An alpine pasture touching the clouds Pokut
A glistening white cloud floated over the Black
Sea into the valley, and disregarding the forest that surrounded me on all sides
swept me of my feet. I could no longer hear the sound of the rushing river below
or see the curving hills. Only the arched peak of Kaçkar raised its head in the
distance. Springs concealed their waters, grasses lay bathed in dew, all the
insects crouched in their hiding places, and the buffeting wind from the
mountains withdrew to rest. Then the sound of bagpipes rang out from the alpine
pasture ahead of me, calling all in hearing to the Vartivor Festival. At that
moment an eagle rose into the air from Kaçkar and flew off towards the Black
Sea. Then the sea called the clouds back again, and the sun before setting shot
down rays of shining light. My feet touched the ground. There in front of me was
Pokut Yayla, a high pasture at an altitude of 2100 metres, as beautiful as a
Wooden houses set in rows on the green meadow that stretched like a peninsular into the forest sea seemed to be contemplating the view of the valley, the treetops sweeping down to its floor, the sky, the clouds and the peaks of the Kaçkars. Others could be seen in the direction of Sal Yayla, watching out for their owners' arrival. The people who were coming to Pokut from the village of Ortan or the neighbourhood of Konaklar in Çamlihemsin via Senyuva must be halfway here by now. Many of them are people who have migrated to the cities but return annually to their true home, to Pokut in whose embrace they grew up, the meadows of Tanovit and Egnedap where as children they ran and tumbled over the grass, and the River Mego that is the forst'sn voice. Even in the years before the road was built, 70 year-old Hüseyin Bey came all the way from Izmir every summer, made the four-hour journey into the mountains, and did his own repairs to his mountain cottage.
Refik Bey, a retired civil servant at the Department of Highways, similarly comes with his family from Ankara to spend the summer holidays. It is easy to understand why they continue to return. Just for a single day and night on the yayla it is worth the journey to lie on your back in the grass on one of those electric-free nights, alone with the sky, watching the stars twinkling yellow and blue, seeming so close that you might stretch out and touch them. The restful pleasure of a picnic by the spring at Fane, sipping the delicious ice cold water and nibbling at a leaf of wild rocket growing by the water is unforgettable. During the summer months spent on the high pastures the flocks feed on the lush grass, their milk is made into butter and cheese, and hay is made for winter fodder. Pokut is only regarded as a stopping place on the way to the main yayla of Samistal, and is more like a summer resort for local people who no longer keep up pastoral customs.Vanak, the summer village of Pokut, with its beautifully crafted wooden houses, is as picturesque as any photographer could wish, and many trekking groups from the big cities taking the route via Amlakit, Samistal and Hazindag to Çamlihemsin stop off here. The simplicity of life on the high pastures is one of the attractions for visitors. In Pokut there is neither grocer nor butcher, not even a coffeehouse. All provisions are purchased from Çamlihemsin 15 kilometres away. Like so many people in the Black Sea region the people who come here have been obliged to seek work far from home. Until the turn of the 20th century Russia was the most popular destination, and there they generally worked as bakers, pastry cooks or in restaurants. From their adopted home they brought back both money and experience of life in another country. This probably explains why the summer cottages on the high pastures of Çamlihemsin are better built with more attention to decoration than those elsewhere in the Black Sea mountains.
The ground floors are built of stone and the upper floors of timber (generally chestnut wood, which is both hard and resistant to woodworm). All the houses were built by local Laz craftsmen and the meticulous workmanship strikes one immediately. The shutters, doors, window lintels, eaves, and even the iron hinges of the doors and windows are decorated. Many of the houses are between a century and a century and a half old, yet are still in fine condition. They consist of two or three rooms, a kitchen, and a foodstore known as maran. Except the very old, everyone in Çamlihemsin and its villages spends the summer on the high pastures. For children and young people in particular this is the best time of year, and they leave the seaside behind with no regrets. Young girls at university in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir don the traditional headdress of the region when they come home for the summer holidays in the mountains.
This consists of a headscarf known as cinpuli, made of black chiffon edged with sequins, over which is tied a second scarf known as pusi or sar. The Vartivor Festival marks the end of summer and the return home from the pastures. Everyone, men and women, young and old, dance arm in arm to bagpipe music, celebrating the joy of another busy and productive summer together. If only everyone could spend their summers in the mountains, discovering the forests, stars... and themselves. Departing from Pokut at festival time, I knew it would always have a special place in my heart.
* Ersin Toker is a freelance writer.