What is this, the Sahara Desert?
You probably were not expecting camels in Cappadocia, but here they are staring you in the face, eyeing you as if you were their favorite spittoon.
CAMELS IN TURKEY?
Wait a minute…are they indigenous to the area?
No. But we need a bit of explanation…
Camels were first brought to Turkey during the Ottoman times and used as draft animals. According to my local source the camel population in Turkey was 25,000 in 1952. But with tractors and other farm technology the need for camels lessened so that today only about 2000 camels call Turkey home.
Most of these camels are found in the southwest states of Aydin and Denizli where annual camel wrestling festivals draw tourists from far and wide.
CAMELS IN CAPPADOCIA?
So, how did they get to Cappadocia? I’m glad you asked.
Cappadocia was never a camel hub although many camels certainly passed through this area stopping in the many caravansarys on the way to Constantinople/Istanbul. This is not really the ideal climate for these desert creatures. But, when tourism is concerned, anything that can make money will be tried.
And this is what inspired Durmuş Abi 25 years ago to go to Aydin, buy a camel, and bring it back to Cappadocia. He was taking tourists on donkey treks through Cappadocia’s steep valleys (think Grand Canyon donkey rides on a much smaller scale) when business dried up. He was out of work and considering his options when the camel lightbulb went off. Others soon followed suit and today 8 camels wait for tourists in 4 different locations around Cappadocia.
CAMELS AT UÇHISAR
As the road curves up the hill from Göreme to Uçhisar there is a spot with a picture-perfect view of the rock tower where a row of shops have grown to serve the many tourists who stop for pictures. On one side of the shops sits Süleyman, a 26-year-old bactrian camel who has spent his life among fairy chimneys. Durmuş Abi, his owner and an Uçhisar native, runs a trinket stall and generally leaves Süleyman to sit by himself across the main road. We had to do some searching to find Durmuş as he did not find us during the few minutes we were hanging with his beast of burden.
He allows anyone to take pictures of Süleyman but charges 10TL if you want to sit on the camel for a picture and 20TL for a 5-10 minute ride around the area. He seems to keep him more out of tradition than profit as he admitted that not many foreign tourists are eager to experience a camel ride. In fact, each of the owners agreed that their biggest customers were Turks (including European Turks).
At the other end of the shops, Paşa, stands perfectly situated in front of the rock tower for paid pictures. Ahmet and his son, Mehmet, are the only owners who charge for pictures of riderless camels. Ahmet has been tending camels for 20 years and is teaching his son the trade. Paşa seems to be the meanest of the camels as Ahmet told us that the muzzle was due to the male camel’s tendency to bite people. No other camel in the region wears a muzzle. (He took the muzzle off for the photo.)
In each location the owners have built a home for their camels and seem to take good care of them. Personally, I can’t imagine the camels enjoy the Cappadocian winters, but they seem to survive just fine as they have been here for many years at this point. They tend to stay outside even at night during the summers and prefer spending the nights indoors during the winter months.
CAMELS AT GÖREME OPEN AIR MUSEUM
Head down the hill and over to the Göreme Open Air Museum where you will find 3 camels next to the parking lot in the care of 52-year-old suit and sandal wearing Yaşar Durmaz. Leyla, Kamuran, and Nazlı are the only female camels in the area. Yaşar Abi confided that females are easier to handle, less aggressive.
Yaşar Abi was born and raised in Denizli where he worked for 2 years in Pamukkale. At age 20 he moved to Antalya and worked in an animal show at a hotel in the area. After 20 years of that he transported a friends’ camels to Cappadocia and has stayed to care for them ever since. His 5 children are still in Antalya, and he commutes back and forth- a month here, a few days home, another month or two here, and then back home, and on and on it goes.
The camels are not great business but Yaşar Abi who can handle rejection as well as anyone I have ever met perseveres. While I was talking to him countless tourists walked by on their way back to their cars and buses. Yaşar Abi greeted each of them asking if they wanted a picture with the camels. Most of them totally ignored his invitations, some politely refused, and only 2 took him up on his offer. Regardless, he maintained the same gentle demeanor with each person, amazing considering the years he has done this and the thousands, if not millions, of rejections he has received. I do not think I would be able to maintain the attitude he has.
He charges 10TL to sit for a photo and 20TL for a ride. Taking a picture of riderless camels is free.
CAMELS AT PAŞABAĞ
At 2.5 meters tall 10-year-old Mete is able to see over the tourists and gain an excellent view of all the beautiful fairy chimneys around Paşabağ, although generally he does not seem that interested. He has been in Cappadocia for 5 years under the care of Veysel and Süleyman, two brothers from my village of Çavuşin. They also own a cafe, Süleyman’s Yeri, that serves delicious gözleme and mantı across the street in Paşabağ. Before Mete other camels ruled this area since 1990. The brothers’ father first got a camel when he saw one in other parts of Cappadocia thinking Paşabağ would be an ideal spot for tourists to ride. He passed the trade onto his sons and they happily care for these unique animals.
Prices are a bit cheaper in Paşabağ as they charge 5TL for sitting pictures and 10TL for a ride. Snapping pics of the lone camel is free.
CAMELS AT ÜRGÜP’S 3 BEAUTIES
Driving from Paşabağ through Devrent (Imagination) Valley and Camel Rock you will come to Ürgüp and overlooking the valley above this captivating town sit the 3 Beauties, special fairy chimneys standing alone next to the road. Lounging across the street from the Beauties is 17-year-old Şakir who arrived 2.5 years ago from Aydin.
Murat’s father began selling trinkets and offering camel rides 18 years ago and then bought and moved into his current location in 2000. Murat has taken over the family business and sells unique plaster balloon clocks that he makes by hand. He says business has been good, but he is done with it and wants to sell. Anybody want to own a shop and camel above Ürgüp? If not, at least stop by and say hello, maybe give Şakir a spin.
As in Paşabağ Murat charges 5TL for a sitting picture and 10TL for a ride.
When you come to Cappadocia and ride your hot-air balloon, and take your tours, and marvel at 1000 year old cave paintings, be sure to take time to be with the camels.
You just may learn something mystical. Take a look at their faces. They seem to be hiding some deep knowledge, so wise and austere. Muslims say that God has 99 known names and camels have the look they have because they know the 100th name for God!
Would you ride one of the camels in Cappadocia?
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