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.
 

 

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

More in the next post…

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.

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.

9 day trip

Cappadocia: Of rose coloured valleys and fairy chimneys

Early the next morning we took a flight to Cappadocia and 3 buses later landed in Goreme. The buses took a couple of hours to get us to Goreme and at the centre of the town we booked a car to use within Cappadocia for the next 2 days.

Note: Cappadocia is tourism optimized. Every travel agent or even your place of stay can help you with 3 “tours” which include a specific set of places. It goes by the names

  • Red tour
  • Green tour
  • Blue tour

The red tour can be done in 1/2 day if you go with someone who’s offering it but the other 2 require a day at least. The red and green ones are considered must-dos in comparison to the blue one.

We, however, chose to hire a self-drive car to go around at our own pace. Our trip already included quite a few early mornings due to connecting internal travel in Turkey in a short time so we wanted to have a slower pace when within each area. With the car in hand, we made our way to the hotel to check-in. The hotel manager was gracious enough to help us with information about how we could spend our time in Cappadocia. While our rooms were getting set up, we enjoyed some tea and a long chat with him about tourists, cultures, Rumi, tolerance, food, and politics.

Note: Wrt stay, a must-do is to stay in a cave hotel/cave house. It may be touristy but it’s an experience hard to find elsewhere in your travels so you might as well, there are options for every budget with various degrees of facilities.

Now hungry we had a lunch of what’s referred to as Turkish pasta, rice wrapped in grape leaves (it was sour if you’re wondering), some chicken and rice, fries, and a repeat order of the vegetarian testi kebab.IMG_8709.jpg

The Uchisar castle makes you update your expectations wrt a castle. If we thought the one in Leh was bare, this gave a whole new view of what a castle could look like. It was carved out of the rocks, with no adornments or decorations.IMG_3152.jpg It was optimized for defence and security while retaining the appearance of natural rock. This was mostly used by families as retreats during attacks by enemy armies while in peaceful times just used as a place to stay- perhaps the earliest multi-storey apartments! Today there are hollow rooms connected by narrow tunnels and stairs.IMG_3161.jpg You get a vantage point of view of the surroundings in all their glory. I’d say it’s a good start to your trip in Cappadocia since it provides you with a snapshot of what’s to come.IMG_3164.jpg

Pigeon Valley: This 6km long valley gets its name from the numerous dovecotes carved out of the soft structures made of volcanic rock. The pigeon poop has been long used as fertilizer for the arid soil of the region. The farmers even believe that the superior taste of the local produce is due to its properties. While we ourselves just stopped a while for a view of the valley, taking a hike through it is a popular option if you have a day to spend. If not for the minarets or houses in the distance, it’s easy to think for a moment that you’re on another planetIMG_3243.jpg

Urgup 3 graces fairy chimney /Three beauties: The structures that are so casually referred to as fairy chimneys in Cappadocia that you tend to forget the beauty and magic in the term itself.IMG_3265.jpg

2 references wrt stories about them

  1. In Greek mythology, a Charis (/ˈkeɪrɪs/; Greek: Χάρις, pronounced [kʰáris]) or Grace is one of three goddesses of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity, and fertility, together known as the Charites /ˈkærᵻtiːz/ (Χάριτες [kʰáritɛːs]) or Graces. Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. 
  2. A story where a princess marries a shepherd against her father’s will. They go on to have a child and hope the King will have a change of heart. However, the King sends his soldiers to kill the family and when escaping the Princess is said to have prayed to be turned into stone to escape suffering at the hands of the King’s soldiers. This the Princess, her husband and child are now believed to be the 3 structures one can see today, immortalised forever, together.

 

Devrent valley known as the Imagination valley is believed to have been formed by volcanic lava from the Erciyes and Hasan mountains that have worn out over time by the elements. And before that, it was one of the rare inland seas in the area. The formations here are said to resemble everything from dog, alligator, camel, seal and even the Mother Mary as left to your own imagination. We enjoyed walking around the slippery slopes to enjoy stunning views of the surroundings. Even if not too far ahead, we’d recommend taking just a few steps more from the tourist buses to get an other-worldly view of the place. Despite being in a bit of a hurry we couldn’t resist taking a few minutes to sit and stare. Photos do not do justice.IMG_3295.jpg

Rose Valley – is yet another spot in Cappadocia to view the unreal landscape, but what makes it special is the beautiful pinkish-orange colour it turns into with the gentle rays from the sunset. Our best view was from the road since by the time we got to the actual spot it was just past sunset with bad lighting.IMG_3334.jpg

Note: While we ourselves didn’t hire an ATV, there were groups of people riding their ATVs causing a dust storm where they went. We met another couple during our trip who recommended it highly- so if that’s your jam, then it may be worth a try! If you have the time, another option is to just take a hike around the Rose valley early afternoon so you’re done by sunset.

