Bursa is Turkey’s fourth-largest city, located in the northwest a couple hours outside of Istanbul. I have been here before: that’s when I saw karagöz and first visited the many mosques, tombs, caravansarays, castles, and mosque complexes pictured here and here. As the old capital of the Ottoman Empire, the city is filled with the tombs of famous people, such as Osman, the founder of the Empire, and his son Orhan, and it has some of the best preserved examples of old Ottoman architecture. Plus it’s famous for its greenery and parks (giving the city its epithet, Yeşil Bursa or “Green Bursa”), for its silk and other traditional handicrafts, and its famous local dish, Iskender kebap. Overall, it’s an incredibly scenic city and one that deserves long rambling walks on a sunny day.
This time, I wasn’t there to see mosques and tombs. I was there to conquer Uludağ, the “Great Mountain” that towers over Bursa. Uludağ is the highest point in western Turkey (2,543 meters/8,343 feet) and a famous destination for skiing and hiking. Although more for skiing than hiking… The locals seemed frankly confused as to why anyone would ever want to walk to the mountaintop.
Our journey up the mountain started near the Atatürk statue up the street from the Grand Bazaar and Ulu Cami. There, we hopped into dolmuşes (shared taxis) that carried us to the teleferik (cable car) station. We then rode two different wobbly cable cars up the mountain side as dense green forest whisked by below us. After getting off at the second stop, we piled into buses that drove us past currently deserted hotels and ski resorts and finally dropped us at a putative trailhead where we began our journey.
The hike up took about four hours in all, and getting down three hours. Some of the time we were on old mining roads and trails; other times we followed the directions and whims of our guide, a returning Fulbrighter who had done this climb before. Parts of the way were really challenging and rough–gravelly almost-vertical ascensions, or even worse, descents, that were truly painful.
However, the moment when we reached the plateau was divine, even moreso for the difficulty that came before it. Instead of the walls of rocks and gravel, we were met with an expansive plateau spreading out before us. After several hours in the fresh open air, my lungs and muscles and my whole body felt open and powerful and strong. This summit was by far the windiest place I have ever experienced. It seemed impossible that wind could simply keep blowing that intensely without stopping–and it seemed even more impossible it could be so much colder up there than down below. While there, we were visited by a shepherd, some sheepdogs, and their herd of sheep and goats, which was a picturesque surprise.
Our journey stopped at a pile of boulders which was the highest peak of the mountain. Rumor has it that, from the top of Uludağ on a clear day you can see Istanbul, so we stained our eyes and imagined we could extend our gaze and our senses all the way to the biggest metropolis in Turkey.
It was definitely my favorite trip in Turkey so far. I’ve always loved hiking and doing outdoorsy-things, but this was the first time I had ever completed a day-long hike up to the peak of a mountain. It’s an amazing sense of power and accomplishment. (It was also great training for the Istanbul marathon, which I ran in a couple weeks after this.) Once spring comes and warm weather returns, I’ll definitely be seeking out more mountains to climb.