It was day 2 in Iraq and I was confused. I had a mission: To visit Amadiya (commonly called and even spelled Amedy or Amedi), famed for some fancy old gate I had spotted in a Lonely Planet guide. But I had a problem. I had no idea how to get there…
See, cities in Kurdistan, three provinces in northern Iraq that are currently safe for travel, don’t have bus stations. Or even bus routes. They have share taxis that operate a bit like those ubiquitous shared vans that ply the roads in so many, many countries, except that these taxis only leave when completely full.
To get one, you just have to find the proper Garaj (a surprisingly organized taxi depot) for the destination you want. Thankfully, in my case, the front desk at my hotel in Dohuk told me where to go (FYI, it’s just off the market).
But I had another problem. I was the only person who wanted to go to Amedy… Not wanting to pay the full price for the one-way cab ride (32,000 Iraqi Dinar (IQD) or US$27.50), I wasn’t quite sure what I’d do. But somehow, thanks to the help of another taxi driver who spoke impeccable English after a decade of living in the UK, I ended up with a private cab all to myself for just 8,000 IQD (US$6.86…don’t worry, I left the driver a hefty tip).
It was a beautiful drive through the winding countryside as the hills grew higher and higher. Finally, after we made our way to the top of a dramatic plateau, the driver stopped. “Amadiya,” he said. And so I began to walk.
At first glance, the town was pretty much dead. It was a small place with just one main ring road that ran in a circle around the top of the plateau, and a few side streets thrown in. The gate from the photo was nowhere to be found. Just when I was starting to wonder what exactly I was doing here, I heard a voice. “Hey, mister! Where you from?”
It was a very excited young man with wild-looking hair and a colorful outfit. He motioned me over to the gate he was poking his head out of and then insisted I had to meet his friends. He invited me into the yard and went to get tea, only to come out of the very small structure with a dozen other young men, all very excited to see me!
I came to learn that they were university students and this was their “computer institute.” The small, 2-story structure in front of me was both their school and dorm, and had been for the last 2 years of their program. They gave me a quick tour of the facility, which had a mere 4 rooms for the 12 of them. There were sleeping mats everywhere. And with its all-male student population, it reminded a bit of a frat house back home, just minus the booze.
“The Old Gate”
After undergoing a through Q & A session with the group of students, which included the slew of basic questions about my life, somebody said, “Have you seen the old gate?” “No,” I replied, “where is it?” Just across the street, hidden down the hill a bit. Two of the guys volunteered to be my guides, getting changed into their nicest clothes for our little adventure.
We stumbled down the gravel roadway to its terminus at a set of steep stairs entering a stone building before making a sharp right turn. And on the other side of those stairs? A spectacular stone gate that we had just walked through; the exact image pictured in that guidebook (which so happens to be called “Bahdinan Gate”)!
After admiring the surrounding vistas, I whipped out that Lonely Planet guide, showing my new Kurdish friends the photo of what we were staring at. They couldn’t believe that this little thing in their little town in the mountains of Iraq made it into a book that I brought all the way from the U.S.!
A walking tour commenced with my newfound friends, determined to show me the archeological sites I’d missed around town, though none were quite as impressive as the gate. A few stairs here, a small mosque there. Some foundation stones forming the outline of a former grand-looking place. All were accompanied by a sign with a fairly useless English description. But who needed signs when I had my very own local tour guides?
Amedy is such a small place that exploring it took almost no time at all. Returning to the “institute,” where my friends lived and studied, we got to talking a bit. One of the guys remarked how nervous he was, as he had never spoken English with a native speaker before. His English was quite good though, as it was with so many Kurds!
The sun grew low in the sky and I decided it was time to head back, having turned down an invitation to sleep outside on their porch (don’t worry, it was quite warm out). I said goodbye to the large group as my two “tour guides” walked me to the “taxi garaj,” just a roadside stop on the main road in.
Once again, I found myself the only person wanting to go back to Dohuk and, though the same driver who brought me over was the only taxi there, he now wanted a whopping 64,000 IQD (US$55) to take me back! Apparently he lived in Amedy and preferred to stay. What to do, what to do?
I waited for about an hour, watching the occasional local come along and succeed in hitchhiking their way out-of-town (a task I had no luck with). Trying to negotiate with the driver wasn’t getting me very far either.
Finally, a familiar face drove up in a cab. It was the guy who had lived in the UK for 10 years that I’d met in Dohuk that morning. He talked to the driver and told me I’d be offered 30,000 IQD. He said he couldn’t take me as he wasn’t “Garaj” (there seemed to be some arrangement in place restricting who could drive passengers when) but that I could also walk 10 minutes downhill to a place called Sulav, where I’d probably be able to get a share taxi for 10,000 IQD, but I should wait before walking down so it didn’t look suspicious.
I took the new price the driver offered me. And as we began our 2 hour drive back to town, I looked back at the now dark plateau. I thought of the sheer beauty, the grand vistas, the wonderful people and the immense peace and quiet of the place. I know I’ve said it before, but, in the event of Amedy, even Lonely Planet said it: Pinch yourself, because you won’t believe that you are standing in Iraq!
Read More About My Adventure in Iraq
- So, What’s it Like to Travel in Iraq?
- Meet Kurdistan: The Other Iraq
- Is it Safe to Travel in Iraq?
- How to Cross From Turkey to Iraqi Kurdistan by Bus
- A Night at an Amusement Park in Iraq (With Video!)
- Inside Saddam Hussein’s House of Horrors
- Photo Essay: Inside 7,000 Years of History at Erbil Citadel
- Road Trip Iraq: Kurdistan’s GORGEOUS Hamilton Road
- How to Drive in Iraq