It’s early Friday morning and I’m in a SUV travelling from Sulymaniya to the picturesque border town of Ahmad Awa.
But it’s not the SUV I expected to find myself in when I first visited Iraq, or more accurately the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The only green I see is the grass covered mountains we’re slowly winding up into. The only gun in sight is on a t-shirt of the young driver, also in charge of the music and obviously a fan of American rap. The only helmet I can see dangles unused from the handlebars of a local boy’s bike, who has been playing tag with our vehicle and waving to us.
I’m in Kurdistan, northern Iraq and I am off to a barbecue.
Every weekend, thousands of people jump in their vehicles, pile their picnic gear in the back and head up into the mountains for food, music, dancing and sheesha. The locals are so hospitable and relaxed - this is the safe part of Iraq, a world away from troubles. The day is spent as one vast celebration and I'm dragged from tent to tent to experience the moment. I'm grateful for the hot chai - sweet tea - that is thrust into my hands that allows me to take a break. I've seen spectacular waterfalls, walked fields of wildflowers, admired snow capped mountains and toured ruins that predate the Roman civilisation as well as still standing buildings that do the same.
The thing I enjoy most is the local knowledge that truly allows me to experience life here like a local.
I'm already imagining my trip back next year for Nawroz, the Kurdish equivalent of New Year’s Eve. Occurring in March, it's one of the great celebrations in Kurdistan and a must see for visitors with a passion for festivals and local culture. From the largest city to the smallest village, thousands of Kurds stumble into the street to dance, eat and drink (non-alcoholic of course, though for Westerners that too is available) and celebrate new beginnings.
Kurdistan is a vibrant, amazing part of Iraq that everyone should visit if they get the chance.
The quoted statistic rings true. “Since March 2003, not a single coalition soldier has died nor a single foreigner been kidnapped in the areas administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)”.
In many ways, I feel safer here than at home.
Kurdistan Adventures offers custom and group tours in the Kurdistan region.