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.
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.
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.
Shanidar Cave is located in the Barzan area and about 125 km north of Erbil. When looking at it, Shanidar Cave is nothing exciting. It's what they found here which makes it interesting. It's one of 3 places in the world where they found Neanderthal remains. The excavations began in 1951 and led by Professor Solecki. There is a nice parking area here and I think it was about 600 steps up to the cave.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Lake Dokan is the largest lake (270 km2) in Iraqi Kurdistan close to the city of Ranya. It's a reservoir lake on the Little Zab river. I saw some houses around it and a small "developed" area for tourists. When I took a dip in the lake for a while, there was little fish that kept on biting me.
Amedi (also known as Amadiya) is a town in Iraqi Kurdistan in the Governate of Dahuk (also known as Duhok) that lies about 17 km from the Turkish border. When you see pictures of Amedi from the sky, it's very beautiful as the entire town is on a plateau. Once inside it, it's pretty much an average town. The Bahdinan Gate on the west side of the town is interesting to see as it leads down to ground level and is from the 2nd to 1st century BC. There is also a mosque from the 15th century AD that has a minaret that is 33 metres high.
Halabja would be an insignificant little place if Saddam had left it alone...but no, in March 1988, he dropped bombs on the town. Not just any bombs, these didn't explode causing mass destruction, but instead let off an odour of apples. Minutes later, up to 5000 people lay dead or dying in one of the worst chemical attacks on mankind.
Today, Halabja is a forlorn place where rows of white tombstones and mass graves commemorate the dead. On the outskirts of town, the Halabja Monument explains the tragedy in more detail, with guides showing you horrific photos and video footage taken shortly afterwards. This could be a very moving experience, but unfortunately it is all a bit farcical and tacky, with shop mannequins twisted into odd positions in a ghastly recreation of the day's events, guides who laugh and giggle in front of photos of the dead, and a cafe plusher than anything else I've seen in Iraq. A few years ago, the people of Halabja rioted and set the monument on fire...and I can sort of understand why.
Still, if you've come to Iraqi Kurdistan and want to try and understand the country a bit better, Halabja and its survivors deserve a visit.
Slemani (Suleymaniyah in Arabic) is the third of the three big cities in Iraqi Kurdistan. The bazaar here is huge, but although a fascinating area to explore, it isn't the main attraction...Amna Suraka in the newer part of the town holds that title. Meaning "red security", Amna Suraka is the former security prison under Saddam's rule, now just a bullet-holed shell of a building standing as a reminder of the region's past. It has opened as a museum, and contains photos of the victims of Saddam's chemical attacks against the Kurds in the 1980s in a darkened basement. More upbeat are the tahouses, with one in particular standing out...the Sha'ab Chaikhana, where Slemani's intellectuals, poets, novelists and artists gather to slurp tea and slam down dominoes. Also a great base from which to visit the mountains, and if you're up to it, Halabja.
Hewler / Erbil
If you're Kurdish, you call it Hewler, if you're not, you'll know it as Erbil...either way, it is one of the oldest cities on earth. Erbil's citadel has been inhabited for millennia, and up until 2006 it was crammed full of refugees from more volatile regions...now it is like a mini ghost city as UNESCO set about restoring it to its former glory. All around it spreads the Qaysari Bazaar, a mix of covered markets and shopping malls, with an impressive set of fountains in a busy square in the middle. Further afield, signs of old Erbil still exist, a row of mansions here, a minaret there, but Erbil has aspirations to become the Kurdish Dubai, five star hotels and shopping malls stretching off into the distance. Parks are a big feature too, huge ones with fountains and lawns and crowds on Fridays. But the best thing about Erbil? The tamarind ice-cream!
