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Chapter 18: Mountains of Magic

Choman to Barzan. April 25-26.

After a voluntary delay through my detour to Choman, I buckled up and headed west, aiming for Zakho on the other side of Kurdistan. I entered mission mode, cranked up the music and enjoyed the simplicity in the repetitive task of just keep treading. This was made much easier thanks to the jaw-dropping surroundings, save the sections that slowed me down as they were too dense with "must-take-picture" views.

I have written about the beauty of the landscape in Kurdistan region, but not enough have been said about the mountains. There are mountains in this world that look that they have been carefully and smoothly molded by an undisturbed god on a calm day of creation. Like a pretty princess, they are pristine and perfect in their safe haven. Granted, they are pleasing to the eye, but can sometimes lack character. I have seen such mountains. They are not in Kurdistan.

The mountains of Kurdistan are chaotic with fierce intensity. The land looks like it has come about through immense violence, where opposing forces crashed in high speed. From a geologist's perspective it was probably so. There is destruction and deep wounds visible in the earth, making it feel alive. Sometimes, it even seems like the rocks themselves are living. On multiple occasions I could make out shapes of creatures, sometimes in the form of whole mountains, as if the land was once roamed by giant beasts, now slumbering for centuries.

What ridge is this, if not that of a dragon?

Obviously, I was happy to let my wild imagination run away me, spotting caves, walls, ridges and rocks and filling them with treasures, history, characters and conflicts. Now, it is true that what you are looking for your mind will find regardless of what is in front of your eyes. But never before have I seen mountains so inviting to my fantasy, so vivid in their wildness and their intricate shapes. If I am ever to write a magical story of my own, this is where I would go for inspiration.

Prior to starting the cycling, I had asked about scenic routes on forums and boards with few answers. It surprised me then as the activity was high and people were otherwise very helpful, but I can see it now. In Iraqi Kurdistan, it is not so much that there are particular paths that are scenic - literally the whole Kurdistan is wondrous to behold. Go anywhere to the countryside and whatever road you take will provide you plenty. But if I was to give one recommendation it would be of Gali-Shakfte, or as I would name it, the Pass of Shanidar.

I had come by the northern road from Mergasur where I had spent the night in a mosque. Initially I intended to continue to Dore, but after a checkpoint guard was unhappy about that I changed route to be able to visit Shanidar Care. Shanidar Cave is known for its archeological findings of Neanderthals in the 1950s. The findings are intriguing as they are some of the earliest traces of ritualistic burials dating back over 60 000 years. I had been recommended to visit, but frankly I didn't find the site itself noteworthy for visitors in its current state, with plenty of litter from tourists and youngsters, but no trace of Neanderthals to see. The path that leads there however is something extraordinary even by Kurdistan standard.

From the northern entry the path twisted downwards, framed by epic walls with the signature intensity and creativity of the mighty mountains of the region. If I could, I would ride it three times over. The first, as I did, to take every opportunity to stop for images and to soak it all in. The second to cruise down and enjoy the nature looking down on me, greeting it back in the flow. The third to release the brakes and feel the wind in the hair while speeding round the tight corners, racing through the abundant beauty.

For another time, Insha'Allah.


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