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Exploring Iraq

Added 12 Dec 2012
Exploring Iraq

Explore’s Megan Freese recently visited Iraqi Kurdistan to explore some of the area. Here she shares some of the highlights of her visit to a country she never thought she’d get to see.

"Let’s face it, it isn’t often that you hear people talking about Kurdistan, Iraq as a holiday destination, but when I found out I was going out there, I couldn’t wait. Part of the pull was just the sheer excitement of the unknown and travelling to a place that in the last 30 years has only seen a handful of western tourists. Was it what I was expecting? No. Was it one of the most memorable travel experiences I have had? Yes!"

My special moments:

The Citadel at Erbil
In the process of being lovingly restored to its former glory. The warm sand-coloured stone citadel, for me, is the architectural treat of Kurdistan. It is said to have been continually inhabited for 8000 years and there is now one lone family living within the walls of the city, during the conservation, to ensure this chain of history is not broken. Although much of it is closed off, with a bit of luck you can find someone to take you through some of the cordoned off sections to see the development taking place and wander the ancient streets.

The most sacred place for the Yazidi Community is nestled in a small green valley. It is a peaceful haven - a place to pray and make wishes. All visitors must walk barefoot through the complex. We were taken around by Luqman, the man who is in charge of the site and he spent a long time talking us through the history and the rituals that take place there. There are swathes of colourful fabric wrapped around the columns in the temple and these have lots of tiny knots in them, each one represents someone’s wish. By undoing a knot you are releasing that wish and making it come true. You then make your own wish, tie a knot in the fabric and wait for someone to come and release your knot and make your wish come true.

Drive to Amadiya
Taking the road West from Dohuk you drive through some of the most beautiful scenery in Kurdistan; crossing hills, following rivers and passing the autumnal coloured trees. Amadiya is a small town built on a rocky outcrop a couple of hours along this road. Our first glimpse of the town was early in the morning and the sun was still low. There was a haze surrounding the plateau; from a distance it looked like the stuff of fairy tales. Wandering through the small streets we visited the old minaret tower, bought some fresh bread and stopped for a cup of tea.

Halabja and the Red Security Building
The last 40 years in Kurdistan’s history have been turbulent and tragic. Everyone you speak to in Kurdistan has a story to tell, every family was affected and everybody has lost someone close to them. Meeting survivors from the gassing in the town of Halabja and visiting the Red Security Building in Sulaymaniyah where many Kurdish people were imprisoned and tortured are not easy experiences and I found both harrowing but the people I met want to share their stories with the world, in order to make sure those who died are remembered and to try to make sure such things do not happen again.

Invitation to eat Pomegranates
On a wet and rainy day we took a visit to Ahmad Awa a small town near the Iranian border. During the summer the banks of the small river are packed full of families eating, drinking and spending time together. Due to the weather it was deserted but as we were leaving my guide Karwan saw a friend of his. He introduced us and we were invited to his family home, where he lives with his parents and two sisters. Although they didn’t speak any English and my Kurdish is limited to a few words, I spent an hour, sitting on the floor, communicating by sign language and sharing pomegranates that they had picked from their garden – magic!

Travel to Kurdistan to discover a place on the brink of opening up to tourism, to see a country regenerating itself, to meet and spend time with warm and welcoming people, to learn about the country’s history and to enjoy its beautiful countryside.

Find out more about our tour of Iraqi Kurdistan.