The highlight of my trip was the town of Akre. Arrival wasn't great...the hotel was miles from anywhere and very weird, and on my first outing into town, I was spotted by security police and taken in for questioning. It was all very civil and involved drinking tea mainly, but proves that not too many camera-toting foreigners set foot in this area. Once set free to roam about, I discovered old Akre...a bustling bazaar at the bottom of a mountain, with houses piled on top of each other reached by narrow stairwells. Twenty minutes of climbing later, I was at the summit, with fantastic views of the rooftops below, and entertainment in the way of Kurdish dancing among the ruins of a Jewish holy site. Back down in town, the tea flowed fast and I wasn't allowed to pay for any of it...Akre...I'd go back there...
Amadiyya in Arabic, this fortress-like village is a pleasant and easy day trip from Dohuk. A couple of hours along mountain roads through some stunning scenery brings you to the mountain resort of Sulav, not especially exciting in itself but boasting fantastic views of Amedi towering above it on a hilltop. Amedi looks better from afar, as once inside the village, you soon realise there isn't much of old Amedi left, apart from a few old gates, an old mosque, and a couple of pieces of fortress wall. I'm sure the views from above would have been spectacular, but unfortunately it was very hazy the day I visited. Still, it was worth the trip...especially as my taxi driver stopped to buy some bitter almonds on the way, which we dipped into a packet of salt he kept hidden in his glove compartment. It was also the only place in Iraqi Kurdistan where I met more than one tourist...in fact I met a full half a dozen! You heard it here first: Amedi is on the tourist map, albeit in very tiny letters...
Dohuk in springtime is colourful. Multicoloured houses are strewn about on the green slopes of mountains, the green, white and red Kurdish flag fluttering almost everywhere you look. A thriving bazaar lies at the heart of the city, while a long "Corniche" curves its way from downtown up to the impressive Dohul dam, now a favourite picnic spot. There's not an awful lot to see or do here, but Dohuk has a nice atmosphere, and is a pleasant introduction to all things Kurdish, as well as being a good base from which to visit Amadiya, Sulav, Akre and Lalish.
Sometimes spelt Zakho, this is the first town across the border from Turkey. First impressions aren't great...a queue of lorries heading to Turkey stretches for miles, and it is hard to tell where the lorries end and Zaxo begins, as the outer suburbs look like lorries that have given up waiting, taken off their wheels and laid down to rest. The centre is much more appealing though, with green mountains rising in the background. There's not much in the way of sights, but if you're crossing in the late afternoon, it makes sense to spend your first night in Zaxo to get to grips with the Kurdistani way. One main street packed with moneychangers, kebab stalls, photoshops and chaixanes (teahouses) leads you to a gigantic Kurdish flag on a roundabout. Zaxo's main attraction is a ten minute walk from the centre, Pira Delal, a beautiful old stone bridge over a particularly fast-flowing stretch of the Habur River. You can cross it, then enjoy a cup of tea and perhaps a nargileh at one of the outdoor cafes alongside it.
Throw A Barbecue
One of my Soldiers and I both had a birthday within a few days of one another, so we threw a BBQ to celebrate. We bought a dozen steaks and some burgers from the PX, lit up the grill and started cooking. Since, by military law we aren't allowed alcohol in Iraq (per General Order No. 1) we purchased some near-beer instead (and not the first time;). After hooking up my IPOD to some speakers and blasting out Buckcherry, the medics started showing up to join in the festivities (medics=female). All in all, it was a good way to spend an evening, and celebrate my 25th birthday (I'm getting old :( .
Go To A Foreign Weapons Range
I helped train some US SF guy's on M915 driving, so they helped me out by letting me have some fun out at the range. I took a squad of my Soldier's out, and we shot 12 gauge shotguns, automatic 9mm MP5's, captured Iraqi AK-47's, captured Iraqi 9mm's, and then we played with some C4. All in all, a pretty entertaining day.
Al Tahariyat Square, Baghdad, 0101, IQ
Good for: Business
48 Hashemi Street, Downtown, Amman 11844, Jordan (Formerly Jordan Tower Amman)
Good for: Business
100 Meter Road, After Akar Petrol Station
Good for: Business
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