Week 24

On our Chaparda challenge we love breakthrough moments, where a significant milepost is reached, and so far we’ve marked quite a few. Today we have another two more to celebrate, and that’s team snow leopard passing the halfway mark and our teams combined passing the 10,000 mile mark. Special congratulations to our snow leopards, and keep it up! We’re all very proud of you. As of today, Sunday, the snow leopards have completed 51.1% of the route, and have collectively covered 2905.5 miles. Amazing!

The snow leopards are ending the week outside the village of Kirkdikme high in the mountains, but in a very fertile plain. Googling this particular village brought me to a delightful web page and series of photographs, one of which I’ve chosen for our featured image at the top of the diary for this week. It shows children from the village school planting trees in their school yard, which is seen in the photo beside the village Mosque. 

Seeing these children planting trees put me in mind of the carbon offsetting project we supported and blogged about prior to our last Chaparda Clinic, the Chinese Medicine Forestry Trust. We added a donation to CMFT to account for flying to India – a small gesture perhaps but of great importance for the life and health of the planet.

It struck me that these children are doing what schools all over the world are doing, and what groups like CMFT are doing, modelling good behaviour, and it was lovely that our snow leopards were able to stumble upon it. 

The Route of the Aras River

The village of Kirkdikme is close to the source of the Aras River. As a river it’s nothing of note at this point but just like our Chaparda Challengers, it follows it’s own mammoth route and it becomes one of the regions most important waterways, flowing for more than 660 miles through Turkey, Armenia, Iran and Azerbaijan, finally flowing out into the Caspian Sea. A small stream becomes this fabulous river – who knows what those trees planted by the children will become!

A little way behind the snow leopards (thanks to Sasiki posting her saved-up miles!) it’s the turn of our wee monkeys to pass through the city of Erzincan, high up in the Bingol Mountains. It’s not exactly a country town – the population is over 100,000, around the same size as Dover, and being an important hub for all the surrounding towns and villages there’s always plenty to do. And plenty to eat… Do you like cheese? Well, you’re in the right place for one of the best goat cheeses in Turkey, Tulum cheese.

Erzincan University

But if you prefer to improve your education then Erzincan University might be for you… it’s an impressive campus with a great range of schools and faculties, and perhaps the wee monkeys have roamed around a little. But in the end, perhaps the only thing they need to learn is that the snow leopards and the peacocks are both ahead of them, so they need to get a move on! And don’t forget, Erzincan is prone to earthquakes, so best to keep moving!

The tigers, meanwhile, continue their progress through Hungary and have passed the town of Tatabanya, the capital of Komárom-Esztergom County. It’s a mining town with a fascinating history, surrounded by the most beautiful countryside, whose jewel has to be the Szelim Cave, though it has a bit of a grisly history, which you can read for yourself. Tatabanya wasn’t always the County Capital, and most people who know Hungary are surprised to learn that it is. That’s because Esztergom, to the north and having a commanding position over the river Danube (as we’ve often seen), is a more strategic and ‘classical’ position for a capital. In fact Tatabanya only took that title from Esztergom in 1950, by dint of its increased population!


If the tigers can bear a diversion to the north then Esztergom will not disappoint. St Stephen was crowned there as the first king of Hungary in the 11th century, so it’s steeped in history. The Basilica  is the largest Church and thanks to it’s massive dome the tallest building in Hungary. The castle, the museums, ‘Watertown’, and so much more make it a wonderful place to visit. I had my first glimpse of the Basilica and castle from a boat on the Danube and it’s one of those sights you never forget!

Zanjan Stone Caravanserai

Far to the south the peacocks continue their sojourn through Iran. They’ve now passed through the city of Zanjan, keeping to a fertile valley, with the imposing Qaflankuh Mountains to the north. Zanjan is famous for its handicrafts such as knives, carpets and sandals. It was once a main centre for ornate and high quality knives but foreign imports (not from Sheffield though!) have had a negative effect. Rugs and carpets continue to be made here, and silversmiths keep the art of filigree alive. Zanjan has one of the oldest Caravanserai in the Middle East, a reminder of the importance of the Silk Road to this whole region of Iran. Caravanserai were roadside inns where travelers (caravaners) could rest and recover from the day’s journey and are to be found not just in the Middle East but all around the Mediterranean and North Africa as well. I first came across the word ‘Caravanserai’ through the beautiful music of Loreena McKennitt and you can treat yourself to a listen here if you’ve never heard of her. She’s a wonderful Canadian artist.

I hope all our teams have found their own caravanserai for the night! It’s the end of another week and as mentioned earlier, we’ve broken through the 10,000 mile barrier! What an achievement! We got there by adding 427 miles to our total, so very well done to everyone. Unfortunately, no donations were received this week so if people could press their family and friends to support Word Medicine it would be appreciated. 

Enjoy the week ahead and as temperatures and rain both begin to drop please don’t let your enthusiasm follow suit!