Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia
After checking into a hostel in Göreme, Cappadocia, I swiftly met an Ozzie overland (who, admittedly, was very hard not to meet) and we plan to leave the next day to head down to the Ihlara Valley. Most people seem to have traveled there just on a day-trip, taking-in just 2km of the route to visit the carved-out churches, but after having spoken to people who have taken these tours, it seems a real shame not to explore the valley in its entirety. (How to get there.)
The trail snakes 14km or so between the cliffs of the valley, running from Ihlara, via Belısirma, to Selime. The valley dives down into the landscape as though sliced from the rolling plains in which it sits, the sheer cliffs of its sides dropping down as if a waterfall. There are several churches which line the route along the valley, all carved into the rock-face, and are decorated by seccos, although they are almost all heavily damaged by graffiti.
Upon starting the hike, I was glad that we wouldn’t be whizzing through. This place is stunning. The valley floor is surprisingly green at the Ihlara end; we followed the river along, picking wild blackberries, occasionally having to cut our track through where it is overgrown. Not many people take this route, it seems. Near the start of the valley the water is deep enough to swim in, and so we felt compelled to oblige, stripping down to undies for a quick dip.
We arrived in Belısirma as night was falling, hoping to find a place to eat. There were two restaurants, although both offered over-priced food which tempted little - wallets replying with a firm “no!”. We headed a little out of the valley & up into the village, sharing the dirt-track with cows & chickens, and after exhausting all the synonyms for “shop” in any language we knew (before discovering the Turk to be simply “market”) we found the local shop to be closed.
It would be a night on the hillside with empty stomachs. The call to prayer, however, bouncing off the rock-faces from the minarets of the village mosque, added a wonderful soundtrack as I set-up bed for the night, consisting of my sleeping-bag laid down on the dirt, under a clear, starry black sky.
I was dreary-eyed when the morning muezzin echoed through the valley; despite day-time temperatures upwards of 30°, it gets pretty chilly here once the sun disappears, particularly after not having eaten the previous night! But the view, as the sun rose over the valley, made it all very much worthwhile.
We continued our hike up towards Selime, watching the landscape & flora change, and taking another dip in the (freezing) river in lieu of a shower, if not for my sake, for that of the people with whom I’d later share a bus!
I got the adrenaline pumping a second time as I climbed a bit of the rock-face to reach one of the caves, the rock crumbling as I gripped it, several metres up. Muchos respect to the guys who, several hundred years ago, carved-out these caves.
More farmland appeared as we approached Selime, with fields of pumpkins — littered with their fleshy remains after having been raped of their seeds — and the odd apple tree providing a little breakfast.
As the valley opens out, there are some phenomenal cones protruding from the dirt, some of which have been carved-out and were used for dwellings. This volcano-formed landscape is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
It was market time when we reached Selime, so plenty of opportunity to stock-up on fruit as we waited for the bus back to Aksaray which, incidentally, holds the record for the cheapest chicken kebabs yet - 1TL (~ 0.50€).
If you visit Cappadocia, I would highly recommend making time to come & hike this valley. It takes a bit of effort to get here (unless you spend the money on a tour), but to escape a little, the valley offers great seclusion, and is simply beautiful.
More photos on Flickr here
Traveling to Ihlara from Göreme
A bus (15TL) links Göreme to Aksaray, and from here it is possible to get another, local, bus to either Ihlara or Selime, both of which are around 2TL, and run every couple of hours. To hike the entire trail, without having to speed through (thus giving time to explore a little), involves an over-night stay. Campsites exist in Belısirma (half-way up the valley), although we decided to just take sleeping bags and bivouac under the stars.