A Kurdish Welcome (Kurdistan by motorcycle)

A Kurdish Welcome (Kurdistan by motorcycle)

Each day in Kurdistan, we experience the kindness of people living here. Soon after meeting Taha by chance, we were invited for lunch. Not only that, he became our guide for the day, took us for ice-cream and even paid for our petrol. Later he asked us to spend the night in his house and had his wife prepare a lovely dinner and breakfast for us. We spent a fantastic time with Taha’s family and are happy that our paths crossed.

The most intriguing thing about this man was his life story. He told us about having to leave his home in 1975 to escape Saddam Husain’s attack on Kurdish people, his father’s passing away whilst in the exile, and about the 19 years he spent in the mountains as a peshmerga fighting for the freedom of Kurdistan.

Thanks to people like Taha, willing to sacrifice his life, this region is now autonomous. For me it’s amazing how people who were oppressed for such a long time and have suffered so greatly, can possess so much kindness towards strangers.

Iraqi Kurdistan Kurdistan by motorcycle

Alqosh, an Assyrian surprise in Iraq

Alqosh, an Assyrian surprise in Iraq

Getting lost in Iraq, finding Alqosh

Our plan was to spend 2 weeks in Kurdistan, a northern and independent region of Iraq. My research consisted of a few hours on the internet which resulted in a rough route. We knew it was safe for travel and that people were kind and friendly.

For our first day we chose Alqosh. I’d read somewhere that it was a nice place and assumed it was in Kurdistan so after few hours of riding in scorching heat, we were pretty surprised to find ourselves in Iraq proper.

At the entrance to the town, we were stopped by a soldier at the checkpoint. He didn’t like our idea of camping in Alqosh and insisted that we would have to leave within a couple of hours. We were tired from the heat, didn’t really know where we were going, and on top of that we were now being told that we couldn’t stay overnight in our first destination. All this made us want to turn around and leave, but luckily we went against our feeling.

When we drove into the centre, we were amazed to find Catholic churches and houses painted with biblical scenes. It seemed more like something we’d expect to see in Mexico, not Iraq.

The town was pretty heavily guarded. At our first stop, soldiers armed with guns came to us, wanting to know who we were and what we wanted. When we got to one of the churches, there was another group of soldiers guarding the entrance. Inside the church there was a special celebration, which we were allowed to attend only after confirming that we were also Catholics.

After we’d left the service, the soldiers wanted us to see some interesting sites; a friendly young boy called Fadi showed us around the town, and we got to meet some welcoming locals too.

St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Alqosh

That night we camped in the grounds of St. Joseph’s Orphanage after spending a great time with the boys who live there, and the priests who look after them.  They greeted us with a warm welcome and made sure that we weren’t hungry or thirsty.

We’d heard lot of good things about Kurdish people but that day we got to experience real Iraqi hospitality.

Riding a motorcycle in Iraqi Kurdistan

Riding a motorcycle in Iraqi Kurdistan

(this post was written in 2015. I cannot comment on the current situation in Kurdistan)

Kurdish region of Iraq is not only a safe place, it’s also an amazing destination to visit. We travelled to Kurdish Iraq on the motorcycle and loved every moment of our stay there.

In Kurdistan the mountains are beautiful, people are most welcoming and history is fascinating.

By motorcycle in Iraqi Kurdistan

Entering this country is free. Standard 15 days visa stamp is issued on the boarder without any problem, but extending this period can be tricky, as blood test is required.

When entering by bike, we had to pay 42$ for motorcycle insurance and nobody even asked me if I had a green card. The cost was soon balanced off by petrol prices which during our stay were 500 Iraqi Dinars per litter which is only about 20 British pens. The government introduced the law that across the whole region, the price for petrol has to be the same.

The roads are not bad, but due to the heat, some stretches of asphalt are pretty deformed, making it hard to ride. The most annoying thing about riding a motorcycle in Kurdistan, are ever present speed bumps, which are almost everywhere and not always marked. I suppose this makes riding safer as cars have to adjust their speed, but slowing down every 500 meters is no fun.

Apparantly Kurdistan is notorious for road accidents, but to be honest we didn’t notice anything out of ordinary.

Be prepared to be stopped by police on every check point, and there are a lot of them. When we were stopped, police man usually were very nice and wanted to joke with us, but after being stopped for 50th time, we kind of lost a sense of humour.

Kurdistan is not a large country so 15 days isn’t actually that short.

Our itinerary

Amongst many popular destinations to visit, we went to:

  • Duhok with it’s cool bazaar
  • Alqosh
  • Lalish
  • Arbil (also known as Erbil and Hawler), worth a visit for it’s Citadel and Blue Mosque.
  • Sulaimaniya where we spent almost a week. It’s an interesting city with a nice vibe.
  • Halabja and nearby villages

Also bikers should consider riding through Amedia and Barzan on their way from Duhok to Arbil. It’s a nice ride with picturesque scenery.

Kurdish people

The best thing about Kurdish part of Iraq is its people, who are ever so kind and generous. Wherever we showed up, there almost always was somebody who wanted to invite us for food or to their house for a night. People are just happy to see tourist and show them Kurdish generosity. This makes Kurdistan a very special travel destination.

Alcohol is surprisingly cheap and available in most large shops.

When to visit

We were there in May which already was very hot, with temperatures reaching 35 degrees. Probably early spring (March/April) or autumn (October/November) is the best time to visit.

Riding a motorcycle in Iraqi Kurdistan is a fantastic adventure. We loved every moment of our visit.