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Hitchhiking to Nemrut Dagi: one hilarious self-organized trip

So I am in Urfa and I really want to visit Mount Nemrut – you know, the one with the massive statues at the top.

The manager of the unpretentious hotel I stay in claims that he organizes the best and the cheapest tours to the peak and the surrounding ancient sites. Quotes a price of 1000 lira, which as of August 2022 is around 55 euro.

I say to myself, “No way, Hose!“. There must be a cheaper alternative. It’s only like 200 km to there.

So I make up a plan to go to Karadut, the closest settlement with any hotels (you can find them on Booking, but if you’re already in Turkey you will need VPN as it’s technically blocked) to the peak and hike the next day.

Karadut is 12 km away from Mount Nemrut at 700 m. ascent. I was prepared to walk it up and down but also had the intention of hitching any vehicle that passes. In Southeast Turkey, hitchhiking has a 95% success rate and usually, the first car will stop.

It’s morning time the next day and I wake up at 7 AM to start the hike. It’s an asphalt road and almost no shade. Early in the morning, the temperature is fine, but if you expect green surroundings, you’re in for a surprise. I walk for 20 minutes before the first car appears, but doesn’t stop. Looks like it’s not bound for Nemrut as it turns shortly after. Another 90 minutes go by without a single car going up. The road is getting steeper.

Five more to go

And then another car appears! I wave my thumb, and the woman in the driver’s seat waves back at me, but it’s this index finger left to right and back motion that indicates she won’t stop. It passes by me. 100 meters farther the car stops. Jackpot.

As I catch up to it, the back seat opens and an old man hunches out and throws up on the pavement.

Is he okay?
Tamam, tamam (okay, okay)”

I take out my water bottle and offer it to him. He rinses. I wonder if they stopped to take me or for him to be sick. The whole back door is smeared in dried vomit.

Nemrut Dagi?”
Evet, get in”

It’s a family. The woman drives, and her husband navigates. There’s a jolly 3-year-old on the back with his grandpa next to him.

She starts the car but releases the clutch too quickly (I presume. The car may have had some problems with starting on a slope) and the engine stops. The car goes backward and she hits the brakes. She starts the car again and the same thing happens. The steering wheel is turned, so when the car goes backward it also goes towards the curb, however, there’s no curb and it’s just sand and rocks. A 2-meter cliff. I wish I had pictures. This repeats at least 5 times and we are now very close to the cliff so we get out to ease the weight. The woman starts the engine again and… goes backward again. The car is now only 20 cm away from the cliff. We start pushing the car, but nothing happens until she switches to neutral and the car moves forward. Phew. Can this woman drive?

The family at the parking of Mount Nemrut

In all fairness, once it was moving, she was a very good driver. We reached Nemrut Dagi in about 10 minutes and got our tickets from the restaurant that meets the guests a kilometer before the summit.

The restaurant and visitor center

The ticket costs 50 TL as of August 2022. It’s another 2-minute drive up about 400 meter worth of stairs afterward. We were at the top. The views were amazing.

Now about Mount Nemrut. It’s 2134 m. high and people go there for nothing else, but the impressive statues erected in the 1st century BC. It’s assumed to be the mausoleum of Antiochus I, king of the ancient Greco-Iranian kingdom of Commagene, then a small region in the Taurus mountains.

The statues are of animals (an eagle and a lion), Antiochus I, Heracles, Zeus, Apollo, and Kommagene, the goddess of fertility. The bodies are on a platform above the heads, which had broken off and ordered below.

Admiring all the statues and the scenery, as well as hiking up and down took us around an hour. The family didn’t speak English at all, whereas my Turkish is limited to about 200 words. Still, it was implicit, that they would take me back to Karadut.

We got in the car again and drove down. This is a good opportunity to introduce a map with the main attractions of the region.

