9 day trip

Udaipur: Of strolling around the old city of lakes

Rajasthan has been on our joint lists for a while now, so after an early morning flight in late December we reached Udaipur from Bangalore to our stay in the old city on the first floor of a charming 70-year-old home. Since it was already 3pm we just about managed to find a restaurant a short walk away, that was open but forgettable. After picking up our rental bike and being in the City of lakes, it was only apt that our very first stop was the Fateh Sagar Lake.

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It turned out to be just the right spot to enjoy an evening walk and our first pretty sunset in Rajasthan while munching on chana chaat and corn with the locals.

Just a little ahead was the Maharana Pratap Park which boasted of a museum and a sound and light show. Curious, we bought tickets for both. The museum had an interesting set of paintings of kings and ministers of the era but an overarching theme was the Battle of Haldighati- whether it was the large model of the battleground or blow by blow accounts of how the battle came about.IMG_4749 You couldn’t but feel like you were immersed into the history of the place with Maharana Pratap and his famous horse Chetak who met their end during the battle against King Akbar. In addition to the museum itself, the park is a calm, green space to wander around and towards evening affords a lovely view of the Fateh Sagar Lake from atop the hillock.IMG_4750

Now well-informed of the history of the place, we were eager to witness the sound and light show. If you remember one thing from this entire post it should be this- DO NOT spend your time or money at this show. It was easily the worst performance we’d ever seen and we are quite tolerant in general. It was pretty much a pre-recorded audio file playing snippets from the history of the city with lights focusing on bewilderingly random parts of the really small fort ruin and a single plant in the lawn(!) in front of the audience.

Just to recover, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at a restaurant that seemed to have regal furniture custom made for someone at least thrice the size of the average person. A quick meal and walk around the old city later, we called it a day.

Early the next morning we were all enthused to visit the Karni Mata mandir more to experience the sunrise from the hilltop – however, we were up for another surprise when we completely lost our way despite following maps and were presented with a maze of narrow alleys and lanes. Each of the very few people outdoors at that time seemed to lead us into an entirely different labyrinth. After quite some time of going in circles, it was a Muslim family getting their kids ready for school who were able to give us the right directions to the temple. Much later we finally also saw a board with directions to the temple but also that it would only open at 9AM so the sunrise was pretty much out of the question.IMG_4770

However, it was to our delight that we happened upon the pond Dudh Talai with almost no one around but us and the chirping birds flitting about the lake. We also joined the locals on their morning walk next door at the Lake Pichola for a jaunt of our own.IMG_4794

We had a heritage walk planned in the morning, so quickly went to a small stall that and wolfed down hot parathas and joined the group at the entrance of the Jagadish Temple from the 1600s with intricate hand-carved stonework dedicated to Lord Krishna. IMG_4808Entrance to the temple requires a climb up 32 steps- so this may not be the best place for folks with knee aches.

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After our time in Uttarakhand, Udaipur seemed to have plenty of Ghats mostly around the freshwater Lake Pichola that was built by a banjara(tribal) in the 14th century. Artificial lakes in cities are not new, but in this case, the city was intentionally built around the lake by Maharana Udai Singh who was impressed by it. All around the lake are hotels catering to both higher-end and budget travellers- the Lake Palace is one of the former and is built into the island of Jag Niwas within the Lake Pichola.

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We first headed to the Gangaur Ghat, named after the festival celebrated even today representing the Goddess Parvati’s return from her maternal home to her husband Lord Shiva. Today it’s celebrated by fasting- by both married and unmarried women for 18 days praying for the longevity of their husbands and to be blessed with a good husband respectively. It’s mind-boggling the number of festivals in several parts of India dedicated to just this noble cause! IMG_4823The festival celebrations also include processions of women decked up in their very best carrying idols of Gan(Shiva) and Gaur(Parvati) to be immersed in the Lake Pichola.

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While wandering around the old city on foot you’d pass through the Chandpole bridge one way or another. It lends itself to vantage views of the Lake Pichola and its surroundings.

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Our next stop was the Hanuman Ghat that seemed to be a favourite of photographers instructing couples on how to pose for the most candid images for their pre-wedding shoots.

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Udaipur is known for its miniature paintings made with colours from stones occurring in nature. The artwork is visibly demanding due to the level of perfection in such minute detail. If you plan your time accordingly you can even sign up for a class for everything from a few hours to a few weeks to learn to paint it too.

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9 day trip

Tips for Turkey travel!

Note: These tips are as per 2019 September but there’s no reason many of them will not be relevant for whenever you’d plan your travel to Turkey. We hope you learn from our goof ups and make fewer of yours! 😉

Food :

  •  Food, in general, is significantly less spicy than Indian food – salt content is low and if lucky lemon is the only added seasoning on the table. That being said- please eat the local food – it was very healthy and irrespective of how picky you are, you’re missing out on an experience if you choose not to enjoy different flavours and cuisines.If you’re vegetarian learn the word for vegetarian in Turkish(it sounds similar to the English word). Vegan food is a little harder but vegetarian options are available.
  • For some inexplicable reason, water was never served at restaurants we visited. The only options were bottled water which we hated purchasing but it seemed like the only option. Even at the Airbnbs, there was no equivalent to a water purifier so we literally had to buy drinking water in bottles for our entire time there.

Internet connectivity:

There are a few options you have which you can pick based on your connectivity needs

  • If it’s very important to have your phone calls on your personal number active – you may want to enable international roaming on your number before you leave your home country to be sure.
  • If you’re ok with just internet being available on your phone + you’ve multiple devices for which you need connectivity, you can buy a pocket hotspot. We have not done a thorough price/quality comparison but we found this very convenient- especially their chat support to pick up and drop the device at the airport.
  • If you’d need to make local phone calls in addition to having internet connectivity, and you don’t have too many devices to connect you can purchase a local SIM at the airport. As of today, Turkcell is an operator said to have the most coverage in Turkey.
  • Understandably price may also be a consideration for your choice, so you may want to compare options based on your expected usage ,price and duration of stay to help take the final decision. Also just carry one good power bank at least for any travel in general.

