Iraqi Kurdistan is not an obvious holiday destination. But Josie Delap, Countries Editor of Economist.com, leapt at the chance to go. She finds few fellow westerners but plenty of odd pleasures ...
Iraqi Kurdistan is not an obvious holiday destination. But when offered the opportunity to spend a week here, I jumped at it. While the rest ofIraq remains mired in conflict, the north is relatively peaceful. After theyears of suffering under Saddam Hussein, the Kurds have finally been able totake their fate in their own hands. They are busily building a future.
The Kurdish Regional Government has launched a public-relations campaign, touting northern Iraq as "The Other Iraq"--a tourist-friendly destination. But few beyond thrill-seekers and war-zone tourists seem to have got the message. The only visitors I come across are either Kurds from the north or Arabs seeking relief from the relentless awfulness of the rest of the country. But the bustling tea-stalls are a hint of how much Kurdistan has changed from the years under Saddam.
I meet only two other Westerners during my time in Kurdistan, grizzled men from Johannesburg and Arizona. (They looked rather more like employees of Blackwater than travellers from Thomas Cook.) Our conversation consisted largely of their dire warnings about the dangers of Kurdistan. But I am determined to prove them wrong. I am here to discover the delights of this Mesopotamian idyll, whatever and wherever they may be.
Back at the amusement park, I climb into the rickety car of the toboggan-run, fasten the slightly frayed seatbelt and cram my bag between my legs before we launch down the side of the mountain. On either side of the track are sheets of chicken wire, about eight feet high. I can only assume this is there to catch us if we career off the track, to prevent us from plummeting down the side of the mountain. This does not inspire me with confidence. Neither does a sign warning of "danger of death". Still, onward, ever onward.
Halfway down the ride, we stop our little car to take photos. The mountains are beautiful beneath the cornflower-blue sky; olive and brown, with golden grasses all the way down, flecked with lilac flowers. The Kurds' proverbial only friends are a sight to behold.