Kaz Dağı: The magic mountain
by Recep Peker TANITKAN
Situated in the West of the province of Balikesir, the Mount Ida of classical mythology retains something of its ancient magic in its delightful trails and waterfalls, its rural charm and scenic views. Today it is a haven for climbers and trekkers. The mountain's healthy climate is also home to a range of arts and crafts, including some which date back to nomadic Turkish tribes.
Kaz Dağı stretches from East to West along the north coast of the Gulf of Edremit at the northern extremity of the Aegean. The myth-makers called it Mount Ida, the mountain of the Mother Goddess, Cybele, and made it the site of repeated seductions of men by women. Among its slopes and valleys, they insisted, Paris, suckled by a she-bear, went on to make his famous and fateful judgement. And upon its summit, the Gods gathered to watch - and decide - the resulting battle of Troy.
Today, the crystalline and volcanic mass bears the more prosaic name of Kaz Dağı (or Dağları), meaning Goose Mountain (or Mountains). Its 1,774-metre summit - Karataş, the highest of a series of peaks - continues to soar above archetypal firs and a uniquely-preserved flora. But the sibyls and soothsayers have gone, and only a more homely Sarıkız legend still female and fatal is narrated. The region has become a magnet for mountaineers, hikers and other friends of the outdoors. Visitors can also trace the origins of more recent, rural civilisations.
Within and without the Kazdağı National Park, almost every path can be explored all the way towards Assos, en route for Troy, in the West. However, many canyons, cliffs and other zones require special equipment or experience. Accordingly, honorary eco-tourism guides are there to accompany everyone, and permission from the Akçay National Park Engineering Centre near the coast is essential.
Do not let that put you off. Each of the established walks is defined by settlements and landmarks with names as charming as themselves. The villages of Çamlıbel (Pine Ridge), Pınarbaşı (Spring-side), Beyoba (Pince's camp) and Mehmetalan - all are to be encountered along a single horizontal route which combines the freshness of nature with a glimpse of traditional lifestyles.
The town of Güre retains the feel of yester-year, adorned with architectural features proper to the Anatolian Greeks as well as the Turks. Its neighbourhoods, Yassıçalı and Kavurmacılar, are little more than peaceful villages. Following the Kızılkeçili Stream brings the visitor to the Sütüven Waterfall, 17m high and a designated picnic area. Just 500m away are the rocks of Hasanboğuldu (Hasan drowned).
The steep and level tracks, asphalted lanes and gardens of Zeytinli afford the walker a constant permutation of surface and vista. In the Village of the Wooden Birds (Tahtakuşlar Köyü), just a few kilometres from Akçay, stands Turkeys first private ethnographical museum and first village art gallery (www.tahtakuslar.8m.com or www.etnografya-galerisi.com Tel.0266 387 33 40). Opened by retired teacher Alibey Kundar in 1991, the small two-storey building displays artefacts of the nomadic Turkish tribes which migrated from Central Asia, including clothing, household goods, tools, carpets and tents. Also on view seven days a week are more contemporary works of art, embroidery, jewellery, lucky charms and even a giant leatherback sea turtle. The legends of the Kaz mountains are told here and the medicinal plants which grow on them can be purchased along with local handicrafts.
A kilometre to the Southeast is Şarlak, with its commanding view of Çamlibel and the Gulf. Its picnic area and tea garden, containing a pool in the shape of the Sea of Marmara, are an ideal place to gather breath.
The route from Yayla Tepe (Alp Hill) to Ayı Deresi (Bear Valley) is strictly for trekkers but for those forcibly or voluntarily confined to vehicles, there are still many sights to be seen via Avcılar (Hunters) Village, Dereçatı Point, Doyran Village, Mehmetalan Village, Yayla Tepe, Tozlu (Dusty) Point, Türkmen Heights, the peak of Sarıkız (the Blonde or Yellow Girl of a local fable), Tavşanoynağı Tepe (Rabbit Run Hill), Dumanlı (Smoky) Point, Gürlek Fountain and Çamlıbel.
Besides the coastal and mountain scenery and the villages tumbling down their slopes, the Kaz mountains are renowned for the high oxygen content of the air. The U-shaped Şahin Deresi (Hawk Valley) canyon, some 600m in height, 700m in breadth and 27km in length, acts as an effective chimney, casting the pine-scented air of the highlands out over the gulf, and drawing the iodised sea air back up into the mountains. It is an ideal climate for those who suffer from asthma, bronchitis or infections of the respiratory tract.
Beaches and camp-sites can be found nearby, while the thermal waters of Güre - as well as Balikesir's springs - offer another healthy and leisurely option.
( DIPLOMAT - May 2006 - Ankara )