Communication

  • Spend time learning a few basic words to help you in Turkey.  We simply installed a random free “learn Turkish” app and spent our long flight incoming flight learning the words and testing each other on them.
  • Considering how kind the local people are, you’ll be glad you at least learnt the word for Thank you-teşekkür ederim. Other words that are important are those for the restroom, sorry, help, how much, no, yes, hospital, words based on your food preferences etc. Install a translation app like google translate just to be sure.
  •  If you’ve food allergies or health conditions, please don’t depend on your memory/pronunciation/availability of internet connectivity/your phone battery.  Just print it out clearly in complete sentences and show it at every relevant place.
  • We had the best moments during our trip in short conversations with people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh who made a living in Turkey and who were so glad to see someone from a familiar part of the world. You will feel the same too. If you’ve a longer chat with the locals or them,  a general rule (in life) is to avoid conversations on politics and religion- especially in a foreign land. But otherwise, be kind, indulge them and yourselves for an opportunity to open your eyes and hearts to lives other than your own.

Clothing:

  • Always carry a scarf – works great for the sun and for entrance to mosques and tombs where you’d need to cover your head.
  • In general dress on the more conservative side so you can have a flexible itinerary and visit any of the stunning mosques and tombs. Conservative = cover elbows and knees, shoulders at the very least.

Getting around:

  • When commuting between cities take the bus instead of the flights.  The airports are also frequently very far from the actual “touristy” places which means in addition to the price of the flight you’ll be wasting both time and money for the cabs/buses from the airports to your destination. We learnt this the hard way actually choosing to lose our money on our flight booking since the bus from the airport to the tourist place would cost us more than the cost of the flight itself!

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    Free snacks and drinks in our bus!
  • The overnight buses between locations are very convenient- they serve snacks and drinks including water and have pitstops almost every 2 hours even in the overnight bus and stop at large supermarkets with clean paid restrooms. So restroom-worry is not a problem. However, bus booking is not available online at all. So you just need to walk up to the first tour agent you see in each stop- all town centers have them- and they can book it for you.
  • There is a LOT of walking everywhere we went in Turkey- whether it’s the immense Topkapi palace, the Ilhara valley or the ruins of Ephesus. Just wear the best walking shoes you can have and your feet will thank you.

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    So much to explore!
  • If you still decide to take a local flight, do note that connecting buses may not be available at odd timings (for ex: 3am in the morning). Just reach out to your Airbnb/hotel reception and ask them for options. They’d typically connect you to a paid cab/shuttle service that will get you to the airport on time.
  • Metrokart – is used for bus and tram in Istanbul ONLY. Always make sure you have around at least 40 lira in the card. You will need it immediately as you land to take the bus from the airport to your stay. You can purchase it at vending machines just as you step out of the airport building towards the bus stand.
  • Museumcard is a prepaid card for entry tickets to most tourist places but not all. The Museumcard we purchased cost 375 lira.  However, if you know your itinerary well I’d recommend going through the 2-3 options for Museumcards to pick the one that meets your itinerary. In our case, we had spent a little more on the card than we had had time to cover with our itinerary but were glad it allowed us the convenience of not having to carry cash/change at every place+ allowed mental budgeting of the entry ticket expenses in advance. You can purchase it at most places that accept the card ie., tourist places. We picked ours at Hagia Sophia.

Scams

Like any popular tourist place, the ones in Turkey too have scams. While we avoided most we were still victims of two:

  • An older gentleman looking a little down on his luck walked up to us while we were seated at a street-side restaurant selling almonds in packets of around a kilogram. Since almonds were in almost every market and we had decided to buy some anyway, we decided to buy it from him. Since we had a lot of our day left, we only tasted them when we returned to our stay that evening. They had completely gone bad though there were no signs on the exterior. Lesson: Do not buy other than from the legitimate stores- if not, find where locals are headed.
  • We purchased a bus ticket from Denizli (near Ephesus) to Pamukkale. The agent mentioned that we’d have to change buses at a point and charged us for the change too. However, on getting off the first bus, the second bus claimed we had to pay him explicitly again the amount we had already paid for the connecting bus. This was clearly not a one-off instance since there was another family that had been scammed in the same way who also were then forced to pay again and take the bus since the other option would have been to figure out your way. Not sure how to avoid this, but well maybe double check your payment receipt and keep some extra cash in hand.
  • Another scam was when we visited a restaurant and (thankfully) ordered just one dish. The owner had a whole 3 different menus with 3 different prices and of course billed you for the highest price among the menus despite your insistence that you remember seeing a different one. This happened once- but was quite a turn off.
  • Mercifully, we weren’t too impacted but there are more possible scams and we’d recommend you search online for “Turkey tourist scams” before your trip just to be a little more alert and avoid ruining your experience here.

Stay 

  • If you have mobility issues or are not physically strong, do run a check with your Airbnb in case you’d need to carry your luggage up and down the stairs. A lot of places we stayed on the trip had narrow stairs- we were quite prepared for it but one of our co-travellers hurt their back just before the trip which made it quite a challenge for them.

Miscellaneous

  • Cats and cats- There were innumerable cats everywhere we went in Turkey. They’re sweet and used to being pampered by people. However, they don’t often approach you themselves. If you’re a cat lover it’s heaven. Leave the dogs alone though, the few we saw very extremely fluffy but didn’t seem used to being petted and therefore could snap at you in fear.IMG_4098
9 day trip

Istanbul- Of miniature paintings and monumental palaces

Wandering around the Grand Bazaar area,  we came across the 16th century Beyazit Camiisi (mosque). Like many structures in Istanbul, this too was built after the destruction of the earlier Fatih mosque due to an earthquake.IMG_4426 On entering the mosque we had flashbacks of the Hagia Sophia and as it turned out, this was indeed patterned like a smaller scale version of it. That’s not to say it’s any less impressive.

