Getting to Lalish was not easy. Mainly because I had to avoid the nearby city of Mosul at all costs. It’s amazing how close one can be to cities that are death traps, yet just a few miles away it feels safe and peaceful. Lalish is a prime example of this. Tucked away in golden hills and farming communities, Lalish attracts thousands of pilgrims to its temple — the Spiritual center of the Yazidi — a religion that can, at times, appear to show signs of Hinduism, Paganism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism and Judaism.
It is said that all Yazidi should make the pilgrimage to the temples of Lalish once in their lifetime (like the journey to Mecca for Muslims). Considering most of the estimated 500,000 Yazidi left on earth live in northern Iraq, it seems like a realistic request. Long misunderstood, the Yazidi have come under attack by extremists intolerant of their religion (as well as an honor killing that occurred within their own community after a Yazidi was rumored to have fallen in love with a Muslim). Because of these tensions there are a number of check points to get to Lalish. Once you reach the village, you must leave your car and explore not just by foot — but barefoot.
I can’t say that I have even a remotely decent understanding of the Yazidi religion after having spent the day at their temple. I can only point out qualities somewhat similar to Paganism (the Sun as the ultimate embodiment of God, for instance, & the icons of snakes and peacocks). In each shrine in the temple are a number of colorful silk scarves that visitors tie and untie in knots while making a wish. There were no other wishes on my mind other than to hope that the people of Iraq get relief from the terror and suffering taking place on their land.
The old men hunched over with long gray beards and cataract-ed eyes, vibrant colors in silks, and cone-shaped shrines peaking out of lush greenery reminded me of Hindu or Jain temples in southeast Asia. It was a relaxing, and possibly inaccurately peaceful and spiritual feeling to be in Lalish. Kind generous people, ancient misunderstood culture, gaggles of shy giggling children, and fresh country air…. a sweet ending to my Iraq travels.