An award-winning photographer has made a name for himself after trekking to some of the most remote locations on the planet. Now, he shares some vital advice to ensure that your treks are just as successful.
Ryan Pyle is not only a successful photographer, he is also a TV presenter, with the second season of his hit series Extreme Treks already out. This time around, Pyle has trekked around parts of China, Oman, and Nepal, to name a few.
In an interview with Asian Geographic, Pyle revealed just how far his love for trekking goes, specifically back to mountainous Tibet at the turn of the millennium. “I’ve always loved getting out of the city and walking and camping in beautiful places,” he said.
“Trekking is pretty much taking long walks off the beaten track to learn about culture and see amazing landscapes. We did the first series of Extreme Treks in Tibet. It was independently produced and directed.”
Not only was Pyle quick to share his reasons for why he got into photography in the first place, he also explained what he’s looking for through the lens. “When I take photos on my treks, I’m just looking to capture the moment and the feelings associated with it.”
“On the Oman trip we met a caravan along the way and got to interact with locals and experience local culture. Then we finished up a 12-day trek by rock climbing in 40°C heat to a point 3,000m above sea level – the highest point in all of the Arabian Peninsula.”
As for other aspiring photographers who want to get out there and get to the top of the mountain, Pyle has a few words of wisdom. “My advice is to take a lot of pictures. And to be in the place that you want to tell stories,” he said.
“If you really want to be a good photographer, sometimes that means keeping your daily finances low so you can afford money to travel. And sometimes it means taking the plunge and leaving home, moving to a new country.”
“It’s much cheaper to take pictures in the place you live than get on a plane there lots of times. You get better and faster that way. Being immersed in a way of life different from what you’re used to will create the environment for your skills to develop through experience and observation.”
It was a routine home renovation for one man, who needed to add a little more space in his home as his family continued to grow. But he couldn’t know the ancient secret hidden below.
Beyond The Wall
The man decided the most reasonable place to begin his expansion was from the basement, where he could easily dig out the earth to create another room, but when he knocked down the wall, he found an ancient secret that had been hidden for centuries, just waiting to be discovered once more.
When the man originally set out to dig, his intentions were very pure. All he wanted was some more space for his family to grow in. The easiest solution for a quick expansion was to dig in the basement and expand the underground part of the household. But just when construction got underway, things took a very different turn.
A Hole In The Dark
What this man found under his home came as a surprise to archeologists and historians in the region, and despite his home holding such an impactful revelation, he has otherwise remained anonymous. His home looked just like every other home in his village, which is located in a mountainous desert. The village was populated by carved white stone dwellings that had not yet been modified. But it would seem this man’s property was different than everyone else’s.
A Hidden Chamber
On the day he was fated to make his discovery, he descended the steep stone steps into his cellar, which was dark and cool, despite the heat of the day. He carried his tools with him, and got to work dismantling the wall farthest from the stairs. But while he worked away at the stone, he could feel an odd breeze wheezing out onto his skin. Something wasn’t right, but he continued along anyway, thinking perhaps it was just a hidden room. He was wrong.
Into The Abyss
The man decided to find a flashlight in order to inspect the room he thought he found, hoping against all hope that it would mean the end of his work. But when he slipped into the opening he had created, he realized this was no room at all, more like a narrow corridor. He shined the light around the corners, encouraging any dangerous critters to flee. His heart pounding, he took one step, followed by another…
So Much To Fear
As the man stood in the darkness of this newly discovered chamber, his mind raced on, presenting all of the possible ways his life could end in the shadows beneath his home. He quickly gathered that he was not indeed standing on edge of a precipice, and hoped against all hope that the subterranean area was not inhabited by any of the many venomous snakes that populated his area. It seemed likely that the walls above him would continue to hold, so he pressed onward…
Engulfed In Shadows
His intuition proved correct: he was in fact in some sort of corridor, which twisted its way into a massive underground hall. It was the sheer size of the room he found that set his discovery apart from similar archeological sites in his province. The previously uncovered archeological finds included storage caves, tombs, and ancient temples that were several millennia old. But little did he know, this humble man was about to change the course of history.
Unquestionably Man Made
It was readily apparent to the man that the room had been cut from the interior of the mountainside by ancient men. Its stone floor had been smoothed by the thousands of feet that must have passed over it throughout its years of use. At the far end of the chamber, he could see the darkness deepen, indicating that the labyrinth plunged deeper into the earth. Half expecting monsters to emerge around him, the clutched his flashlight ever more tightly, and continued his trek.
Pondering whether or not there could be any artifacts left in the vast, stone hall, the man carefully aimed his flashlight into each corner, stepping slowly so as not to potentially damage anything that had been left behind. His hand brushing the wall, he found another fissure in the rock, leading to a passageway that only just accommodated the width of his body. Barely daring to breathe, he walked step by step, when he felt the floor give way from underneath him.