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I’ll never get over the beauty of the stained glass and lamps in the structures in Istanbul

A little distance away we then reached the mausoleum of Sultan Mahmut II, it also includes 2 other Sultans and their close family members. Of interest wrt the Sultan is that he had gotten built a warship which was the largest in the world for quite a while. IMG_4456Also notable was his role in the abolishment of a corrupt military corps that both extorted money from the state and dictated government policy. Beside the structure is a relatively small graveyard with other prominent members of the court and families.IMG_4457

As the day drew to a close, we were drawn back to the waters of the Bosphorus- just because it seemed like such a microcosm of Istanbul and we daresay Turkey. People of all shapes, sizes and attires, tourists, street-side food vendors, children having a ball of a time, all in the backdrop of the calm waters and squawking seagulls.IMG_4476

Our personal favourite of the street side food was the Dolma not in the least due to the cheery sellers who even fed Anand a free Dolma since we shared a few words with them and complimented their pictures on our camera.

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We decided to have a meal by one of the sea-side restaurants overlooking the Bosphorus. We incidentally had an Afghani waiter who, on knowing we were from India, cheered up and admitted he was a major Salman Khan fan! We tucked into our meal of grilled fish, babaganoush and bread, particularly unhappy that the next day would be our last day in Istanbul, for now.

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We’d chosen our only “fancy” stay for our last night in Turkey just to end the trip on a high.

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Mesihpaşa Camii

We slept deeply and woke up fully refreshed to tackle our breakfast in a relaxed manner at the hotel’s buffet.

Well refreshed, we checked out and leaving our luggage at the reception, headed to the Dolmabahce Palace. It was the 19th-century residence of the Sultan to suit more his more contemporary style, taste and needs after their stay at the much older Topkapi palace. It is also more recently known for being the residence of the founder of the Republic of Turkey- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and housed him to the last days of his life.IMG_4495 Once we got there, we were first welcomed by a very long queue of visitors. It didn’t faze us but we realised that the “palace” spanned an area of 11 acres and we just wouldn’t be able to enjoy it at leisure and catch our flight that afternoon. We, therefore, decided to just go around the exteriors of the palace and admire it from afar.

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We instead decided to wander around the Spice bazaar and stumbled into a miniature calligraphy /art exhibition. The signboard was instantly evocative of my attempt at reading the book “My name is Red” centred around miniaturists and therefore piqued my curiosity.IMG_4557

However, there was much more to it. The same building was a heritage structure with so much colour and art that we wished to just get lost in the space. IMG_4553We wandered from room to room gasping at its beauty and pointing at every wonderous corner that was crafted so meticulously.

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After all our wandering and wondering, however, it was finally time for us to leave.

If we got an opportunity to visit Turkey again, in addition to the blue waters of Fethiye, we’d definitely want to spend a few more days just in Istanbul- we’d warmed up to the city, a city that, for us, glistens with its generous, kind and very good-looking people, enjoys its food, embraces colours, rebuilds its structures and societies despite earth-shattering tragedies, and celebrates its traditional arts- we’d just be a bit more wary of the pickle juice the next time!

Hoşça kal! (Stay well)

 

9 day trip

Istanbul- Of sunken palaces and splendid bazaars

We woke up the next morning to the sounds of seagulls by our window. Stumbling out of bed we got ready and went to have breakfast on the terrace of the Airbnb that yielded a beautiful view of the waters of the Bosphorus. A brilliant breakfast later we were all set to tackle the day.

We then decided to visit the one place we were curious about- the Basilica Cistern. Cisterns are water storage spaces and this one was used to both store and filter water. The name of the cistern is believed to have originated because before the cistern, there was a Basilica in the same spot from the 3rd or 4th century. 336 marble pillars procured from other buildings hold up the cistern roofs. The cistern fell into disuse till it was discovered in the 16th century when a traveller realised residents used buckets to still get water through holes in their floors and even managed to fish from it! 2 pillars with Medusa heads in upside down and right side up are popular sights within the cistern and are said to be placed that way to negate the mythical effects of gazing upon her face and being turned to stone. She is one of the most memorable of the few characters I remember from school level reading– her hair made of snakes possibly made up for an evocative image.

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Like many historical structures around the world, this one too was built with slaves, over 7000 of them. One of the towers has engravings of Hen’s eyes(no idea why) and tears – believed to be a tribute to the lives lost during the construction of the cistern. Water in the cistern is said to have been brought from the Belgrad forest which is a whole 19kms away from the cistern. Walking through the cistern feels very special- the lighting and the endless pillars gives you a sense of having entered a magical underworld.IMG_4375

Soon after we walked into the bustle of the Grand Bazaar to pick a few souvenirs for folks at home- we aren’t big buyers but still picked up some handmade soaps and sweets. The lamps were just magical but also a bit over our budget. The tiles and bowls make for brilliant souvenirs too. IMG_4388I find Arabic calligraphy stunning, and it was just our luck that we managed to meet a gentleman who was offering it- we got our names written which to me was a more precious find than most others. Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, the Grand Bazaar is quite a wonderful, colourful and interesting space to wander around. Its endless turns and enjoy beautiful works – whether food, carpets, lamps or fabric give you something to admire at every step.

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We, however, ended up more interested in the more “local” market at Eminonu. It reminded us of Avenue road in Bangalore where you can find everything you can think of- from cutlery, fabric, food, furniture, hardware.

 

We got lost at one point and tried to ask for directions from 2 storekeepers in our terrible Turkish – just as we almost gave up- the guy knitted his eyebrows and asked “India?”, while we nodded he burst out laughing and continued in Hindi asking us why we were struggling with Turkish instead. As it turned out, he was from Bangladesh.  To perfect strangers, with all of us far away from our homes, his instant offer of tea and a seat at his store made us our hearts fill with gratitude – for good people everywhere we go.

Up next : Istanbul- Of miniature paintings and monumental palaces

9 day trip

Istanbul: Of swirling dervishes and the winding Bosphorus

Early the next morning we had a small bus pick us up to the airport and then to Istanbul. It genuinely felt like a return to a place so familiar. It’s amazing how quickly our definition of home can change.

