Iraq's B-Side (Amedi)
by Joe Scarangella
“Hey Mom, so... I'm going to Iraq!” These few words strung together are most certainly enough to cause every hair on a parents' head to turn grey. For decades now, Iraq has been portrayed as one of the most dangerous places on the planet. Mass media, fuelled by negative imagery, report how many people have died in the most recent attack. But what they fail to point out is that the majority of the country is free from the chaos ensuing from the most recent invasion and occupation. The northern region of Iraq, commonly referred to as Kurdistan, is almost entirely removed from this generalized depiction. And the northern part of Kurdistan is a side of Iraq few would ever imagine.
Driving north from the city of Dohuk, a transformation begins to take place. The arid landscape starts to green up with grasses, then shrubs and eventually full-blown forests. The air becomes crisper with the clarity of it's natural surrounding coupled with the change in altitude. This is a common escape for city dwellers looking for a reprieve from the often unbearable heat of lower altitudes. The road winds above the valley floor, seemingly clinging to the enveloping mountain-sides. The scenery is dramatic and not at all what you'd expect from a country which is only ever shown as a desert expanse. For those that are more goal oriented and might need a specific destination to take in the beauty, just follow the crowds to Amediyah.
The town of Amediyah is easily one of the most picturesque in the entire country. Not only is it set among a beautiful lush green valley and towering mountains, but the entire town sits on it's own rocky pedestal. Although obviously a strategically defensive placement, it all seems for naught as the only invading armies these days are the countless trees rushing up the western slope. But a closer inspection reveals a disappointing truth. I had expected a town of cobble-stoned streets lined with old stone houses with some old hunch over lady hobbling her way to the corner market. Instead the streets were paved, the houses were ordinary and for some strange reason there seemed to be more political headquarters and radio station per capita here than anywhere else. It really was a the forest overshadowing the trees.
To complicate matters, there are little to no tourist facilities in the town of Amediyah itself. To rectify the problem, a 750 meter stretch of road, called Sulav, was designated as a tourist mecca. I can't even call the place a village as it seems nobody actually lives there. Instead there are 5 or 6 mediocre restaurants, 4 souvenir shops selling absolute crap and an overpriced hotel, the only one in the region (there are family oriented motels nearby). To make things worse, a man-made waterfall with ridiculous stone animals draw in the crowds as the hordes clamber around to have their picture taken there. Following the path along the stream (aka drainage/rubbish canal) you are led past countless make-shift huts fighting for your patronage as when the summer comes around, countless tables and chairs are set in the stream as a natural A/C. Luckily, i was there in spring, when it wasn't too busy. I can not imagine the place in summer when it's in full swing. If that wasn't bad enough, Sulav is 5km from Amediyah along a very “pedestrian unfriendly” stretch of road.
Getting to Amediyah is a pain in itself. The bare-bones Lonely Planet didn't even mention transport (he had a private driver after all) There aren't any public buses doing the route, meaning the only option is taxi. Shared taxis can be hard to find as it's often groups of people going together, leaving private taxi as the only option. These are a fixed 25,000 IQD for a one way trip. Going east from Amediyah is a whole other matter which is worth it's own blog entry.
It may sound like i hated the place. But even with all these strikes against it, Amediyah offers something difficult to find elsewhere in the country. The spectacular nature can be appreciated if you're willing to hike up into the hills (as none of the local tourists can be bothered). But one can appreciate the locals as well as they are dressed in their “Sunday best”. They celebrate weddings or birthdays or simply today. Singing and roadside dancing are the norm. The journey itself is worth the trip. It is a removal from the sands and soldiers of the south and an eye-opener to a different side of a country you "thought" you knew. Overall, i'm definitely glad i went and, even with it's negitive points, i would still absolutely recommend the place to anyone in the area. Just so long as you packed some realistic expectations in your bag.
You can read more by Joe here: http://www.joestrippin.blogspot.com/.
More by Joe ScarangellaIraq (Kurdistan Region)
Stumblin' over History
Goin' without Knowin'
Fallin' in Northern Iraq
Charmed by Koya
Doublin' Up on Dohuk
Za-kho, Za-kho, Off to the Bridge I Go
Divine Lunchin' (Mar Mattai)
Shaqlawan Sugar Coatin'
Al Kosh, of Course!
A Day at the Museums (Erbil)
Parkin' it in Erbil
Suly the Sequel (Sulaymaniyah)
Duckin' into Dukan
Crackin' the Citadel (Erbil)
Takin' the High Road (Dohuk - Erbil)
Back to list of experiences