Çankırı a city worth its salt
Wilco van Herpen ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Life still goes on in the old neighborhood of Çankırı.Have you ever been to Çankırı? Probably the answer is no, but it is a nice place and worth a visit. The beautiful old houses of Çankırı on both sides of the narrow little streets take you by surprise. Some of them have been restored and some of them are standing there as if ashamed to be around the beautiful restored houses. Life still goes on in the old neighborhood of Çankırı as people live on the streets, prepare food in their gardens and display the goods they sell. It is nice walking around in the old quarter.
But there is something else in Çankırı that puts it on the map: salt. As many of you might know, a lot of salt can be found in the Salt Lake or extracted from the sea in areas such as İzmir, but in Çankırı there are mines. Big salt mines, most probably the biggest ones you have ever seen. I was in shock when I saw them.
Fascinating salt mines
About a half-hour drive from Çankırı is a road that will lead you straight to the fascinating and overwhelming salt mines of Çankırı. I decided to park the car and walk around a bit. It was a cold morning although the days were very hot. This is the right condition for fog. While driving, I saw the sunlight being reflected in the dry weeds, and it looked so stunning I had to see it. Reason being, we generally take things for granted, for example those beautiful drops of dew on the weeds. Maybe tomorrow it will be there again, but it will never be the same as it is now.
We are looking at our environment with the idea that tomorrow we will be able to see it again, but that is where we make a mistake. Too many things that we see we can see only once; I will never forget a picture that I saw but did not take in Istanbul. It was early in the morning, there was some light fog hovering over the Bosphorus and a couple of ferries were approaching the quay. With their black plumes of smoke and the beautiful morning sun this was a perfect picture, but I did not have time to take one as I had friends who were waiting for me. Stupid me, for this picture never came back again.
When you see something that touches you so much, just stop and spend a moment to enjoy it.
As a tourist, the entrance to the mines will surprise you. But, as in anywhere in Turkey, you will first be surprised by the men at the entrance. It does not matter if you are guilty or not; you feel guilty as someone stops you to ask for your credentials. If you do not have something to give them just turn around and leave. The “gate” people are a different kind of people. If you manage to get in, then another world opens up in front of your eyes. With an entrance just big enough to let one small truck through to access the main road system in the mine, the roads inside are incredible: tunnels as big as the underground in Istanbul, Ankara or Bursa, side paths that lead you to another salt vein and at a certain spot people who are drilling big deep holes in the salt.
I am “underwater” now. Millions of years ago this place was a sea. I walked on the bottom of the sea in Beşkonak, Antalya, with its strange rock formations, and here, in Çankırı, I am walking inside the salt of the sea. It is an incredible feeling, meters and meters of salt, how many trillion gallons of seawater have evaporated here? Meters of salt buried underground and covered with a lovely, sweet blanket of green.
Once you are inside the mine, the space opens up. A tunnel lies in front of you; big enough for three or four trucks to drive in at the same time. As far as your eye can see this tunnel continues. A black wall stretches out for kilometers but do not be fooled; everything you see here is salt. Some people are drilling holes with enormous drills. It takes at least two or three people to drill one hole. When the whole wall resembles Swiss cheese they fill the holes with dynamite and simply blow away that part of the wall. Big bulldozers pick up the pieces of salt and put them on a truck. When the truck is loaded it drives to the refinery where the salt will be purified.
In one of the smaller tunnels I see a couple of animals that had not been very lucky during their stay at the salt mine. They died and became mummified. The tunnel gets smaller and smaller. Here there is no place for the big trucks; it is hard for me to walk. This is one of the oldest parts of the salt mine and shows me how difficult it must have been to work here hundreds of years ago. In another part of the mine I see a structure that is a cross between the natural structures of Cappadocia and a big cave with its stalactites and stalagmites. All the shapes are different, and it is difficult to see this all as just salt.