Once we settled into the Airbnb, the only thing we had on the “agenda” that day was the ceremony of the swirling dervishes. There was a mismatch in the timings on the online booking vs the timings on flyers in our hotel for the same place so we first decided to drop in-in person to put our mind at ease. Once that was done, having covered the “main” places in the first part of the trip, we decided to just wander around the city. Passing by the cats, the offers for pictures in traditional attire, restaurants, markets strolled around the streets to reach Eminonu.

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The cats of Istanbul are a sight for sore eyes..

A boat ride on the Bosphorus is considered a must-do in Istanbul, but at first-glance seemed way over budget. Every single option online or via flyers in the hotels had options promising belly dancing, dinner and a long almost overnight ride. If that’s what you’re looking for you’ll find that easily. But we weren’t interested in spending as much nor did the experiences particularly interest us. To our surprise, right at Eminonu there was a gentleman simply calling out to passersby about the boat ride for a price of just 20TL! Mildly suspicious, we still decided to have a go at it. It was just enough for what we were looking for. IMG_4200There was modest seating on a passenger boat and it takes you for a ride of over an hour passing by all the landmarks on either sides of the Bosphorus. There are beautiful homes of the rich and famous by the riverside in addition to historic monuments.

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Just look at the gorgeous skyline!

It seemed to be a popular activity to throw food at the seagulls who enthusiastically swooped in to grab at it just before it fell to the water. It also gave us a bit of breathing space on the trip to zone out and do nothing but watch the city, the seagulls and the ripples in the water.

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Once we got off the boat we realized we were starving, and quickly decided that our supper would be any street food that looked appetizing. The fish sandwiches made on a swaying boat seemed like quite the tourist favourite but I was afraid it’d make me too full to enjoy much else.

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Balik ekmek(fish sandwiches) being prepared on a rocking boat.

However, we couldn’t but try the Midye Dolmasi (Mussels stuffed with rice). Served with a  generous slice of lemon it was a fun peppery snack.

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Midye Dolmasi (Mussels stuffed with rice)

The spice made us crave something to drink and there were young boys walking in between the tables selling drinks one of which looked like a fresh watermelon juice. We bought a glass of it looking forward to a refreshing sip only to realise we had bought pickle juice!! Though it had the opposite effect of quenching our thirst it made for a memorable moment as we then tried to decide which of the pickle we liked the best- cabbage, gherkins etc.

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Beware of the pickle juice!

Wandering further we entered the Spice Bazaar, only to be faced with endless arrays of amazing pickles, sweets, spices, dry fruits, and treats. It’s quite a challenge to pass some of them by, but we decided on some sweets that would survive our journey in various flavours. At one store, the Turkish boy teased the young Pakistani one telling us that he was our enemy! The poor guy was embarrassed but kept quiet. I couldn’t but disagree and assure him that he was in fact family- just a little distance away from us in India! Many smiles were smiled as he filled bags with dry fruits for us and bid us a shy goodbye.

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How can anyone pick just one of these!

The pickle juice quickly made us crave some sweets, and we first tackled the Kunefe made of vermicelli and pistachios. This was more fun for the performance that accompanied its making, with a lot of quick movements and taps on the special vessel used to prepare the dish.

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A piping hot serving of Kunefe

Amongst the vast array of sweets available, we also tried the Tulumba -a firm and sweet fried dough, which was a fun little treat.

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Tulumbas, anyone?

We then made our way to watch the performance/ceremony of the Swirling dervishes. I’ve liked what little I’ve read of Rumi and have been intrigued by Sufism for a while so after being there in his homeland during his birthday we couldn’t but help wanting to view the ceremony of the swirling dervishes which have become synonymous with the image of Sufism in popular culture. There are several shows available to book online and you’ll possibly also find flyers with your hotels too. We picked this one in case you wanted a reference. While we had no complaints we can’t really comment on whether it’s the best/most authentic/accurately priced because we don’t have a comparative barometer.

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With all the glimpses of it in Indian music videos, it’s easy to forget that at its core it is a religious ceremony- so our advice would be to not go expecting to be entertained. This mismatch in expectations led to a few members of the audience falling asleep and a few walking out of the hall.

Before the performance, we had time to regard a display of Sufi artefacts from attire to musical instruments to writings of Rumi.  The sounds of the ceremony itself- both the voices of the priests and the music very easily lulls you to a comfortable, numb state of mind and even sleep. It’s quite entrancing to see the dervishes twirling almost endlessly and seemingly without any strain but there is much more to the ceremony before and after. For us, we were glad we tried it because it was definitely a memorable and educative experience.

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We aren’t allowed to take pictures during the ceremony but this was the impressive stage.

After the performance we took the tram (our now favourite means of commute) back to Eminonu just to spend more time by the Bosphorus, people watching. Not very hungry by now, fresh cobs of corn and warm chestnuts made up the rest of our supper before we headed back to the Airbnb looking forward to the last 2 days we had in Istanbul.IMG_4338

Up next : Istanbul- Of sunken palaces and splendid bazaars

9 day trip

Pamukkale : The cotton castle of Turkey

The next morning after a generous breakfast replete with homemade jams of oranges and plums, the loveliest grapes, olives, cheese, eggs and cakes we made our way to the bus station for our bus to Denizli in a bus booked the previous evening.

The bus itself was such a delight with in-bus entertainment of Turkish movies, series and video games that we enjoyed for a bit. Even in such short a ride, we had a wide selection of snacks and drinks included in the price. IMG_8818There was a bit of confusion about tickets the connecting bus to Pamukkale but we finally got there.

