Contributed by Gerald Maclean
Caroline discovered that Evliya’s 1671 itinerary to Mecca would serve our purposes ideally since, in his typically wandering fashion, after setting out from Istanbul, Evliya turned west, away from Mecca in the east, and went as far as Izmir. Since routes Evliya travelled between towns and villages regularly corresponded with one equestrian journey recorded by Lady Anne Blunt, in the summer of 2007 Donna and Caroline journeyed into rural Anatolia on an initial exploration by four-wheel drive that confirmed we could go this way by horse.
Meanwhile, we made contact with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism to tell them of our plans, and in the summer of 2008 the three of us made another brief exploratory trip of stretches of the planned route by four-wheel drive. Our eventual destination, however, was not on Evliya’s 1671 itinerary since we were headed to Cappadocia, ‘the land of the beautiful horses’ and the Akhal-Teke Ranch in Avanos.
Since travelling by horse along sections of Evliya’s route was central to our plan, we needed to find horses. Evliya had wealthy sponsors, and was regularly awarded horses as gifts or spoils from battle. We had better fortune when Patricia Daunt joined the team planning to ride, and suggested that we contact Ercihan Dilari for our horses. So in August 2008, Caroline, Donna and Mac arrived in Avanos, and stayed in a wonderful old stone house with our host Hakan and his Italian guests who were visiting from Yozgat!
After breakfast, we set out to meet with Ercihan and discuss logistics for a long-distance equestrian tour. He understood our project immediately and wanted to join.
With an experienced horseman and horses now on our side, we were nearly all ready to go apart from two things: bureaucracy and finance. Meetings at the Ministry of Tourism and Culture in Ankara and the Turkish Embassy in London brought us formal support in the shape of visas and papers that we would show to local authorities along the way.
But costs remained a problem. The mayor of Kütahya, Evliya’s ancestral hometown to which we would be travelling, helped encourage local businesses to assist with sponsorship.
Thanks to Ercihan’s contacts and Caroline’s indefatigable efforts (and her instinctive sense of how to do these things!), the provision of horse-feed and transport as well as other essential supplies were eventually covered. Ercihan purchased a used kamyonet, and customized it to include a kitchen, outside sink with an over-head water supply, and internal racks to separate sacks of feed and bedding from luggage. Armed with a list of the villages visited by Evliya, Ercihan checked our projected route by motor-cycle. With the planned route approved, we were ready to set out.
And so it came about that the Evliya Çelebi Ride of 2009 took place. This would be an epic journey lasting a legendary forty days and forty nights.