The land of whirling dervish – Turkey

Turkey – Istanbul, Kusadasi and Cappadocia

After our four night visit in Dubai, we headed towards Turkey. It is a 3 hour long flight from Dubai to Istanbul. On reaching Istanbul international airport, there was a long wait in the immigration queues. After we got out of immigration, some more rude experience was waiting for us. We realized that we cannot use the airport trolleys since we did not have local coins. We found it somewhat strange that the airport expects international passengers who just landed in their country to have local coins. We did not feel like going through the hassle of money exchange etc. and started dragging our luggage somehow towards the exit.

However, on getting out of the airport, the entire scene changed. A very friendly cab driver from the travel agency was waiting for us outside the airport. The weather was fantastic, a little chilly; a pleasant change from the hot Dubai. We headed for the hotel which was in the old part of the city, known as Sultanate district.

Turkey is a very beautiful country with beautiful and warm people around you. It is a very balanced world – maintaining a nice balance between west and east. People are very friendly towards tourists.

Istanbul is a very fascinating place – the kind of place I like. It is a modern place with a rich heritage and history. The sultanate district is particularly fascinating. Mosques, Mansions, Bazaars (Arista Bazaar, Grand Bazaar, spice market) all are at a walking distance. The atmosphere is cheerful and relaxing, with people hanging around in the roadside café and restaurants beyond midnight. We checked with a local shop about the timing. He kept his shop open till 2:00 AM in the morning!

The vendors and shopkeepers are very tourist friendly. They compete with each other and keep inviting tourists to their restaurants, showing menu cards, trying to make friendly conversations. However they are not overbearing like Egyptian vendors. There is a certain amount of warmth in their behavior, found in the eastern part of the world. You will find a variety of cuisines in Turkey. Various types of Kebabs and bread are available along with Olive and other kinds of pastes (similar to our pickle). We especially enjoyed one dinner at Cappadocia, with very long pieces of hot and soft breads (almost three times longer than our Naan) and a particular chicken curry cooked in an earthen pot. The pot had to be broken skilfully from the middle to have the curry inside. Hanging around in the roadside café in Kusadasi, by the side of Aegean Sea was also a great experience. On our last night in Istanbul, we went to an Indian restaurant. After spending almost two weeks out of home, we were really missing Indian food. The food served (with the Turkish waiter constantly saying “Khaane-ka maza lo”) was amazing. Having hot samosas and Indian tea on the roadside restaurant at Istanbul was an unforgettable experience.

The Turkish roses really amazed me. They are not rose plants. They are actually rose trees, with each branch having at least 15-20 giant roses!

In Cappadocia, we went to visit a few extra-ordinary sites. One was the cave village. It is something unbelievable. You have to see it to believe it. The entire village has been carved out of soft hills formed from erosion. The village has been abandoned 40 years ago. The entire area is full of triangular shapes formed from erosions.

The other amazing site was an underground city developed almost a thousand years back. It was developed by a particular Christian community to hide from the oppression of the ruler. The city had all kinds of facility for an entire population to hide for several days. The place is pitch dark, very cold (5 degree Celsius) with mechanism built for air circulation and ventilation.

The hotel we were staying at was a very unique and beautiful place. It was also a cave hotel on a steep hill. The interior was a combination of ethnic Turkish decoration and modern amenities. Our room was on the top of the hill. Getting to the room climbing the steep stairs was a challenge in itself.

Turkey is famous for its carpet Industry. It is claimed that the world’s oldest carpet (which was discovered somewhere in Siberia, a 2000 year old carpet) was a Turkish carpet. During our stay we visited two carpet factories in Kusadasi and Istanbul. We were shown how silk thread is produced from silk worms, how double knotted carpets are knitted, how they are colored using vegetable colors etc. It needs a huge amount of hard work and a very great deal of artistic skills. I feel that the carpet weaving is the work of an artist. It is said that in olden days the village girls started weaving carpets when they wanted to get married. It was a way she conveyed to her parents that she is in love with someone. It is also said that the girls do not decide the design of a carpet beforehand. As they keep weaving, their inner feelings are expressed in the designs of the carpets.

In modern days, the Turkish government has formed cooperatives for carpet weavers where they are trained and thereafter given work. The raw materials are given to the weavers at their own cost. Each carpet, on completion, is thoroughly checked for perfection. The silk carpets are checked by keeping them on top of a lighted table (it looks magnificent). The carpet is rejected even with a slightest defect. For each carpet sold, the entire profit goes to the weaver. The government have also ensured that the carpets can be delivered anywhere in the world completely free of cost. We picked up a beautiful piece and of course decided to carry it ourselves.

The other famous handicraft of Turkey is its handmade pottery. There are two types – One which is very colorful to look at. The other one has just two colors – red and black. A unique round shaped wine container is the toughest one to make and also the most expensive one.

While visiting all these carpet shops and pottery shops, we used to be served something called Apple Tea. I had not tasted something like this before. It is not actually prepared from tea leaves. It is some kind of powder mixed in hot water and served. It is somewhat similar to lemon tea. I started quite liking it after sometime.

While in Turkey, we visited many churches and mosques. What impressed us was the secular and open nature of the Turkish society. Today the majority of the population is Muslim. However, it has preserved the rich history of the Christian heritage as well. It is said that Turkey is the melting point of Christianity. We visited Virgin Mary’s home as well.

We visited many mosques in Turkey, including Blue Mosque and a few others in Istanbul and Kusadasi. One interesting fact is that all the mosques of Turkey are functional mosques. So tourists may visit the mosques while local people are offering prayers. People are tolerant as long as one sticks to the disciplines of the mosque.

Both Turkey and India have come under the influence of Persian culture in the past. One can notice similarities between Hindi and their local language. We heard words like saboon (soap), Hakim (doctor), Bazaar, and many more such farsi words in Turkey.

Turkey was ruled by the Ottoman Empire for a number of centuries when the country progressed a lot. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed after 1st world war, it became a secular country under the leadership of Ataturk known as the founder of modern Turkey. At that time, many Greeks had settled in Turkey and many Turks had settled in Greece. The two governments agreed on an exchange deal. As a result of that deal, in the year 1920 the Greeks left Turkey and went back to Greece and vice versa.

We went to visit the Topkapi palace on our second last day in Istanbul. It is a magnificent palace built by the Ottomans. The rooms and their gorgeous interiors can be compared to the Agra fort and other Mughal forts of India. There is a museum inside the fort. It has got some of the most precious and magnificent pieces of jewelry and artefacts.

Outside Blue Mosque, the atmosphere is very lively, with many gift shops and roadside cafes. A very commonly found item in the shops is the blue color evil eye. It is supposed to ward off the evils and so found hanging from everywhere in Turkey. The whirling dervish is also a very common site, even in the road side cafes. There are of course big and famous shows for the same. Anupam went for such a show in Cappadocia.
On our last evening in Turkey, we went to Grand Bazaar. It is one of most marvellous Bazaars I have ever seen. The place is very colorful and buzzing with activities. The carpet shops and the shops with glass lamps are particularly colorful. After much bargain Anupam bought a metal wine jar which is indeed a beautiful piece.

Next day it was time to pack up and head towards Cairo. I was feeling very tired and decided to skip the Bosphorous tour. Isha and Anupam went for the same. Istanbul is a place which is partly in Asia and partly in Europe. The cruise was beautiful. They also went to a couple of places like spice market where Isha got to taste sweets at every shop. Now we were eager to head towards Egypt, one of the most wonderful destinations of the world and the most exciting part of our vacation.