After a relaxed lunch and some rest, we decided to head out to the thermal springs that were just a few meters away from our hotel. No matter how many pictures of it you may have seen it continues to be stunning in person.IMG_3897 The sheer expanse of white feels like exactly what heaven would like it- a world where everything is pristine and perfect. The description of the limestone formed over centuries by calcium-rich springs does no justice to what it visually looks like.IMG_3963 The calcium carbonate itself has solidified into travertine which makes up the slippery white surface today.IMG_8932

It’s no surprise that it’s a World Heritage site and one can only hope it stays as wonderful it is for the times to come. It was used as a spa since the 2nd century BC and you can still take a dip now but subject to the crowds it may/may not be permitted in future.

Note :

  • We found recommendations online to visit it at 4pm which worked out beautifully for us.
  • Also, we entered at the gate to the thermal springs which honestly is where you’d want to spend more time.
  • The third recommendation is to dress in layers so you could get into the pools with your swimwear in case it is not crowded + not too chilly.
  • You’re not allowed to wear footwear on the area with the springs so carry the right baggage to put your footwear into.
  • Also, it’s very slippery so tread with care.
  • Some areas are closed for access simply because they’re still recovering from idiot humans. Don’t be one more.
  • The Museum itself closes early so do check the time.

 

Once off the travertine terraces, a short walk takes you to the Museum and further away to the evocatively named Cleopatra pool. While we were wondering if we wanted to take a dip, there was a small tap (for lack of a better word) where you could have a drink of the healing water from the hot-spring there too. We even thought it’d maybe be a good place to fill up our water bottles. However, for the sake of all that’s good and holy- do not drink that water!! It tastes terrible and the closest equivalent was when I’d unintentionally had a taste of a mix of diluted hydrochloric acid and sulphuric acid when pipetting it in Chemistry lab almost 20 years ago! Nevertheless, there were several tourists enjoying their time in the clear looking water so if that’s your jam go ahead. Just don’t drink the water.IMG_3975

Note: Entrance to the Cleopatra pool is paid over and above the entrance to the travertine terraces and you’ve to pay extra to take a dip.

A walk uphill later we reached the theatre in Hierapolis. We first reached the Theater which was admittedly impressive despite seeing theatres in Ephesus, since this had a seating capacity of 15000 and a 5ft high stage.IMG_8918

There are supposed to be more ruins between the theater and the travertine terraces but, despite trying, we couldn’t find anything other than a few crumbling remains though and wanted to be back in time to see the sunset.IMG_4020 What a sight it was over the white expanse of the cotton castle (translation of the word Pamukkale). It will remain one of the most unique sunset views we had ever witnessed. We truly felt blessed and lucky to have been able to experience it in this lifetime.IMG_4092

An overpriced meal at a Korean restaurant later we went right to sleep since we’d to take an early morning flight to Istanbul the next day.

Up next : Istanbul: Of swirling dervishes and the winding Bosphorus

 

 

9 day trip

Ephesus: Of tricking giants and dramatic sibling rivalry

The Agora had a temple of Isis(The goddess of magic and healing) in the middle of it with and along with the Roman Basilica was used mostly for business and meetings. There is supposedly an inscription of the legend of Odysseus escaping the giant Polyphemus on the temple. It too is mostly left to the imagination today except for long pillars still propped up giving us a peek into its structure.IMG_3617

The “Water palace” was simply a fountain so large while also being connected to a storage cistern that it earned the name- it’s believed to have had statues of sea creatures, the emperor and river gods around it. The other one around is the Pollio fountain which was a relatively complex bit of water distribution for the time bringing water from 3 sources through aqueducts and distributing it to various other fountains via baked clay pipes. The Trajan fountain – a decent part of it still standing was in the honour of Emperor Trajan.IMG_3670

The Odeon was the first “small” theatre we passed with a capacity of 1500 spectators then used for both concerts and meetings. IMG_3629It’s only small in comparison to what’s arguably the most memorable of sights in Ephesus, the Great Theater that could have an audience of 25000. It’s easy to imagine everything from gladiator fights to dramatic performances held with great aplomb.IMG_3784

Prytaneion was the hall that had a flame perpetually kept burning indicating the heart of Ephesus. This also had statues of Artemis which like many relics here are housed in the archaeological museum.IMG_3734

There are several temples built in the name of emperors

  • The Domitian Temple – dedicated first to the unpopular Domitian and once he was killed to his father Vespasian
  • Memmuis monument -in memory of Dictator Sulla defeating the Romans to free the people of high taxes
  • Temple of Hadrian -dedicated to emperor Hadrian who had a fondness for Greek literature, a colourful set of romantic interests and a keen skill for administration.

The Hercules gate was a popular spot for tourists mostly because of the relative popularity of the character. In this one, he is seen with the skin of the Nemean lion who couldn’t be killed due to its thick skin. Legend has it that Heracles killed it thrusting his arm down its throat and choking it- not a pleasant image for sure.

The terrace houses were quite a treat giving us a view into the structures that in addition to having beautiful mosaic floors and art of the walls, had heating via clay pipes beneath the floors and through the walls! Admittedly only available to the rich, it still showcases a view of luxury that makes you yearn for a glimpse into the lives of the people that lived there.IMG_3712

Octogan was a tomb believed to be of Arsinoe the sister of Cleopatra. In a tale of long drawn sibling rivalry, after dethroning Cleopatra she was taken captive by Caesar who forgave her and let her take sanctuary in Ephesus but at a later time, Cleopatra finally had her revenge when Mark Anthony, at her behest, is said to have executed Arsinoe on the steps of the temple where she was then buried.

Celsus Library– was built by the son of governor Celsus housing his grave – it’s one of the most photogenic spots of the ruins. The entrance of the library has statues indicating the attributes of Celsus with the Goddesses of wisdom, knowledge, intelligence and Valor.IMG_3745

After all the theatres, tombs, temples and fountains – on one hand, you can’t but help imagine the grandeur of the time but on the other, it’s also a cue to remember that even the greatest of achievements, symbols of fame and fortune fall to ruin sooner or later.

While I was exhausted with the walking and the heat of the day and decided to go in for a nap, Anand decided he had it in him to go to the other historically significant spots in Selcuk.

