Even the tiniest rock in the mosaic of the Anatolian civilizations shines with immense brightness. Tunceli, with its mountainous geography, offers visitors a great holiday, that’s guaranteed!
I turned left at the Kovancılar province on the Elazığ-Bingöl road, and passed over the bridge of the gushing Peri Suyu (stream). I’ve reached Tunceli! The road led me to the area where the water of the Munzur River and the Keban Dam meet. The water is turquoise blue and looks absolutely fascinating. It virtually resembles a stork paradise here: the storks have made nests on almost all of the power supply posts and they continuously fly back and forth from the nests to feed their hungry chicks…
The difficult mountainous geography enlivened with turquoise rivers has turned Tunceli into one of the flourishing domestic tourism destinations in Turkey. The city that hosts skiing and snowboard enthusiasts at its Ovacık ski resort in winter months offers the facilities of a coastal city in the summer months. When beaches were formed on the shores of the Pulumur and Munzur Rivers with sand from sea resorts, Tunceli was almost transformed into a coastal city. Boats and jet skis circle the dam’s lake, and tourists board the tour boats from the piers -it resembles the Mediterranean or Aegean region here!
Furthermore, Tunceli has become popular with its natural beauty, trekking, and more recently for its rafting facilities, and at the beginning of June, Turkey is hosting the R4 World Rafting Championships for the first time in Tunceli. Competitions will be held on the Munzur River. Almost 800 sportspeople from 20 countries will be competing in the championships.
As I noticed the modern campus of the Munzur University appearing on the hill on my left, I realized I was approaching the current city center of Tunceli, that has been a settlement site since around 5500 BC, and has hosted many states and civilizations since the Hurrians. There are official buildings in the area of the city’s western shore of the Munzur. On the east of the Munzur, the road lined with houses and apartment buildings extends towards the city shopping center that has many grocery stores, greengrocers, cafés, restaurants, a post office, and a city hall. The area is bustling with people. The shopping center is completed with a small square and a five-star hotel built on the ridge of a mountain. Although the road ends here, the stairway in front of me leads down to the recreation facilities on the Munzur shore.
First I stopped off for a tea break, then I began to wander around the shopping area. A woman that appeared before me said, “Welcome, come and sit down, I will make you a coffee,” and leading me to the bakery she owns, she sat me down on a stall outside. As I was waiting for the coffee I noticed a woman, a shoe cleaner who set her equipment up on the pavement waiting for customers holding a copy of Cicero’s De republica in her hand. After all, Tunceli was ranked the top city for education/literacy in the Turkish Statistical Institute’s survey Quality of Life Index; that’s why I was not that surprised.
The people of Tunceli, with their devotion to the Ahl al-Bayt/Alevi branch of Islam, own a special place in the cultural mosaic of Turkey. Evidence of this has spread across the entire geography; they are devoted to the Alevi elders believed to be miracle workers buried on the tops of various mountains and visit these tombs frequently. I am on my way to visit one of these, the tomb of Düzgün Baba, on a mountain 2,097 meters high. Even though it is difficult to reach, the mountain is crowded. The people are burning candles and distributing lokma (Turkish delight), animals are sacrificed, and offered to the visitors.
The next day, I set out for the Munzur Valley National Park. The road following along the valley is spectacular; the Munzur River that flows at the bottom of a deep canyon can be seen from above, then the road continues at the same level as the raging waters of the river where the 2019 World Rafting Championship was held. In 1971, the area was declared a national park; in addition to wild animals including the chamois mountain goat, bears, wolves, and foxes, the park is home to more than 1,200 species of plants, 217 of which are endemic. I remember hearing on the news that an Anatolian spotted newt, an endangered species, was captured on camera. Unfortunately, as the season has passed, I will not be able to see the region’s famous flower, the “inverted tulip.” The park is perfect for visitors that want to camp, come for a picnic, and take part in nature walks. And what’s more, there is plenty of fish in the river…
I am reaching the end of the valley covered with oak and poplar trees. In front of me is the flat Ovacık Plateau, and beyond the Munzur Mountains that are more than 3,000 meters high; the foot of the mountains is green, the top of the mountains pure white. Traveling a few kilometers more, I reached the Munzur Gözeleri (springs). After passing the stands selling tea, gözleme (filled flatbread), traditional clothing, souvenirs, and candles, I am confronted with a breathtaking view: white foamy water is gushing from beneath the rocks, from on top of the rocks, in between the rocks -in other words from everywhere. These springs that flow down the green, rocky slopes forming small waterfalls are the main source of the Munzur River.
As hunger began to overpower me, I headed towards Ovacık to eat. Although this city is famous for its purple globe daisies that bloom after the snowdrops, as these disappear in spring I will not be able to see these flowers before I return. In Ovacık, the sac kavurma (meat cooked in a steel pan), kuru fasulye (dried beans in sauce), the meals made with kenger (cardoon), gulik (onion weed), or gruz (bugloss) enriched with egg or çökelek (skim-milk cheese) are delicious. However, I really enjoyed the meal called zerfet, similar to ravioli with yoghurt.
After sitting there for a while, I set off towards the Pulumur Valley. Even if I am unable to see any of them, just knowing that this geography is home to animals like the long-horned mountain goats, bears, otters, lynx, and even Anatolian panthers excites me. The valley offers a great environment for camping and picnics. In addition to swimming on the beaches created on the shores of the Pulumur River, the surroundings promise a walking route full of adventure with the Zenginpınar waterfalls, canyons, and rocky slopes. Unfortunately, my time here is limited, and I want to see the Ağlayan Kayalar (Crying Rocks). With the arrival of summer, the snow waters that freeze and turn into icicles in the winter form tiny waterfalls in some places, while in other places they flow like tears rolling down the rocks.
After spending the night in Tunceli, I woke up early and continued my tour. This time I will be traveling to the south to visit the cities of Mazgirt and Pertek.
Mazgirt, with its ruins from the Urartians, and Peri Suyu Valley, appeal not only to rafters but also those who enjoy river tours. Touring on the rented boats, following the mountain goats rock climbing on the slopes surrounding both sides of the valley are among the things to do here. For a more relaxing day, visitors are welcomed by the hot therapeutic springs of Bağın Kaplıcaları called “Saklı Cennet” or hidden paradise on the shores of the Peri Suyu. But I must leave, I have been invited on a “Blue Cruise” in Tunceli, a geography hundreds of kilometers from the sea. Both the turquoise color of the Keban Dam Lake and its deep bays resembling fjords compete with the Aegean and Mediterranean regions with its beauty. With the dam’s rising waters, the historical Pertek Castle was transformed into an island. We are boarding a ferryboat that was converted into a tour boat with an enthusiastic crowd departing from the Pertek-Elazığ pier, and first we are visiting this impressive castle bearing Urartian features that was later restored by the Ottomans. After anchoring in one of the bays, all the tourists that wanted to swim jumped into the clear waters of the lake. As I watched them I thought to myself, “I wonder if I should spend my summer holidays in Tunceli instead of Bodrum, Marmaris, or Antalya?” What’s more, there is something else not to be missed -this year the Munzur Culture and Nature Festival will be held between July 26 and 28!