ÇANKIRI: ANA­TO­LIAN STEPPES PRO­VIDE AN OFF-THE-GRID GETAWAY

If you’re look­ing for an off-the-grid getaway, look no fur­ther than the cen­tral prov­ince of Çankırı with its vast grass­land and cozy, cen­turies-old vil­lages that are sure to help any big-city dweller re­lax and recharge

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - MINDY YARTAŞI - IS­TAN­BUL

SIT­U­ATED in the vast plains of cen­tral Turkey is the quaint prov­ince of Çankırı. Lo­cated at around 800 me­ters above sea level and 140 kilo­me­ters north­east of the cap­i­tal Ankara, the prov­ince’s name­sake cap­i­tal city has hosted a wide range of cul­tures and races over the cen­turies, Hit­tites, Per­sians, An­cient Greeks, Parthi­ans, Pon­tic Greeks, Gala­tians, Ro­mans, Byzan­tine Greeks, Seljuks and fi­nally Ot­toman Turks, and traces of its long past are still preva­lent through­out the re­gion.

Each cul­ture has left a unique mark on the prov­ince’s cap­i­tal city, with its name evolv­ing first from its Ara­bic ver­sion “Han­gara” to “Ga­gra” for the Jews and then pro­gres­sively to “Tzun­gra,” “Kângıri” and later “Çankırı” for the Turks. Çankırı was also known in an­tiq­uity as “Gan­gra” in Greek and ac­cord­ing to first cen­tury B.C. writer Alexan­der Poly­his­tor, the town was estab­lished by a goat herder af­ter he tracked down one of his stray goats to the spot. Schol­ars now be­lieve, how­ever, that the charm­ing tale is most likely mere philo­log­i­cal spec­u­la­tion since “gan­gra” ac­tu­ally means “goat” in the an­cient Ana­to­lian Palaic lan­guage, and the re­gion has been fa­mous for its goats for mil­len­nia.

The name­sake cap­i­tal of the prov­ince, Çankırı, is now a bustling com­mer­cial cen­ter with mod­ern shop­ping malls and a pop­u­la­tion of around 270,000; how­ever, for city dwellers, the charm of the prov­ince is of­ten in its quiet, rus­tic vil­lages with av­er­age pop­u­la­tions of 500 nes­tled on the open plains.

Though many of the vil­lages are rel­a­tively re­mote, they are still an in­ter­est­ing mix of old and new. It is quite com­mon to see 200-year-old, mud-brick houses next to brightly painted con­crete and steel ones. Be­ing a tra­di­tion­al­ist, the two-story home­steads, of­ten list­ing slightly to one side with the weight of age, pos­sess the most charm for me. Con­structed with wood scaf­fold­ing and lo­cal ma­te­ri­als, their outer walls are a semi-geo­met­ric com­bi­na­tion of criss­cross­ing wood tim­bers sup­port­ing sturdy lay­ers of mor­tar and brown bricks, of­ten made from sun-dried ma­nure. Tra­di­tion­ally, the bot­tom floor would have housed live­stock and the top the fam­ily. This would have been a win-win ar­range­ment, es­pe­cially in the win­ter, with the an­i­mals ben­e­fit­ing from any heat source the fam­ily used up­stairs, while the live­stock’s body heat helped cut down any drafts from the cold earth be­low.

What this small prov­ince lacks in worl­drenowned his­toric sites, it makes up for in au­then­tic­ity with its grass-cov­ered hills dot­ted with cen­turies-old set­tle­ments pop­u­lated by fam­ily lines that ex­tend back to be­fore the Ot­toman Em­pire.

Though each of the prov­ince’s vil­lages has its own unique tra­di­tions, in the fall you can bet al­most ev­ery gar­den or tiny court­yard shows the scorched signs of the open fires used to cook huge pans of fruit for mar­malade, mo­lasses and jam. With bushels of ap­ples, quince and pears ripe and wait­ing in the gar­dens, it’s an ex­cel­lent ex­cuse for neigh­bors to gather to peel, dice and stir while laugh­ing and chat­ting about up­com­ing wed­dings, cur­rent events or, even more likely, the young woman in the next town over that would be a per­fect match for one of their still-sin­gle sons.

Though the re­gion has seen an out­flux of young­sters ven­tur­ing in search of bigc­ity life, the ru­ral tra­di­tions of the re­gion are still go­ing strong with an­i­mal hus­bandry top­ping the list of in­come-sus­tain­ing trades. One shep­herd from each vil­lage is of­ten trusted to take the res­i­dents’ cows to graze from dawn to dusk in the vast grass­land be­hind the clus­ters of houses. In fact, this is one of the few places in the world where the say­ing “un­til the cows come home” rings true. Nine months out of the year, like clock­work, the well-trav­eled bovines saunter and jin­gle their way over the gen­tle rolling hills and through the streets ev­ery night to even­tu­ally find their own way back to their warm stalls.

And what are rolling hills with­out grace- ful stalks sway­ing in the breeze? Luck­ily, wheat is the prov­ince’s pri­mary crop thanks to its tol­er­ance of rocky soil and cool, dry grow­ing con­di­tions. Planted in late Oc­to­ber, the crop takes 10 months to ma­ture and is gen­er­ally har­vested with mod­ern meth­ods in the hot, dry month of July. Once har­vested, the farm­ers set aside a seed sup­ply for next year and the rest is pri­mar­ily sold to be ground into flour or bought up by large dry goods fac­to­ries around the coun­try.

Çankırı prov­ince is also fa­mous for its salt mines. Re­searchers have dis­cov­ered that one of the prov­ince’s largest mines, lo­cated south­east of its cap­i­tal city in the small vil­lage of Balıbağı Köyü, was first dug by the Hit­tites in 3,000 B.C. Still in use to­day, the mine now ex­tends 400 me­ters be­low ground and pro­duces more than 500 tons of salt an­nu­ally. Con­sid­er­ing a 1978 study found that the mine, at the time, still con­tained more than 1 bil­lion tons of rock salt, it looks like it will be pro­duc­ing for gen­er­a­tions to come. Nowa­days, the salt is mostly used for cook­ing and pro­duc­ing sou­venirs, in­clud­ing lamps, which some claim carry health ben­e­fits like boost­ing blood flow, im­prov­ing sleep, in­creas­ing sero­tonin lev­els and al­le­vi­at­ing al­lergy or asthma symp­toms.

Whether you pre­fer the bustling city or quiet coun­try­side, one of the best things about the prov­ince is its amaz­ing weather, es­pe­cially in the ides of summer. Thanks to its rel­a­tively dry cli­mate, hu­mid­ity is al­most nonex­is­tent, mak­ing for a won­der­ful break from Is­tan­bul’s swel­ter­ing heat. For those in need of a quiet, peace­ful getaway, this prov­ince with its rolling hills and open plains may be the off-the-beaten-path des­ti­na­tion you’re look­ing for.

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