First on the list was the 14th century Isa Bey mosque named after its founder and sponsor. While the current basilica of St.John was used as a mosque for a bit during his reign, an earthquake destroying it possibly prompted the construction of this mosque with ancient stones and materials from other churches. IMG_3845Its location between the temple of Artemis and the Basilica of St.John is also believed to be symbolic linking periods in the history of the town. IMG_3841The architecture is said to have been inspired by Islamic styles like those of the Zengid and Mamulk realms. The current version is a renovation in the 20th century.IMG_3822

The display of ancient gravestones engraved with scriptures along with the names of the deceased seemed to silently symbolise the past watching over the present.

St.John’s Basilica : It is believed that St John was one of Christ’s closest disciples and during the later part of the first century moved to Ephesus with Mother Mary to avoid persecution. It is understood that the tomb of St John was surrounded by a small church back in the 4th century that was rebuilt by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century with much grander proportions, therefore, including monograms of the emperor and his wife Theodora. IMG_3869With Arab raids and gradual decline, it fell into ruins was then revived by converting it into a mosque by the Seljuk Aydinoglu clan, again destroyed by the Mongol army, further pillaged for materials until it was recently restored. Despite restoration, the sight of the 6 domes in cruciform shape held up by massive pillars is mostly left to the imagination since what’s now left are crumbling columns, ruined walls and rubble hinting at the past.IMG_3874

Legend: has it that St. John was simply asleep and his breath moved the ash around him to form his tomb. This legend led to believers travelling far and wide to collect the ash to cure ailments, calm storms and even induce births! It is considered to be a miracle that his body was never recovered.

Note: Keep in mind that the visiting hours for the basilica change based on whether it’s summer or winter so run a check before you make your plans.

Next, the Byzantine castle itself was closed for visitors by 5pm but the Ayasaluk hill’s surroundings still allowed for a stroll around it. While there are mostly ruins today one would have to imagine the city that surrounded the citadel and the bustling life in it back in the day.

 

Later that evening after a stroll in the neighborhood of our Airbnb, we walked into a street-side restaurant run by a cheerful older couple. We had a lovely dinner with the company of several of the neighbourhood cats and kittens that very much felt like home since the owners even let us feed the curious cats any leftovers. IMG_8803Watching the kittens roll around being silly and the lovely older lady’s gurgling laughter cheering them on was the perfect end to a day spent exploring the past to end it with a dollop of joy in the present.

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The ubiquitous tea is there to enjoy everywhere in Turkey, our favourite was the apple tea.
 

Up next : Pamukkale : The cotton castle of Turkey

9 day trip

Ephesus : Of woven silk carpets and startled boars

Heading away from the Temple of Artemis we walked along the long tree-lined avenue only to curiously stop at a place named “Ottoman weaving centre“. Incidentally, the guide was just walking into the building and welcomed us in. It turned out to be a point for educating the public about the carpet weaves of Turkey with another side of the building dedicated to jewellery.

It turned out to be quite a lovely experience hearing of different types of carpet weaves (turns out we personally like the traditional ones from the tribals in Turkey). I also got an opportunity to weave in by myself 2 pieces of thread of a carpet that was in the process of being woven by a significantly more talented woman.

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It’s important to see the process to value the time, effort and skill it takes to make these carpets!

 We also got to see the process of extracting silk from silkworm cocoons that were later used to make silk carpets giving us an appreciation for the end to end process, time and skill it takes to weave a handmade carpet. Unfortunately, our pockets weren’t deep enough to afford them so we had to leave with only the knowledge of the art.

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I know she doesn’t look happy but she just has a resting face like mine!

Following further along the tree-lined path using maps we reached a junction where a cab driver reached out to us explaining that we had to walk a ridiculously long way uphill unless we took the cab. He was right and we’d have known if we’d have done a bit more research. In hindsight, we would have taken the cab from the town to Ephesus and then stopped at the temple of Artemis on the way back.

The very first stop in the cab was the house of the Virgin Mary. This is a relatively recent “discovery” triggered by the visions of a nun Anne Catherine Emerich. A writer transcribed her visions for years and later published it after her passing. The structure even though in ruins was already considered sacred by members of a mountain village 17km nearby who were considered descendants of the early Christians of Ephesus. The shrine located on Mt. Koressos (Turkish: Bülbüldağı, “Mount Nightingale”) was therefore believed to have been the residence of Mother Mary after she was brought here by St.John.  The belief that she lived out her life here has led to it being a pilgrimage of visiting Christians in addition to nosey tourists like us.

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The structure itself is a small chapel without too many adornments. Irrespective of our beliefs, considering its better to be safe than sorry, we too lit a candle, wrote down wishes on paper and tied them onto the wishing wall (world peace is just around the corner, folks!).

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There’s something about a wall of wishes that makes you sigh and smile for a bit.

A water fountain there is supposed to have healing powers and there were pilgrims pouring water on ailing parts of their body.  From there, after stopping for a bit at the statue of Mother Mary on our way down where the driver insisted we take a picture, we were dropped off at the entrance to the ruins in Ephesus.IMG_3610

Note: For some reason, there are absolutely no restaurants at the entrance of Ephesus (at least where we were dropped), the only options were cup noodles, that gave us flashbacks of our horrendous flight with Indigo. So we’d recommend packing a lunch or having lunch before you get here.

We then made our way into the Archaeological site of Ephesus. The name Ephesus came from the Amazonian queen Ephesia the daughter of Ares- the God of War and the Aphrodite – the goddess of love, beauty and fertility. The city itself was one of many founded by the Amazons.

Legend: Of the Amazonian women itself, is hard to summarize here, but what’s striking is the belief that they burnt off their right breasts for ease of using the bow and arrow. That they used men purely for procreation and were warriors of the highest repute.

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A long path through the remains of what was once a bustling city

Another legend attributes Ephesus’ ‘discovery’ in the 11th century BC by Androklos who had reached out to the oracles (as one does) in times of trouble. They guide him to set up his settlement in a place shown by a boar and a fish. So one day when hunting, a fish being cooked jumps out of the pan and startles a boar nearby. Considering it very convenient, he chased the boar and based on different versions either killed it or not and that spot where he built his settlement of Ephesus.

