Fallin' in Northern Iraq
by Joe Scarangella
It can be interesting to see what countries choose to immortalize on their respective currencies. Canada opts to put an outdoor hockey game on the back of the $5 note. On the New Zealand $5 bill, there's a picture of a mountain which isn't even in the country (Mt Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary) The 5 Rupee bill in India pays homage to the vast agricultural industry in the county. So when in Iraq, i couldn't help but visit the site chosen for the back of the 5,000 Dinar bill.
Located about 2 hours north of the regional capital of Erbil, the waterfall of Gali Ali Beg are one of only 2 sites in Kurdistan to be printed on the Iraqi currency (the other is the dam at Dokan). At not much more than 30 feet tall, and with only moderate volume, the falls are hardly spectacular. And being wedged into a canyon means that they get little light in the winter (although it's better in the summer) Walkways on either side of the falls allow you to get well within the splash zone (something not recommended in the cold of winter) And in the summer you can even rent little rubber rafts to get a little closer to the falls. Getting there can be easy enough. A shared taxi from Erbil to Soran/Rewanduz (15,000 IQD) passes the falls. Simply get out at the security check and walk about 5 minutes.
But the falls may not be worth it. As the alpine climate makes for a reprieve from the unbearable summer heat in the south, the area around Gali Ali Beg draws in endless streams of local tourists in the summer. As such, an equally endless stream of vendors and business men try to make a couple bucks from the tourist. Development around the falls is nothing short of hideously unattractive. Half-built shacks and wood-shaped concrete pillars ruin the place. And that's not to mention the non-use of garbage bins (as there is plenty of garbage in the water) I was highly disappointed with Gali Ali Beg.
But, not all hope was lost. Only 10-15 minutes along the high fork in the roadare another set of falls (actually a spring), Bekhal. I figured "why not? they can't be worse than Gali Ali Beg".Turns out i was wrong. Set next to a South Korean sponsored dam, Bekhal is possibly uglier than Gali Ali. Ramshackle building on top of ramshackle building smother the cascades as the hum of smoke belching generators fill the air. I guess part of the spectacle is to watch locals fumble up the falls in an attempt to get a "look at me being casual" photo. These falls are much more difficult to reach by public transport. But the good news is neither falls charge admission.
Yet somehow, the highlight of a trip to see waterfalls is not the waterfallsthemselves. Instead, it is the road that you will remember most. Between 1928 and 1932 a New Zealander by the name of Archibald Milne Hamilton was charge with the task of building a road from Erbil to the Iranian border. The road, which now bears his name, is a feat of engineering. But for the laymen, it doesn't matter what techniques Hamilton used, or the number of man-hours involved. What does matter is that the drive in nothing short of spectacular. In particular the high road from Gali Ali Beg around to Rewanduz.
This trip is all the more beautiful in the winter. Snow caps the envelopingmountain tops making for some magnificently beautiful scenery. The easily accessible remoteness of the area give you a feeling of being a million miles away, without the extraneous effort. However, it doesn't come cheap. Hiring a car and driver for the day, for a day trip from Erbil, will cost an absolute minimum of $100 (usually more like $150). For those hoping to use shared taxi (15,000 IQD) and stay at a hotel, options are limited. Actually, there is only 1 hotel of note anywhere in the area, the Pank Resort. At over $100 a night for the cheapest "single cabins", it's not exactly a budget option.
I can understand the appeal of the cooler mountain air in the dead heat of summer. For that reason, i could suggest a visit to the falls. But frankly, they are not worth the effort. But what is ABSOLUTELY worth the effort is a drive on what is easily the most beautiful roads in the greater region, the Hamilton Road.
You can read more by Joe here: http://www.joestrippin.blogspot.com/.
More by Joe ScarangellaIraq (Kurdistan Region)
Stumblin' over History
Goin' without Knowin'
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)
Iraq's B-Side (Amedi)
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