A Stairwell Cut From Stone
It was a steep, stone cut stairwell that quickly dropped him untold meters further beneath the earth. Though the man was not particularly tall, the ceiling was low enough that he had to crouch as he continued his descent, barely believing that he wasn’t in the midst of some bizarre dream. He briefly mused on how his family would react to the news, but knew in his heart that once he notified the antiquities department, their lives would never be the same again.
The man had an inkling that his find was beyond significant. He continued for what seemed like hours, twisting through a never ending maze of rooms, corridors, and stairwells, wending their way through the heart of the mountain, as if it were protecting a dragon and its treasure cave within. Though no cache of ancient treasure ever appeared, the man went as far as he dared before turning heel and returning home, fearing his fate were he to fail to retrace his steps.
Emerging from the darkness into the familiarity of his basement, he hurried to inform the Turkish Antiquities Authority. Located in the province of Nevşehir, it was common knowledge that ancient civilizations had once dwelled on the very same lands. Known by historians as Cappodocia, the first mention of the ancient city comes from inscriptions that date back to the 6th century B.C. regarding two Persian kings, Darius I, perhaps better known as Darius the Great, and his successor, Xerxes.
Looking For Answers
Archeologists swarmed the newly discovered site, with an untold number of questions forming in their minds. Though it was generally accepted that the area’s earliest inhabitants were the Hittites, whose short-lived empire began sometime around 1600 B.C, the site changed hands a number of times, and was eventually incorporated into the ancient Persian empire. But with such a vast network of rooms, it was important to researchers to discover why any of these people would have need of an underground city.
The Lost City
Turkish researchers gathered to probe the newly uncovered caves, not realizing that they were now linked to the most important archeological discovery in history. After making a thorough inquiry of the space, the archeologists realized that the hidden city was ancient Derinkuyu, which until then had thought to be a myth along the lines of Atlantis. It was then hypothesized that the first rooms were constructed between the 7th and 8th centuries B.C. by the Phrygians. But there was even more to the story underneath.
The Legacy Of An Ancient People
The early Phrygians moved into the region on the tail end of the Hittite empire, and were contemporary with the beginnings of Ancient Greece. Phrygian music had a profound effect on the development of Greek music, particularly their war anthems. Another ancient myth that stemmed from Phrygian culture was that of King Midas, whose touch turned everything into gold. But without further research, it was impossible to know if Derinkuyu would have been contemporary with such a legend.
Just How Old Was It
From the man’s initial excavation of the hidden city in 1963, researchers were preoccupied with the purpose of the underground metropolis. It was theorized to have possibly been a retreat from natural disasters, which would not have been uncommon at the time, though some more far fetched proposals have suggested it was a hideaway from aliens. The ancient city may be referenced in a Zoroastrian text, which would place its establishment between 1500 and 1200 B.C, even earlier than what was once thought.
Into The Center Of The Earth
Excavations of the site showed that the labyrinth descended 18 stories deep or more, which would place it as one of the greatest underground building projects ever constructed by an ancient civilization. The engineering feats required to build it rival that of the ancient pyramids. The network is so vast, archeologists have proposed that it could accommodate nearly 20,000 people at its capacity. But why would so many need to live so far from beneath the earth. What was it that they feared?
Life Under Siege
The last known construction in Derinkuyu took place during the Byzantine empire, and it’s likely that the subterranean metropolis was covered by another city built above the earth. Though the mountainous terrain would have served as some protection to the people who were being ravaged by the Arab-Byzantine War, which endured for nearly 400 years, the city’s inhabitants needed a way to live without feeling like they were under siege. In their last stand against would be Muslim invaders, the Byzantines fled underground.
A Respite From War
When the opposing army would assault the city, the citizens of Derinkuyu would head underground, where they would be virtually undetectable by the Arab armies. During the Muslim Civil War, which took place in 659 A.D. the battered Byzantines had a chance to fortify their city during a break from the continued attacks from the south. With the unification of Arab factions into the Umayyad Empire, the war was reignited. Those who dwelled in Derinkuyu were only spared by being hidden from sight.
Emptied Of Life
When the foreign armies arrived to besiege the city, they would find no trace of life left, even the animals would have been taken underground. The entrances to the hidden city were easily concealed, and constructed in such a way that an invading army could only cross it one man at a time, thus giving the defenders the upper hand in an invasion. There were nearly 100 such entrances that allowed access to the underground maze, making it easier to clear the upper city.
Better Fortified Than A Castle
As with any good fortress, the underground city was constructed primarily to shield the population from an onslaught by a ruthless enemy. A multilayered security system was put in place in the primary design of the city. Its 18 stories were connected by narrow stairs, again ensuring that an army could only take them one at a time. Should the hidden entrances be discovered and an upper level breached, the inhabitants could move ever deeper into the earth, sealing the upper floors with large boulders.
Nearly Modern Technology
The complexity of the structures the builders of Derinkuyu engineered is impressive even by today’s standards. In order to make it a viable option for residence, the city planners had to account for fresh water access, which they did by drilling underground wells that could only be accessed from underground, which prevented attackers from poisoning the water supply. Additionally, they knew it was important to drill ventilation holes, without which the city could have never sustained a population.