The varied legends are also attributed to the varied empires that ruled this place at different times; the Persian empire->Alexander the Great (temporarily named it Arsineia)->Egyptians-> Eleucids-> Pergamons->Romans -> Seljuk Turks-> Ottoman empire between 4th century BC and 15th century AD. Most of the current ruins in this ancient port city are from the time of the Romans.

We entered through the Magnesian gate immediately taking us into a bath-gymnasium complex used for physical exercise, and games in addition to bathing. The following were mostly ruins with pillars and remnants of the foundation of a church, the grave of St.Luke (the patron of the medical profession and artists),and another bath with sections for cold, warm and hot water.  IMG_3650

Later we’d see the larger Scholastica baths with additionally with areas for massages and communal toilets with a drainage system (thankfully).IMG_3670

Up next :Ephesus: Of tricking giants and dramatic sibling rivalry

9 day trip

Selcuk- Of kind new friends and an ancient Goddess

I had my reservations about overnight buses- mostly due to our experience in India. To add to it the language barrier, general discomfort, restroom access worries, my paranoia of being left behind if I got off of it. But our worries were completely misplaced!

The buses were regular seaters but with ample legroom and space for the hand-rest. The “conductor” did his level best to communicate with us through sign language and a sweet smile while serving several options of drinks and snacks all covered in the price of travel. To our delight and relief, they stopped at a very expansive supermarket at night which was our cue to have dinner. When most of the men headed straight inside to the prayer room while we made our way to a meal. There were a large number of options in buffet style and they even had vegetarian options. Even if someone was travelling with a child or had specific need the supermarket would have been just the place to pick up some last-minute items.

We treated ourselves to a roast vegetable dish, with potatoes, peppers, tomatoes. Some pickled vegetables with a dip and even a dessert that reminded us of gulab jamoons. Topped it all with the new favourite ayran(buttermilk) and we were all set for the rest of the journey. We needn’t have worried at all. There were multiple stops at every couple of hours at similar places with large supermarkets to buy anything you need and clean restrooms throughout the night.IMG20191001220451

After we got off the bus we had to take yet another bus after an hour and a half (to which we were oblivious). The drivers everywhere were very caring and with detailed instructions handed us to a passenger who also had to catch another bus later. He took us to the basement parking to show us where the bus would be and in turn informed the bus drivers there to help us when it was time too!

He spoke some English and with google translate managed to convey that we could relax in a café for tea till it was time for the bus.IMG_8758 The café itself was housed in yet another small mall with restrooms so it was perfectly convenient. It turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of the trip where we had a long conversation with the gentleman Hussain and the café waiter Adam about everything from movies to culture to Ottomans, jobs, language, food and family. If you’re curious, they had watched the movies PK and Bahubali! Husain had a connection since he had worked with some people from Kerala during his work stint in the middle east as a welder. He had to leave for his bus and we bid him a warm farewell truly grateful for his time with us and help.

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The kindest souls in Turkey and us! 🙂

Meanwhile Adam gave us a class in Turkish describing what he called out to get customers to visit his shop and different dishes they had. Since we still had time to kill, we ordered a type of bread with spinach and cheese and a sweet bun with sesame seeds as breakfast.

Adam even gave us an early warning when it was time for our bus. Again each person we met was instructing the next to hand-hold us through the trip! As we went to pay for the food, it turned out that without even mentioning it to us, Husain had paid for our tea before leaving. When we were surprised, Adam simply said: “Turkish man is gentleman“. We couldn’t but agree 🙂

With the helpful reminder from Adam, we then went to the bus parking area where the bus driver gestured to us to the right bus and we were off to Selcuk in the Izmir province. A short walk with our backpack via a lemon tree-lined main streets in a pretty neighbourhood and we got to our Airbnb.

Incidentally, this was a heritage building from the times of the Ottomans that has been renovated but we were thrilled more by what was growing there today. It was a green haven with flowers at every possible spot in the wall, lemon trees, tomato plants bursting with large tomatoes. Aptly our room itself was named after Hera, the queen of the Gods. While we wished to enjoy the premises itself we had only the day to actually explore Ephesus. So we set off on foot to our very first unplanned stop of the day- The museum.IMG_3530

The Ephesus archaeological museum is definitely a good start before making one’s way to the Temple of Artemis or the Ephesus ruins. Finds from both sites are housed here and present a clearer context of their history and significance.

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One of the key displays is the statue of Goddess Artemis – carved in stone is her jewellery, elaborate headgear topped with the temple itself, a chequered skirt with animals real and mythical in every cell, and oval-shaped structures believed to be everything from breasts(since she was the goddess of fertility), to bulls testicles(from the sacrificed bulls) to bees eggs(since the Greek believed they reproduced asexually symbolic of her virginal status).

Additional artefacts interesting to us were the bust of Socrates, and one of Zeus. It humbled me with how limited our knowledge history of this side of the world was based on our school level studies.IMG_3553

We walked ahead next to the site of the Temple of Artemis. Honestly, the Temple of Artemis cannot be highly recommended as a place to “see”- mostly because there is almost nothing left of it other than some pillars. Despite being rebuilt several times, being several ages old, a flood and arson could do that to a structure. The structure itself was the largest in the Greek world with 127 columns, 18 meters tall and gilded in silver and gold. All this while being entirely made of marble. That probably justifies its inclusion into one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world.

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The temple of Artemis- this is all that’s left.

However, what is interesting are the legends that go along with it and its history. The temple being set fire was on the day of the birth of Alexander the Great and so its believed that the Goddess was away playing mid-wife to the birth. Another legend is that the Goddess herself delivered her twin brother Apollo. The Goddess Artemis of Ephesus is different from the popular Goddess Artemis in Greek mythology who was a hunter. She, on the other hand, was known as a very potent Goddess of fertility and divine power and therefore worshipped by several Greek regions. It is understood that the people of Ephesus were deeply devoted to their patron Goddess Artemis and 1/3rd of the writing of the region from that period in Greek literature refer to the Goddess and related topics.

