Soran, 14 November 2013

Another beautiful day. I breakfast alone, then walk through the bazaar to take some photographs. When I get back to the hotel Muli tells me that out interview has been cancelled because today is Ashura, a religious festival and fasting day. Hopefully we’ll connect tomorrow. We make arrangements to join a picnic party instead.

Just before mid-day we walk out through breezeblock houses, past a football field to the long ridge that will take us up Zozg, the nearest mountain. We meet three female colleagues from the Centre for Learning and Development (CLAD) and set off on a gentle incline that steadily steepens, taking us towards the first of a series of rocky outcrops that lead to the summit. Zozg is a colossal mass of gullied rock with a blunt summit that tapers away on two sides. It falls towards Soran in almost sheer cliffs, then slumps into a series of weird looking foothills inscribed by water. The strata has been turned up at 90 degrees, which explains the strange weathering. It looks as if the face of the mountain is a fault line from which a slab of softer rock has slipped away to be shaped into these peculiar formations. Someone has climbed down the sheer face and painted a huge Kurdish flag there above the city.

picnicWe walk over grass that the sun has burned golden brown. There’s new growth beneath brought on by the recent rain. Goats and cattle stray at the edge of the city and – judging by their dropping – also make their way higher up upon these slopes. The rock is a fine-grained limestone and as we climb higher and steeper it’s strangely reminiscent of walking in North Yorkshire where I live, the underlying geology shaping the surface of the land. We clamber through weathered slabs of rock and there are stunted trees that look as tough as the hawthorn trees back home.

We slog up to the first of the two ridges that lead to Zozg, finding two ruined enclosures that resemble large sheepfolds or maybe fortifications built by peshmerga. I add a couple of stones to a broken wall for luck. A picnic blanket appears and then a meal is laid out: everything from humus and olives to falafel and chicken with fresh salad and tomatoes. As we eat, drink from a flask of tea and talk, a falcon appears to our left, hovering like a kestrel. It dives almost vertically, stooping with terrific speed, misses, rises, then dives again. Behind us an eagle appears, soaring, idling, then following the road that winds through the mountains towards Iran where the peaks gleam under snow. The sound of dancing from a wedding party pulses below, carried towards us by a faint breeze.

After an hour we pack up the picnic and set off back, picking up way carefully over loose scree, following the spine of the ridge down to the edge of the city. Thousands of windows are glinting below us. Grey smoke rises from a distant factory and behind us a huge moon floats above another ridge bronzed by the falling sun. We arrive at a cemetery where a group of kids call us over to offer us sweets and a lone woman dressed in black sits on a rock staring towards the graves. The children follow us shouting: ‘Hello Englis!’ ‘My name is Ali!’ all the way into the town. It’s good to know that they’re learning English in school. We make our way back through the suburbs in the dusk where women are washing the streets with hosepipes.

It’s been a great day, good to share the company of our friends and to escape the city for a few hours. The UK is three hours behind us, so I’ll have time to clear my Lancaster emails before dinner and send a couple of images home.

Click here to see a gallery of pictures from Graham Mort’s visit to Soran