"Iraqi Kurdistan" Top 5 Page for this destination Iraq by maykal
Iraq Travel Guide: 466 reviews and 1,536 photos
"Sorry but I won't be able to teach that day, as I'll be on holiday in Iraq."
I tried to sound as casual as possible, but the word Iraq set off the alarm bells. "Iraq?!!! You're going to Iraq?! Why? You're crazy! You'll get yourself killed!"
That was a fairly common reaction, and was why I didn't tell my parents of my exact plans, just that I'd be landing in Istanbul and heading south east from there.
But yes, I did holiday in Iraq, albeit not the Iraq that makes the headlines practically every day due to bombings, beheadings, suicide attacks, kidnappings and random acts of violence. I went to the "Other Iraq", otherwise known as Iraqi Kurdistan, a mountainous region in the north of the country which has almost become a separate state. Kurdish Peshmerga welcomed me at the border with free tea on plush sofas, sugar from crystal sugar bowls. Kurdish flags flew overhead. Questions were asked first in Kurdish, then in English, then begrudgingly in Arabic, and finally I was stamped into KURDISTAN (Republic of Iraq in tiny letters). It didn't feel like Iraq at all...until I went to change some money and was handed a huge wad of Iraqi dinars.
Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the few places in the world to be relatively undiscovered by tourists, but we are beginning to trickle in. Over two weeks, I saw maybe half a dozen others, each one as surprised to see me as I was to see them. But nobody was as surprised as the locals. Everywhere I went, it was, "Why did you come to my country? Kurdistan is good, no? Welcome!"
"But is it safe?" friends at home asked. "Weren't you scared?"
OK, I'll admit, arriving in Zaxo, the first town over the border from Turkey, in darkness did unnerve me a little. The first thing I had to do was go and find a moneychanger, meaning walking down a potholed road through a crowd of people and returning with a big wad of cash, with the FCO's travel advice of staying away from crowded places ringing in my ears. But it lasted for just a few minutes, until I'd had my first conversation, my first invite to drink tea, my first photo taken...then I relaxed. Aside from a few isolated incidents, Iraqi Kurdistan has largely escaped the violence that has wrought havoc on the rest of Iraq, and is a very safe part of the world in which to travel. As long as you stick to Kurdish areas (and there are checkpoints to make sure you do this), it's as safe as anywhere else.
But what is there to see?
Well, mountains for a start! Turkey is flat as you approach the border, but as soon as you get across, the mountains leap out at you, and they are stunning. This region has become a holiday destination for Arabs from the rest of Iraq wishing to escape the heat, and several mountain resorts offer hotels, cafes and manmade waterfalls (a Kurdish speciality, it would seem). Amediye and Akre are both historic villages in spectacular locations. Then there are the cities...green and mountainous Dohuk, historic and ultra-modern Hewler (Erbil), bustling Slemani with its bazaars and museums.
However, I ought to say that the attractions of Iraqi Kurdistan can't really be compared with other Middle Eastern destinations. The bazaars are nothing like Istanbul's Grand Bazaar...ancient monuments are in much worse states than places like Palmyra, Ephesus or Persepolis...museums are free to enter, but for a reason, as they don't really contain an awful lot...historic towns have been neglected and left to decay...hotels for those on a budget tend to be overpriced and filthy. Travel in Iraqi Kurdistan is not easy...it's not really all that hard either, but perhaps not a destination for a newbie to the region.
But despite the drawbacks, it's a very rewarding destination with incredibly friendly people (yes, I know...cheesy stereotypes, but really, I felt very welcome). It's also a place where you can freely immerse yourself in Kurdish culture...not something you can always do elsewhere.
I will get round to filling out this page later...it will be a sort of index page for all the different towns I visited (Zaxo, Dohuk, Amediye, Erbil, Slemani, Halabja and Akre), and will inclide a few general tips on how to get around, what to eat, where to change money, etc. But be patient...I only got home this week!
Halabja would be an insignificant little place if Saddam had left it alone...but no, in March 1988, he dropped bombs on... more travel advice
If you're Kurdish, you call it Hewler, if you're not, you'll know it as Erbil...either way, it is one of the oldest... more travel advice
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