Spring rains not only activate the seeds waiting to burst into bloom; they also swell rivers and streams with melting snows, creating waterfalls.

If I were to shoot a surrealistic film about Anatolia, it would open with these lines from poet Ece Ayhan: “Extreme East. / The teacher is giving a lesson on Anatolia. / He hangs up a map. / The whole class is scared to death that the lakes and rivers are going to spill down the wall!” But this is a poem that goes far beyond mere geography or the naive world of childhood.
Its lines precipitate a cascade of images—scores of lakes, rivers and seas, all rushing down from a map hung on a classroom wall, and the slew of waterfalls they create. When I first read this poem, a picture distilled in my mind: “Waterfalls are streams and rivers rearing up on their hind legs!” Most people think of waterfalls literally as ‘falling water’, but not me. They rear up, but winter’s teeth of ice stop them, as they stop all of us.
Brooks, streams and rivers have been shaping the geography of Anatolia for millennia. Gathering strength, they overflowed and changed their course. Before emptying into the sea they spread out like many-fingered hands, giving rise to deltas. They brought life and fertility to fields and meadows. We gave them names: Göksu, Kızılırmak, Çoruh, Eşen... When they dried up we were anxious, because, for a traveler, gulping water from a natural spring can mean the difference between life and death. And wasn’t each one of us ‘a traveler on life’s road’?
With the arrival of spring, the rivers swelled with rains and melting snows, roaring down the mountainsides as waterfalls. And just as the sea demonstrates its power in waves, so do rivers test their strength in waterfalls. Falling from great heights, they wore down rocks to carve out canyons and mountain passes. Trees sprouted and flowers bloomed along their banks. Bridges were thrown up and fountains built, carved with inscriptions declaring, “Oh traveler, this fountain where you drink is a gift of the village of Veliler”. To solicit the good will of passersby, they first moistened their lips and slaked their thirst. Then one day a sage, pausing to rest near a waterfall, mumbled under his breath: “Don’t let your strength fool you! What bores through stone is not the mighty waterfall but the persistent tiny drops.” From that day forward, to apportion their strength equitably, the rivers of Anatolia divided up into tributaries, flowing away in all directions... I write this as a tribute to them.

Antakya (ancient Antioch) is one of those cities one wishes had a tongue and could speak. A widespread legend there concerns the ‘waters that rise up on their hind legs’. Not only did the Earth Mother store her poppy seeds in Antakya, she also preserved the story of Apollo and Daphne, daughter of the River God. Apollo was smitten with Daphne, but she rejected him. That’s love for you. But Apollo didn’t give up. Undaunted, he continued to pursue the fairy child. The faster Daphne ran, the faster Apollo chased after her in hot pursuit. When she realized she would eventually be caught, she pleaded with the Earth Mother, “Hide me, save me from this Apollo!” And then and there, more properly in the place known as Harbiye, the Earth Mother turned the fairy child into a tree, the tree that we call the laurel or bay tree today. And the Harbiye Waterfalls were formed by the tears Apollo shed when he saw his beloved transformed into a tree. Today at Harbiye, women who covet the beauty of Daphne buy the oil of the laurel and the soaps manufactured from its leaves.
And then there is Sinop, ‘pearl of the Black Sea’. And a pearl it is indeed, but a pearl still hidden in its oyster, so many of its gleams still waiting to be discovered. The Sinop township of Erfelek harbors a whole host of waterfalls, concealed not in oysters but in its forests. The Erfelek waterfalls are the offspring of the Şamı River which plays leapfrog as it flows through the canyon. There are said to be 28 of them, but I’m sure you’d soon lose count if you tried to list them all. If you start from the first waterfall and walk two kilometers to the spring at the end of the road you will have climbed to an elevation of 300 meters. This journey could take up to two or three hours depending on weather conditions and the state of your knees. But if you’re a nature and photography buff, then you won’t get back in less than six or seven hours. And if you continue 15 kilometers beyond Erfelek, a township 30 kilometers from Sinop, you will come to the falling waters.

Like the Black Sea, the Taurus range is a virtual cradle of waterfalls. The first route I’m going to recommend for seeing them is the one through Alanya, Taşkent and Hadim. I know you’re going to be afraid to glance down sometimes as you negotiate the brinks of the precipices and that, when you reach Taşkent, this strange town nestled among the rocks is going to remind you of the landscapes in Amin Maalouf’s novels. The Uçan or ‘Flying’ Waterfall on this road is a past master at creating rainbows as it cascades over the rocks into the Gökdere below. My second recommendation is that you go to Köprülü via Gülbağ and Gündoğmuş, where you will find the source of the Alara River. And the Alara Waterfall, which bursts from the mouth of a small gorge in spring like an unforgettable water festival, will positively delight you.

Poems are not written only with words; they are also written with images. And the Kurşunlu Waterfall at Antalya on the Mediterranean coast conjures up one of those images. As you stroll amidst the trees, you will suddenly come upon a waterfall falling from a height of 12 meters, as if keeping its promise to the void. Meanwhile its cousin, the Düden (the word means ‘swallow hole’) waterfall, goes underground at Kırkpınar and then plays hide and seek with you, disappearing and reappearing over and over again. As you make your way down the adjacent steps and into a large rock, the roar gradually increases and you suddenly find yourself under the waterfall. I say ‘under’ but it feels as if you are actually inside a waterfall pouring over the mouth of a cave.
And that’s not all; there are many more: Kapuzbaşı, Samandere, Tortum, Ulukaya, Hasanboğuldu, Yerköprü, Ayder, Gelintülü. Which one to describe? How can one put a ‘festival of water’ into words anyway? If you want to hear the song of the waterfalls, there’s only one thing to do. And I think you know what it is...