Weather of Arabia - The Middle East has a deep culture of walking, from historic pilgrimage trails to following in the footsteps of traditional nomads and shepherds, and a new long-distance walking path in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq encourages travelers to see a side of the country that doesn't appear in the news headlines.
Zagros Mountains track in Kurdistan
The 215-kilometre Zagros Mountains Trail is the latest addition to the range of trails in the region and follows the routes of shepherds, pilgrims, merchants and rest-seekers through the peaks of northern Iraq. The idea for the track first appeared in 2016, but implementation didn't start until 2019.
“I was struck by the idea that this place had all the elements of a perfect walk: great natural beauty, many layers of history, well-established trail networks, a rich and deep culture, and intrinsic hospitality from the people,” explains Leon McCarron, a writer from Northern Ireland with a passion for the area and co-founder of the trail. .
"I strongly believe that trails are a great way to reimagine a place," McCarron says. "We've seen this in many parts of the world where tourism - especially this kind of slow, immersive tourism - is a great way to help move past conflict or trauma in the history of a nation or region and give it a new identity."
The Zagros mountain trail winds through a variety of landscapes, including steep climbs of up to 2,000 meters in elevation, and the trail's creators hope it will attract all kinds of travelers.
“I want to see all kinds of hikers on the Zagros Mountain Trail. I want the Zagros Mountain Trail to be a platform for the exchange of cultures,” says Lwin Muhammad, a Kurd from Syria and a partner on the trail. "I want them to remember our food, our culture, our music, and our history."
Although the trail covers a great distance - and will continue to expand even further - the guides currently offer daily weekend walks from Ankawa, a suburb of Erbil.
"We are not yet at the point of opening the path and inviting people to join," McCarron explains. "We're taking it step by step, doing these weekly trips. We hope to move to the next one in the fall and next year."
The number of long-distance, community-oriented trails has increased in the Middle East in recent years, including the Wadi Rum Trail in Jordan, the Sinai Trail and the Red Sea Mountain Trail in Egypt, giving visitors access to areas rarely seen by foreigners while walking with expert local guides.
“We at the Zagros Mountain Trail aim to make the Kurdistan region one of the most desirable and successful destinations in the Middle East for outbound tourism,” according to Alwin Muhammad, a Kurd from Syria and a partner on the trail. “For me personally, I have always dreamed of a platform to meet new people from different backgrounds, to tell and hear stories, to enable me to show the beauty of our land and show the deep history and coexistence of our region.”
Source: Lonely Planet
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