After getting back to the hotel, we again stepped out for a simple dinner of roasted vegetables, glasses of ayran(buttermilk) and the best baklava with ice cream on the trip.

While all of Goreme is stunning what really blew me away was the view we had at night from our stay. With lighting in most caves, it looked like a snapshot of 100s of sky lanterns just frozen in time and space.IMG_3339.jpg

Note: Taking a hot-air balloon ride is the thing to do in Cappadocia. However, our provider cancelled on us – possibly due to either overbooking or having found other tourists to pay a higher amount for the same ride. We’d recommend getting the booking done via your stay provider for a little added guarantee. It was disappointing but ah well, it made us avoid picking up any of the 100 hot air balloon souvenirs 😉

9 day trip · Uncategorized

Topkapi Palace: Of 1300 person kitchens and an angelic singer

The Topkapi palace served both residential and administrative purposes for the Ottoman sultans. Throughout our trip to Turkey, we found silly glee at identifying Turkish words that occasionally were the same in Hindi too. So the Topkapi palace literally meaning Cannon(top in Hindi) gate was a fun titbit. Though still very grand, the structures within have undergone multiple renovations due to earthquakes and fire incidents.

The area is broken up into 4 courtyards and the Harem. Unless you’re really checking things off of a list it’s a bit hard to visit every single place within it all. We took the route of wandering in and out of what we pleased.

Within the 2nd courtyard, we dropped into the imperial kitchens and bakery. It had displays of utensils used in the era in addition to silverware and porcelain. The kitchen staff had an elaborate hierarchy in order Head of the pantry->Superintendent of the Imperial kitchens assisted by the clerk of the kitchens->  Chief cook-> Master cooks, journeymen and apprentices.

The simple-sounding “kitchen” consisted of

  • The imperial pantry
  • 2 bakeries
    • One for fine bread for the Sultan and his family
    • One for ordinary bread
  • A butcher’s shop
  • A poultry shop
  • 2 dairies
    • One specializing in making yoghurt
    • One to produce butter, cheese and other milk products
  • A candle-making section
  • A vegetable store
  • A water distribution office
  • A flour mill for fine white flour was the one part which was housed separately in Bursa a town near Istanbul.IMG_3028

At its peak, it employed 1300 people in the 17th century and understandably was the largest kitchen in the Ottoman empire. We found particularly interesting with meticulously arranged exposed brick used to make both the walls and the domed ceilings.IMG_3031.jpgIMG_3033

On the opposite end of the 2nd courtyard are sections displaying armoury and various clocks of the era in addition to staying quarters for the halberdiers(who provided services for the palace quarters).IMG_3123.jpg

We walked into the 3rd courtyard and the Audience Hall– the place where the King met ambassadors of other kingdoms, his ministers and other officials.IMG_3066.jpg

Next was the Library of Ahmed the III. This space changed by definition of what I thought would be my dream library. Floor level seating, stained glass windows, gorgeous mosaics.IMG_3049.jpg

The last area we passed by was the Chamber of sacred relics in the 3rd courtyard. As named it housed stunning versions of the Quran with the most amazing calligraphy and we heard a lovely voice in the background. Wondering if it was a recorded bit of music, we were taken aback to realize it was a gentleman who was singing it live and genuinely appeared angelic in his immaculate white outfit. Since it’d be rude to just stand and stare, we walked out and plonked ourselves on the benches just outside to enjoy his singing infusing its fragrance into the gentle evening air. The large open garden area just ahead which supposedly had peacocks and gazelles during the Ottoman times now had quite a few seagulls being chased enthusiastically by toddlers seemingly just for our amusement.IMG_3052.jpg

We made our way out through the Imperial gate– a massive gate with gilded calligraphy of verses from the Quran and seals of various emperors surprised that it was only our very first day in Turkey and that so much seemed to have been experienced.IMG_3077.jpg

Note: The term Topkapi palace is misleading. It’s an immense complex which takes a few hours to cover on foot and will have you taking a few rest stops. We recommend you visit this just after your breakfast or lunch so you’re not hungry mid-way. It wouldn’t be a terrible idea to even carry a packed lunch and some snacks. Your ticket is for single entry so unless you want to pay twice you’d rather come prepared to spend the time for a while.

