry and wet seasons. If you look at Google images, you'll see a same pic as my second picture but during the wet season.
Ahmed Awa waterfall is in the area where the 3 American hikers were detained by Iranian authorities in 2009 and later released in 2011. The third picture is the mountain they were hiking on.
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Sulaymaniyah Museum of Antiquites
The Sulaymaniyah Museum of Antiquities is considered to be the second best museum in Iraq after the National Museum of Iraq. The building itself and how they put they display the artifacts is ho hum at best, but considering you're in Iraq, it's not bad. Also the fact that many of the locals are not really interested in their rich history doesn't help. The artifacts on the other hand are fairly impressive. Starting at the beginning, the displays start at around 100,000 BC. They have a good variety of artifacts through various ages of their history up to about 100 years ago. Some of the displays I quite enjoyed was the pottery coffin complete with a skeleton, old coins and the armour.
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Lalish is basically what the Vatican City is to Christianity or what Mecca is to Islam for the Yazidi religion. Yazidi is a faith among Kurds with most of the followers living in Nineveh province in Iraq. They believe God is the creator of the world, then under him are seven angels with the Peacock Angel being his favourite. There has been a long misconception that they are devil worshipers. For the Yazidis, this is where the universe began. Here is where the tomb of Sheikh Adi who became the saint for the Yazidis.
Lalish is located in a nice little valley that gives a good backdrop to the place. Walking around in the main shrine area, you must take your shoes off and always step over and not on any thresholds. Outside you can see the many spots for olive oil torches. I wasn't here at night but I'd imagine it would be quite the experience with all these torches. Several of the entrances have nice carvings around them. Once inside the shrine, there is a nice contrast between the grays of the place with the colourful cloths that are inside. Many of these cloths have knots tied in them. Those knots are wishes. If you want to make a wish, you must untie a knot first, which makes that wish come true, then you tie your knot for your wish. There are several rooms, some with olive oil jugs for the torches. There is one spot where there are two holes next to each other. You stand a distance away and toss a rock. If it goes into the smaller hole, you are going to heaven, if it goes into the big hole, you're on your way to hell. Outside in the area surrounding the shrine, there are many residences for Yazidi families. They are free to live in. Once one family moves out, another can move in for free.Related to:
- Religious Travel
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This citadel is probably one of the first things people become familiar with when they research Iraqi Kurdistan. It has been continuously inhabited for the last 7,000 years. This may make it the oldest continuously site in the world. Though only one family currently lives there during the restoration in order to maintain the continuously inhabited title. Currently it's on the road to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site so there is a lot of little things going on. Because of this, when I was there I had to stick to the main areas and the little alley ways were off limits. The citadel covers an area of around 102,000 square meters on top of this mound or hill. Over the years, different civilizations occupied and the buildings that remain are from the Ottoman time period. The Kurdish Textile Museum is located here as well as a trinket shop. The statue of Ibn Al-Mistawfi is at the entrance to the citadel at he overlooks the fountain park. The covered bazaar is right next to here. It's a place you can easily relax around evening time.
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Sulaymaniyah is the second city of Iraqi Kurdistan and it's most beautiful. It is surrounded by several mountain ranges. Sulaymaniyah also has an international airport that has flights to Germany, Jordan, Turkey and the UAE. This city has a population of around 1.5 million and is the capital of Sulaymaniyah Province. It's a university city with about 4 universities here so you can feel the strong sense of culture here as it is the cultural capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. There are numerous art galleries, museums and parks here. Also there is a good variety of restaurants here and even a western movie theatre. The bazaar here is huge and you can easily spend some good time in here. I remember eating at a restaurant on top of a hotel at night time. You could have easily felt as if you were in a European city.
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The Hamilton Road, built by Archibald Hamilton between 1928-1932 is a road that goes through Iraqi Kurdistan to the Iranian border. Back in the day it was considered an engineering marvel. Even today, you can appreciate it. I liked how sections of the valley weren't tunneled through but carved out. Much of the road has been widened or even built new road on the other side of the valley. There are original sections still remaining that you can walk along. Unfortunately when people come to enjoy it here, they seem to like to leave their garbage here. Much of the valley the Hamilton Road is in is very scenic. There area I walked around in is near Rawanduz.
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Erbil, also known as Arbil and Hawler in Kurdish is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. This is where I entered the country from. The modern airport here receives flights from Doha, Dubai, Frankfurt, Vienna, Amman and several other European and Middle Eastern cities. Erbil with a population of around 1.9 million in 2012 is city with lots of history. It's one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world with an urban population dating back to at least 6,000 BC. Erbil is also a city on the move. It has drastically changed since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. There are now fancy hotels and fancy shopping malls. It isn't the prettiest of cities but there are several sites for the tourist. The main attraction is the Citadel which is pretty much in the middle of the city. There is the covered bazaar next to the Citadel, the 36 metre high minaret, and several parks.
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Saddam Hussein had over 40 palaces across Iraq and was said to not have visited all of them. He had staff at all of them and they were required to make breakfast, lunch and dinner at all of them. He didn't announce his travel plans out of fear. So if he randomly showed up at one them, food had to be ready in case him and his companions were hungry. The palace I visited was destroyed during the Kurdish Uprising.
I have not accommodated personally in this hotel,but the entrance of it was truely a state of...more
48 Hashemi Street, Downtown, Amman 11844, Jordan (Formerly Jordan Tower Amman)
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