Going down to Karadut is pretty straightforward. Literally. However, at the first intersection, the woman swerved right and we got on the road to Arsemia. I wasn’t in any hurry, so I just tagged along. It was at this point that I also realized the man wasn’t quite good with maps and none of them had a good idea of what was where. I was slowly becoming their guide as the car stopped in front of Arsemia, but she believed that only after I confirmed it was indeed the ancient fortress.

Not much to do there. The fortress is small, there’s a little cove with a well full of water and two stone slabs with what the info tables claim to be the oldest Greek inscriptions in the region.

As we go back to the car the man grabs a 10-litre bottle and fills it with water. He then proceeds to (I assumed) wash the car. He pours some on the tires and they hiss as if very, very hot. He pours water on the hood of the car, ostensibly cooling it. I doubt its efficacy.

We continue towards Yenikale which is only a few minutes away by car. At this point, I am stuck with them as Karadut is more than 25 km away and very, very few cars go this route. Communication is difficult, but I explain that if they leave me at Kahta, I can take the shuttle back to Karadut. All is fine.

Then the woman stops the car 1 km before Yenikale’s entrance and we all go out. The man opens the trunk, we each get a bottle and they explain that we need to go under the bridge to fill them in and cool the car. I’m like: What the actual…but I go along. I forgot to mention that the little kid is all smiling in general, but also throws a tantrum every time it has to walk more than 100 meters on its own, so his mother or father carry him often. He starts crying again, I have no idea why.

We reach a small spring and I fill in my bottle. The man claims it’s dirty water and wants to fill water from the river. ?!?! It’s all muddy and wet everywhere, the kid is crying, and the mother and the grandpa are a bit cranky as well. They discuss and we go back to fill in water from the spring I found. I feel more and more like their tour guide by now. I even took the kid in my arms so the mother can cross a muddy patch, which she failed miserably and got all dirty. It was a total mess.

We go back to the car and do some more pouring on the hood and the tires. I am not sure why he thinks that it’s cooling the engine. We go in and I notice the temperature indicator doesn’t go above 90 Celsius as we travel the last 1 km to Yenikapi. That’s surely okay for an engine!

Yenikapi, meaning New Castle is quite breathtaking as it throws a shadow over the surrounding areas. Here are some pictures:

Once we go back to the car I expect we will go to Cendere Bridge – an old Roman bridge that’s usually part of itineraries of the region. The car turns around towards where we came from and I ask about it. The woman says we will go to Karadut, drop me off and they will continue onwards to Adyaman. Cool, I can vibe with that. I follow the car on the map as we get to a fork in the road at Karadibi – where we stopped for Arsemia. There’s some deliberation going on. I tell them that both work, but better takes the same road, as we know it’s good. The other is 2 km shorter, but we don’t know its state. Of course, this happens in a mix between English, Turkish, and sign language and I frantically hurry to translate stuff on my phone to be able to join the discussion. Too late, the man is certain that it’s the road to the right, the shorter one.

The first kilometer was bad, but not terrible. After that, there was no road. Dirt, dust, and rocks littered the way. We were almost at the top of this hill when the rocks were just too many, the woman didn’t switch gears quick enough and the engine died. She reignited, released the clutch too quickly, the car went backward, brake, and repeat. You know it. After more than 7 attempts the car was already out of the road with one wheel. I am struggling to contain myself from saying “I told you so.

It’s stuck.

A fight ensues. The man claims it’s just one more kilometer, to which the grandpa starts mocking him and the woman is furious. The kid is crying, everything is mayhem. The man goes to check behind the corner to see what the state of the road there is. Comes back and proclaims it’s 300 meters until asphalt. In the meanwhile, the woman switched to neutral, moved the car backward away from the big stones, started the engine, and successfully moved forward to more even ground. We go back in the car, the kid falls asleep in his father’s lap in the front seat. Everything is peaceful again.

They dropped me off at Karadut and we waved goodbye. A trip that would otherwise have cost me 1000 lira was completed in 125 (95 from Urfa to Kahta and 30 for the shuttle from Kahta to Karadut). And of course – an unforgettable memory.

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