Munching on some corn from a vendor and a chocolate simit ( a circular bread often sprinkled with sesame seeds found with stalls all over Istanbul) we made our way back to the Airbnb. We truly felt lucky to also be back to a lovely view of the Ottoman mosque of Sokullu Mehmed Pasha till it was too dark to see it anymore.

A bit rested by now and not too hungry after the simit and corn we still made our way to dinner at a nearby restaurant and shared the vegetarian version of the testi kebab. A dish cooked within sealed clay pot brought in on a plate of flames. The pot is broken open with a theatrical flourish and the dish then served.  For Indians, the vegetarian version tasted more like a milder version of sambhar with loads of vegetables. However the testi kebab is supposedly more famous in Cappadocia, and that’s where we were headed the very next day.

9 day trip

Blue Mosque and Tile museums: Of beautiful homes for the dead and the living

Munching on some fresh warm chestnuts, we walked to the Blue Mosque or the Sultan Ahmed Mosque just opposite the Hagia Sophia. IMG_2896.jpgThis mosque, in contrast, was more of a PR move by Sultan Ahmed after a crushing defeat in a war against Persia to lead his people to continue to believe in the Ottoman power. Verses from the Quran and names of the caliphs in calligraphy adorn the walls of the mosque. However, personally, the gorgeous stained glass windows and the hand-painted ceramic Iznik tiles are what I could spend hours just to admire and enjoy.IMG_2911

Fun trivia :

  • Something new learnt – Ostrich eggs repel spiders and were therefore then placed in the chandeliers of the Blue Mosque. I’m surprised this is not more common knowledge considering the annoyance of cleaning out cobwebs! I wonder if, after a while, the eggs didn’t get rotten and stink themselves though.
  • Apparently, the 6 minarets were made at the mosque because an architect misheard the Emperor’s request for gold(altin) minarets as six(alti) minarets since the words in Turkish for both are similar.
  • Problems of long-running projects. The sultan had fixed a price for each tile and as time passed and the work was more expensive the quality of tiles diminished.IMG_2918

Note: The Mosque is still used for prayers 5 times a day, so plan your visit accordingly. We entered by 1130AM and by 12PM we saw the entrance doors were closed for prayers at 1PM. You need to take off your footwear before entering the mosque since the carpeted floor is still used for prayers. However, they provided covers to put your shoes in to carry along with you so you can wear the same on your way out. While Istanbul itself has a mix of people covered head-to-toe contrasting with others in bold, skimpy clothes, we’d urge you as a tourist to err on the side of modesty. While being comfortable, do cover up. Long dresses/skirts, regular jeans, long trousers/tights work just fine for women across locations. Carry a scarf along (which works for the sunny weather too). Long trousers are expected of men when visiting mosques, tombs.

We stopped for a while at the Tomb of Sultan Ahmed from the 17th century. Built by the architect of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, popularly known as the Blue mosque it had a sombre version of its grandeur too. It now houses 32 tombs including that of the favourite dowager of the Sultan and various family members.IMG_2922.jpg

After a round of fruit juices, we set out to find the Topkapi palace and lunch whichever of them would come first. The maps were terrible at leading us on a while goose chase till the shore – so we missed the Topkapi palace despite passing by it! However, we needed food by now and stopped at a place for lunch.

The vegetarian option was literally French fries wrapped with cheese, more cheese covering some slices of fresh tomatoes, some fried bell peppers and cream on the side and all of it topped with parsley. Even with all 4 of us(we had 2 friends who had joined us for a few days on this trip) contributing, it was tough to actually finish the plate due to the inordinate amount of cheese we weren’t used to having. The non-vegetarian option was chicken with rice, bread and a side of a salad. A side of ayran(buttermilk) and we couldn’t ask for more.IMG20190929165127.jpg

We headed off to the Topkapi palace next while the rest decided to take it slow and head back to the Airbnb.