Merchants, traders and kings were known to pay the temple part of their profits. In addition to priests and priestesses, it housed acrobats, dancers, musicians and functioned as a marketplace for art. Being rebuilt several times after plunder and arson, tragically the temple itself was finally destroyed by a mob led by St.John and torn down by Christians over time as the majority of Ephesians converted to Christianity.

Up next :Ephesus : Of woven silk carpets and startled boars

9 day trip

Cappadocia – Of womanly sins and underground cities

We went to bed with the intention to wake up early. However, the rooms in the cave hotel were so dark and optimized for sleep that it was 8AM by the time any of us realized it was morning. A quick round of freshening up and we made our way to a yummy breakfast of fruits, cheeses, wafers, corn flakes, milk and omelettes.IMG_8733 Due to waking up late, we missed the view of the hot air balloons filling up the Cappadocia sky but had 2 floating into our view towards the end of our breakfast just to cheer us up! Sometimes that is enough to make up a memory that brings a smile to your face.IMG_8734

After freshening up we headed to the Ihlara valley which is a canyon of about 100 m depth formed 1000s of years ago by the Melendiz River. It extends to 14 km making 26 bends along the way so one can only imagine how large the area is.IMG_3357

Unless you’ve several days in Cappadocia this is one place you may benefit from either limiting yourself or taking a guide along to visit a few spots to get an idea of the space.  Despite the heat, it is a pleasant place to wander with the river flowing by your side and the pistachio and poplar trees providing some respite.IMG_3372

Byzantine monks and Christians fleeing the Roman army dug their houses and churches since the 7th century out of the stone deposited by the volcanic Mount Hasan. It’s said that due to multiple languages spoken in the region, low literacy rate and knowledge of Latin the illustrations within these churches were used to aid understanding of Christianity. IMG_3382Depending on one’s interest and energy levels one can easily spend an entire day out here stumbling upon caves and the 105 churches to explore at every turn. We, however, had limited time and decided to check out 3 of them.

The serpent church: The paintings in this church are relatively very well preserved. The walls of the church are full of scenes from the bible- the Ascension of Jesus, the Crucifixion, the last supper and scenes of Mary with the infant Jesus, myriad prophets. However the name of the church itself – in addition to patterns of intertwined snakes on the ceiling, comes from the scene of 4 women attacked by snakes.

  • 1 for leaving her children
  • 2nd from not feeding the children
  • 3rd being bitten on the tongue for slander
  • And the 4th because of her “disobedience”

It’s interesting how women-specific these sins seem to be. As an articulate modern woman, all I have to say to it is..Pbbbbtt…

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Sumbullu(Jacinth) church: The exterior of the churches gave us flashbacks of the Ajanta caves especially with its structure that was 2 storeys high. Below was the church, also with numerous frescoes and above was a long room. From there you get a nice view of the canyon walls.IMG_3413

Agacalti (daniel pantonassa) church: A surprisingly large amount of the frescoes on the ceilings are still visible in lovely shades of red, blue, yellow and white. In addition to the scenes from the Bible, it had an abundance of angels on the ceilings and more prophets on the walls.IMG_3367

Kaymaklı Nevşehir Merkez

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In a search for directions and lunch, we stumbled upon a charming restaurant and were treated with the sweetest smile from an Afghani waiter on knowing we were from India. IMG_8746With the babbling brook beside and the quacking of happy ducks in their waters for company, we enjoyed our meal and then made our way to Kaymakli .IMG_8741

At a depth of 200 ft depth Derinkuyu underground city is the deepest multi-level underground city in Turkey and Kaymakli is the widest. Both are connected through tunnels of several miles in length. Due to limited time, we just headed to Kaymakli since it was the closest to where we were.  The concept of an underground city itself takes a moment to fathom for those of us hearing of it for the very first time. This space housed 3500 people along with their livestock and food storage. The 80 feet deep ventilation shaft was meant to get sufficient oxygen to the residents but they made me nervous since I couldn’t but think of horrific scenarios where it could get blocked. The stone was said to naturally absorb smoke thereby allowing them to cook indoors. IMG_3462The residents even made wine indoors, had a well for their needs of water, had churches and schools too. One of the large stones had 57 holes carved into it for copper ore to be poured into and hammered with rocks via a pre-historic metallurgical process.

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The space was optimized for security with a long list of features not limited to

  • narrow tunnels that you (still) need to crouch through so enemy soldiers can only attack in a single file.
  • All water sources self-contained so that it all couldn’t be poisoned at one time.
  • Peepholes on entrances that could only be opened from inside.

Note: Supposedly the Kaymakli underground city tunnels are steeper, narrower and more inclined than Derinkyu. If you’ve any form of claustrophobia we’d strongly advise against visiting either of these spaces.

Even when it was not occupied by people to live in, the underground cities continued to be used for housing animals, food storage and as a winery due to the stable indoor temperatures. It is not completely clear who first built the underground city, however, Christians and Cappadocian Greeks used this place as a refuge at various times against Muslim-Arab raids, Mongolian attacks, Turkish-Muslim rulers. Unfortunately despite that, even in the early 20th century, thousands of Greek Christians had been massacred and therefore forced to leave Cappadocia and abandon their underground refuge.IMG_3423

Personally, we found this place extremely moving- on one hand one cannot but admire the ingenuity of the design of space while on the other it’s heartbreaking that humans can drive their own into a situation so desperate as to need to use it. We felt extremely privileged to have the opportunity to see this place and hopefully learn from it-if nothing else, as a reminder of the continued need for tolerance and humanity.

Meanwhile, we hadn’t realised how time flew and had just enough time for freshening up in record time and getting to our bus to Ephesus.

Up next : Selcuk- Of kind new friends and an ancient Goddess