The highlands of Kaş

As travelers flock to the coasts at the arrival of spring, the southern heat lures them to the clear blue waters and the protection of beach umbrellas. But the locals head for the highlands.

Every village on the coast of Kaş has a namesake in the highlands, or even an entire highland named for it. A flurry of activity gets underway on the coast when the trees blossom and everything turns green. Food and belongings are packed up and everyone hits the road, some by truck or tractor, some on mule or camelback, even donkey. Some of the highlands lack roads altogether and everyone, young and old alike, trudge merrily up the footpaths. Those with large flocks take several days of shepherding to reach their destination. Even the beehives are not left behind, the wooden boxes being transported to the cool, flower-carpeted slopes so that the bees can produce better honey. The heavy scent of giant white and yellow daisies fills the air, which buzzes with bees flitting from flower to flower. The highland houses that shivered in solitude under the winter snows suddenly come to life again in bright festive color. And while the people down on the coasts swelter in the heat, the breezes that sweep the hills at night make a person want to snuggle up in a blanket.

Bezirgan and Gökçeören are the most beautiful villages in Kaş. A little further on, Kasaba lies almost invisible in the dense morning fog. This quiet district, to which Kaş was once attached administratively, resembles the Black Sea highlands under its cover of white clouds. Along the sharply winding asphalt road outside Kasaba lie Kıbrıs Canyon with its rich natural habitat on the one side, and on the other the cedar trees, harbinger of higher altitudes. At 1350 meters, Sinekçibeli pass signals one’s arrival in the highlands. Gömbe is the first one that comes to mind in Kaş. Gömbe - an inspiring landscape with its cool air, towering Uçarsu waterfall, and the Yeşilgöl (‘Green Lake’). From Üçağız to Kınık, all the highlands of the coastal villages of Kaş province come together at Gömbe.

Grape vines are rife in the green areas and highland villages of Kaş in the foothills of Mt. Akdağ. With their green areas stretching all the way up to the three-thousand-meter-high summits, the Akdağlar, an extension of the Beydağları range, is home to the highlanders. With their vast high-altitude plains, the snowy peaks of the north-south running Teke Peninsula are suitable for habitation throughout the summer months. So much so that when you reach Uyluk Tepe, the highest peak of the Akdağ range at 3020 meters, you’ll be able to see the nomadic tents in the valleys spread below you. This juxtaposition of  mountains and valleys is so serendipitous that as you stand amazed at their proximity from your vantage point at the summit, you will hear quite clearly the calls back and forth and the radios of the shepherds grazing their animals several hundred meters below.

The Kaş highlands are also a land of lakes. Scattered among the mountains, each one lovelier than the last, these lakes present different views depending on the direction and speed of the wind. The Akçay dam reservoir in morning, overshadowed by Akdağ’s snowy peak, is a visual feast constantly changing color in the wind. The Baranda and Bulanık lakes, hidden in the upper reaches of Mt. Kohu, are not only good for excursions but also the venues for the highland festivals. The crystal clear waters of these turquoise-blue lakes nestled in the bosom of Akdağ are fed by melting snows throughout the summer. Wetlands such as Kartal, Karagöl, Çimenli, Ikizgöl, Girdev and several other tiny, nameless lakes are scattered among the highlands as well. And you can see almost all of them on the short climb up to Akdağ.

But the highlands of Kaş dazzle the eye not only with their natural beauty but with their historical legacy as well. Next to almost every village and highland stands an ancient city. Sometimes a saddle-roofed sarcophagus, sometimes a rock-cut tomb, sometimes  the ruins of an entire building will appear before you, the mysterious heritage of Lycia. And the as yet little excavated ancient settlements like Phellos, Komba (Gömbe), Nysa (Sütleğen), Kandyba (Çataloluk), Göltepe (Bezirgan) and Dereköy Church (Dirgenler) are a few of the major sites that could shed light on ancient history.

Don’t be surprised if you come across wooden huts with triangular gabled roofs in the villages. These are the traditional granaries that go back centuries, a legacy reflecting the triangular shapes of houses and tombs in the Lycian period. These cultural monuments, built of timber without the use of a single nail, have all but disappeared today. Their builders long departed from this world, they were used for centuries by the villagers for storing grain. Standing in a cluster at the entrance to the villages of Bezirgan and Gökçeören, these structures were usually erected immediately next to the house. The two-storey granary in the village of Beyler near Elmalı is perhaps the most interesting of them all. These ancient granaries, some of which are no longer in use, are being removed today to be used as garden accessories for the new villas going up in the area.

There’s no returning from the highlands without a village meal. Phrases like “Anybody hungry?”  and “Time to eat” are easily the most frequently heard up here where the provisions transported to the heights with a thousand and one hardships are shared with unexpected guests without a moment’s hesitation. ‘Sündürme’, a southern version of Black Sea ‘mıhlama’ (a kind of thick omelette), ‘gözleme’ (a flat savory pastry stuffed with local herbs), and ‘bazlama’, as well as the inimitable local honey, strained yoghurt, and goat cheese are just a few of the flavors not to be missed.

Summer is different in the highlands of Kaş. Grass is cut for the winter and the yellowing sheaves are gathered in. The animals graze freely to the accompaniment of folk songs. Goats are milked, and cheeses pressed into large molds. Young girls keep trysts with their beaus in the bushes. But September means good-bye to the highlands. Windows are closed, chimneys tightly covered. The bittersweet descent to the coast commences. The highland houses are once again buried in a profound silence that will last until the first warm weather announces the arrival of a new summer.