Welcome To The Netherworld
It was easy for the concealed entrances to the complex to have been lost over time, as they were built under bushes, into walls, or in private courtyards. Researchers have also found evidence of ancient kitchens, meaning the ventilation system built into the city was good enough that families could cook without fear of smoke inhalation, though it seems the smoke must have been ingeniously released to not be caught. The presence of fire is apparent from the number of blackened ceilings the archeologists saw.
Let There Be Light
Similar to other underground cities that have since been discovered in the region, a multitude of different structures have been distinguished from one another. In addition to obvious kitchens and bakeries, there were structures that housed wine presses and churches. But most important for a city without sunlight was the “bezirhane” which are rooms where the inhabitants pressed linseed to produce oil, causing archeologists to conclude that the shadowy corridors were likely lit by linseed lamps.
Life Goes On
The main purpose of the complex was not merely to withstand a siege by an invading army, but to spare the population the usual losses inherent in living in a war zone. The city was as equipped as any above ground city, with residents continuing to go to school, places for their horses and other livestock to live, and large store rooms to sustain the population during prolonged conflict. The concept was so successful that it managed to protect the locals through centuries of invasions.
A Religious Refuge
Derinkuyu was used for several millennia as a hideaway for local populations in times of trouble. Even the original inhabitants of the area, the Phrygians were an offshoot of the Greeks, as evidenced by the similarity in their languages. The population of the city remained largely Greek until the tunnels were entirely abandoned in 1923, meaning sanctuary for the minority Christian population was of the utmost importance. The most precious religious relics as well as the chapels were located on the lowest levels of the city.
One Out Of Many Others
The underground tunnel network was not relegated to Derinkuyu alone. In fact, the sprawling city was just one out of at least 200 other subterranean havens, all of which are composed of no less than three levels. Each of the cities were connected to one another by miles of subterranean roads, which allowed for the population to be safely evacuated to a neighboring locale, sealing off the route with large doors carved out of heavy rock.
Surviving The Mongols
Derinkuyu and its neighbors protected the Greek Orthodox inhabitants through an endless wave of conquests as the land was passed from the Persian Empire to the Byzantines, who held off the Arab invasions for nearly 400 years. The people fled underground once more when the Mongols began their incursions into the west from the Central Asian grasslands. While Tamerlane may have slowed the Ottoman takeover of Anatolia, his death fractured his budding empire, paving the way for the Ottomans to eventually establish theirs.
As the Ottomans slowly encroached on Byzantine territory, the citizens of Derinkuyu were called underground once more, as they continued to have to defend themselves from Muslim incursions. Their underground city could not prevent the fall of Constantinople in 1453, which finished the empire off and solidified Muslim rule of the area. Though the Muslim Ottomans were generally fair to those practicing minority religions, there were still periods of persecution. The tunnels were officially abandoned when the Turks and the Greeks exchanged populations in 1923.
Finding An Even Bigger City
It is still unclear exactly who built the underground city, but the Turkish Department of Culture hypothesizes that the upper layers of the city were in fact built by the Phrygians several thousand years ago. Derinkuyu was the largest of the subterranean cities discovered in Turkey until 2013, when builders were clearing low income houses from the perimeter of a Byzantine castle, found a new network of tunnels, that led them to uncover a city that is estimated to be 30% larger than Derinkuyu.
Related To The Greeks
Though the most recently discovered city may be larger, it doesn’t seem to be nearly as old as Derinkuyu. The first written testament seems to come from the archives of Xenophon, a Greek philosopher whose work dates to between 430 and 354 B.C. Xenophon’s writings can’t answer the question of who first built the city, despite studying with Socrates, but it does help us to better determine how the original inhabitants may have lived, which will perhaps eventually explain just how the ancient people built the tunnels.
Composition Of The Ground
Some of the answers to the construction mystery may lie in the local geology. The proliferation of volcanoes in the area means that much of the earth is made of up prehistoric volcanic ash, which forms a very light and easily carve-able stone that geologists call “tuff”. The rock’s airy composition have made ancient excavation possible, but it does cause some problems for archeologists exploring the artifacts today: namely, the hidden city is prone to collapsing under their feet.
The Volcanoes That Threaten
Nevşehir is situated atop the Anatolian plateau at a height of nearly 3,280 feet above sea level. The barren desert landscape is punctuated by by volcanic mountains rising up out of the parched earth. Cut off from any large bodies of water, its inhabitants are largely familiar with scorching summer heat contrasted with frigid, snowy winters. Variation between the two is scarce, as is the rainfall. With the constant threat of renewed volcanic action, it seemed possible the labyrinthine cave system is related.
An Ancient People’s Legacy
In 1969, 6 years after the anonymous man first found the labyrinth hidden beneath his home, Derinkuyu was opened as a tourist attraction, though only a tenth of it is accessible to the public. With such an extensive amount of ground to cover, archeologists and researchers still have many more layers to probe. As they move ever deeper under the earth who knows what secrets they will find. We only hope the mystery of the construction will one day be brought to light.