Amadiya: A Charming Paradise in Iraqi Kurdistan

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…

Ariel view of Amadiya
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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).

Dohuk Market

Dohuk’s 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).

Rocks en Route to Amedy

Rocks along the road to Amadiya

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.

View from Amedy

View from the top of the Amadiya plateau

Amedy

Mountains Around Amedy

Looking down an Amadiya street towards a commanding mountain

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?”

New Friends

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.

Kurdish Students in Amedy

Me with the Kurdish students at the Institute

“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.

Kurdish Friends in Amadiya

My two self-appointed “Tour Guides” in Amedy

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”)!

Bahdinan Gate

Amadiya’s famous “Old 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.!

Looking Through Bahdinan Gate

Looking through the “Old Gate”

Exploring Town

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?

Archeological Site

An Archological Site in Amedy

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!

Ancient Structure

An older structure along a street in Amedy

Leaving Amedy

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.

Amadiya Garaj

A man walks down the street at Amedy’s “Taxi Garaj”

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

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18 Responses to Amadiya: A Charming Paradise in Iraqi Kurdistan

  1. Jennifer May 28, 2013 at 2:20 am #

    Wow, Iraq is pretty adventurous, bet it felt good though being the only tourist in town!

    • Aaron May 30, 2013 at 1:07 am #

      You know, I only saw a pair of other tourists the entire 10 days I was in Iraqi Kurdistan so I was used to being the only tourist in the town…heck practically the whole country! I was absolutely stunned when I saw the other people (a pair of girls from the UK around my age)!

  2. Bobbi Lee Hitchon May 31, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    OMG-what a stunning place. You’re pretty adventurous for getting out there! Great guide for other people. Thanks for sharing. Iraq seems to have such beauty that very few people get the chance to see.

    • Aaron June 1, 2013 at 12:52 am #

      Indeed it was! People definitely tend to have a mental picture in their heads of just what Iraq is like and this is probably about as far from that as possible! It’s definitely why it struck me so much! And yes, lots of beauty! Wait until you see my photos from my drive on the Hamilton Road, which winds through a canyon on its way to Iran! Just stunning!

  3. John August 12, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    Wow, I never fancied Iraq until I saw this post!

    • Aaron August 12, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

      🙂

  4. Christoffer Moen August 18, 2013 at 11:47 am #

    The more I read travelogues about Iraqi Kurdistan, the more I am compelled to give it a go one of these days.. Thank you for this, it was such an eye-opener.

    • Aaron August 20, 2013 at 11:14 am #

      You’re quite welcome! Iraqi Kurdistan was a fascinating and complicated place. A real gem in the Middle East, if you ask me!

  5. Pam Kelley September 20, 2013 at 1:40 am #

    Aaron, you are sure about the Israeli passport stamps not being a problem?

    • Aaron September 23, 2013 at 7:30 am #

      Yep, I have 3 Israeli stamps. They didn’t care. The Kurds support Israel because they don’t like the Arabs (remember Saddam Hussein tried to wipe them out). A little odd, but you’ll be fine.

      • Pam Kelley November 1, 2013 at 2:02 am #

        Would you happen to know any day tours available? All inclusive tours in that region are pretty expensive. If I was based out of Erbil, perhaps the hotels could direct me? I’m gathering information right now as I plan to arrive in mid Feb. or so…..I would like to visit Halabja and see the memorial. Do you have any thoughts on that area?

        • Aaron November 3, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

          I don’t, sorry! If there were any day tours operators they were unbeknownst to me. Getting from Erbil to Sulaymaniyah is easy enough though. Your hotel there could direct you to the proper Taxi Garaj (depot) where you can take a share taxi to Sulaymaniyah and then a hotel in Sulay could direct you to the Garaj for Halabja (which wouldn’t leave till full). The memorial is a bit on the outskirts of town but the share taxi passes it. You can asked to be dropped off there (it’s hard to miss and looks like this: http://www.aaronswwadventures.com/2012/10/saddam-hussein-kurdish-genocide/).

          If you’ve got a bit more money to spend, I’m sure your hotel in Erbil or Sulay could arrange for a car and driver who would be happy to take you and would wait for you as well. That’s how I made it to Lalish (sanctuary for people of the Yazidi faith), where share taxis do not head.

        • Gail Houghton December 7, 2013 at 12:29 am #

          I live and work in Erbil Iraq. We have a few reliable taxi drivers who take us on day trips, overnight trips etc . I have lived here for 4 years now and it is a fascinating place and there is still much to see. One of our drivers is listed in the Lonely Planet. His name is Haval.

          • Aaron December 11, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

            How cool! I agree that it’s a really fascinating place with a whole lot to see. I don’t suppose it helps that it’s rather difficult to get around. I feel like I only scratched the surface during my 10 days there and would love to return in a few years to see how it’s changed.

  6. shvan July 23, 2015 at 3:49 am #

    why you think its iraq !!! its free kurdistan and i hope you guys enjoying and support kurdish case

    • Aaron July 24, 2015 at 10:51 am #

      Hi Shvan,

      When I published this post back in 2013, hardly anyone had heard of Kurdistan. With the rise of the Islamic State and the Peshmerga’s efforts there, I would say that many people in the west now have heard of the Kurds. I’ve written extensively about the Kurds, their warmth and their land, which you can read more about here and here.

  7. martin October 16, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    Hi Aaron.Great writing.I dont suppose you happen to know which day the Halabja memorial and red security museums are closed do you?

    • Aaron October 22, 2015 at 12:56 am #

      I don’t know, sorry!

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