Across Turkey by train: riding the Mesopotamia Express

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With lengthy stops for side trips, this long-distance journey is a joyful, social experience accompanied by great food and music

It’s 11.30am in Diyarbakır’s railway station. Women in oversized sunglasses and hijabs are posing for pictures underneath retro clocks bearing the TCDD logo of Turkey’s state rail network. A young, lightly bearded man reclines on a bench, his heart-shaped balloon on a string wafting in the breeze taking the edge off today’s 38C scorch. Red bunting hangs from the platform ceiling. Shrill whistles cut through piped bağlama music as the Mesopotamia Express pulls up.

Running 653 miles (1,051km) between Turkey’s capital Ankara and Diyarbakır, the Kurdish-majority city not far from the Syrian and Iraqi borders, the Mesopotamia Express was launched in April, running once a month in each direction for three months. I’m taking its final service of 2024, with the TCDD saying it should return in 2025.

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