Kackar mountains

Full set of photos of the trip to Yaylalar and Yaylalar itself

In the morning we drove from Yusufeli to a tiny village with a stream running through it.  The previous night we told Nuri that we would like to do a bit more walking so we parked the car in the village and walked 7km up the dirt road along a burbling stream with blossom everywhere, bees buzzing, squirrels squirrelling, blue skies and a warm sun.  Nuri kept his casual suit jacket on but let it hang loose from his shoulders to let heat escape from his body.  Two old local men wandering down the path quizzed Nuri on why we weren’t driving to the church, the answer being that it is sometimes more pleasant to walk, especially on such a fine day with a river running, abundant cherries and fresh drinking water running freely from taps.  “It’s much better here in summer,” Nuri told us, pointing out the spot where he plucked fresh fruit of the trees with another tour group.

The church was fantastic, in a beautiful remote spot halfway between the ‘winter village’ below us and the ‘summer village’ above where the locals relocate when the temperatures warm up. The Otkhta church was built in the 11th century as well and housed a nunnery.  It is another in this area that you just wander around in as though it has been abandoned in someone’s backyard.

After wandering back downhill we had lunch at a guesthouse by the river, comprising barbecued chicken wings and fresh salad which was quite delicious, but not as good as the dried mulberries and walnuts for dessert which came from the trees we were sheltering under.  It was a very relaxed afternoon but we had to make a move to head into the Kackar Mountains before it got dark.

The Kackars are a remote range with only a few villages scattered up and down its slopes.  Strictly speaking it was a bit early in the season to be driving to the highest village but we thought it was worth a shot.  The road into the mountains has recently been expanded, which simply means that rather than being a single lane for its entire length there are now some areas that can accommodate two cars.  This means much less reversing should you encounter a car coming the other way.  Nuri explained in detail how careful a driver he was and how well he knew these roads.  The trick, he said, was not to go too fast around these blind corners.  At night you could tell someone else was coming by the approaching headlights, but not in the daytime.  We then nearly had a head-on collision with a car coming over a rise.  “You see!” he exclaimed triumphantly. “If I go faster we have accident.”  He then abused the young kid driving the other car who just looked thoroughly confused by this old man.  Nuri then undid all his good work on the way down by almost running into a truck coming the other way, and this time Nuri was at fault, but it didn’t stop him railing against the driving habits of others as he committed the same sins.

The narrow road twisted through another stunning valley with the mountains getting bigger the further in we went.  We stopped at a small village for Nuri to recharge with tea and have a quick look at another impressive church that is kept locked ever since the local imam ran off with all the church’s gold (Christian booty).  Nuri hinted that two brothers he was friends with, even though he didn’t like them, were somehow involved with the robbery.  We bumped into the brothers at the tea house where Nuri warmly embraced them.

The higher we went into the mountains, the more snow was piled up by the side of the road.  Just before reaching the old stone bridge the snow was as high as the car on both sides of the road.  We drove 15 minutes further to the end of the road, through what felt like a tunnel of snow either side of the road.  The view of the mountains in the advancing twilight was spectacular.  “It’s much better in summer, super,” Nuri informed us.

We stayed in the village of Yaylalar that night at accommodation that Nuri promised was not 5-star but “10-star!”  In the end it was fine, a hotel built with pinewood so that it smelled like a sauna and was just as hot once the heating was cranked into action.  “Wait until you see the hotel in Kars,” Nuri promised us.  It was owned by the DSI government infrastructure body but he could get us in because a friend of his was the head engineer.  “The president stays there when he’s in town and it will only cost you $30 a night!”.

While we waited for the Yaylalar hotel rooms to heat up, Nuri and the hotel owner drank tea and played backgammon.  We sat next to the wood stove and did such internet related tasks as are beholden to the modern traveller.  When it was time for dinner we were treated to a local feast: cabbage rolls, lentil soup and fresh yoghurt for dessert.  Perhaps not the best ingredients to give the digestion just before a road trip but it went down very well with the requisite sour cherry juice, to which we were slowly becoming quite addicted.

We awoke the next day to sun twinkling off the snow.  Nuri had been talking up the breakfast at this hotel since the trip started and it was indeed excellent with about a dozen varieties of jam and fresh honey.  We considered it good fuel for a day of sightseeing, but Nuri promised us that the breakfast at the DSI hotel was even better.  “It’s ah-maizy!”

Full set of photos of the trip to Yaylalar and Yaylalar itself

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