There are multiple paths from the main road and the one we took led us to the group of museums first.

Istanbul Archaeology Museum– This was referred to as the Imperial museum when first set up in the 19th century. The highlight was the display of numerous sarcophagi which was a novelty for us to see. The sarcophagi were typically set above the ground level so that friends and family could visit the deceased after they were gone, meanwhile, the limestone inside was meant to speed up the decomposition of the body. They are home shaped structures in which individuals were buried in with the belief that it would be used by them to live in the afterlife.IMG_2962.jpg Several of them were richly decorated in marble exteriors with everything from cherubs to mourning women to a scene of a battle of Alexander the great on their surface. IMG_2969.jpgAdditionally, the museum consisted of busts and statues from ancient temples of Athena and Zeus. But the most special 2 displays have got to be tables with the oldest known peace treaty (between the empires of Egypt and Hittite) and the oldest known love poem. Just goes to show that aspirations haven’t changed over the ages – for immortality, peace and love.IMG_2976.jpg

Tiled Pavillion museum–  This was a favourite of mine and is also referred to locally as the Glass Palace. The Iznik and Seljuk tiles and ceramic utensils have a rich variety of calligraphy, plant and animal patterns.IMG_2995.jpg

The Life Water Fountain has hand-drawn designs and poetry written in an old Islamic calligraphy style is believed to be a masterpiece of tile making from the 15-16th century in relation to tile making. IMG_3005.jpgIt is believed that the sultan sat on the portico of this beautiful structure to watch his sons play cirit(a version of horseback polo still played in turkey to this day). Everything inside the structure itself is stunning and if anyone wants to gift us a house please use this building for design inspiration.IMG_3000.jpg

9 day trip

Turkey- Hagia Sophia – The magical wisdom of the ages

A rickety flight landed us, a sleepy twosome, at Istanbul one evening. The only plus of the dismal flight was that we spent the time without a single magazine or inflight entertainment by learning basic Turkish. So Merhaba to everyone.  We had to board a bus from the airport to get to where we had booked our stay and we had an early peek into the kindness of the Turkish people when the bus driver drove into not one but 2 fuel pumps just to get us our change with not a word of complaint. An hour later we reached Sultanahmet.

We alighted from the bus only to feel we were dropped into the embrace of the history and architecture of Istanbul- right in front of the Hagia Sophia(pronounced Aya Sofiya) looking very inviting in the evening light.  It was also our first view of the friendly cats that are found everywhere in Istanbul. Grinning to ourselves while staring at it all – it was only the strain of carrying our large rucksacks and our sleepy eyes that dragged us across the cobblestone paths to our Airbnb for the night.

Note: the dogs are gorgeous too but didn’t seem to be used to being petted by people, so were a little more aloof. Leave them alone unless one comes to you obviously looking to be petted.

To our delight, we were adjacent to one of the most beautiful mosques designed by the same architect as The Blue Mosque- The 16th century Ottoman mosque- of Sokullu Mehmed Pasha. WhatsApp Image 2019-09-29 at 21.06.23.jpeg

Day 2 :

We were woken up by the azaan since we had left a soundproof window open, so after freshening up decided it was the perfect time to go to the terrace. Even when walking to our Airbnb the steep slope of the area was apparent. The architect of Sokullu Mehmed Pasha mosque has sensibly used the slope to create multi-storey courtyards. The first very prudently to house shops, the rent of which would cover the mosque’s maintenance and the second as living quarters for the residents of the madrasah. All of this was visible to us from our perch on the terrace of our stay but we hesitated to visit the mosque itself since it wasn’t particularly a touristy spot and there was a constant stream of people coming in for prayers so we didn’t want to cause them disturbance. Images online of the interiors also look beautiful though.

We were lucky to reside at walking distance from Hagia Sophia and the Blue mosque so happily set out on foot. We decided it was only apt we started the very first day with a Turkish breakfast. We thoroughly enjoyed it, especially, the honeycomb and honey cream which gave it a perfectly quaint end.

We then joined the short queue to Hagia Sofia and bought a general ticket in. One constant amongst the mosques we visited in Turkey is the very, almost industrial exteriors with cement grey walls only slightly softened by the dome. This is hugely deceptive considering the gorgeous art, mosaics, colours and architecture in the inside of them.

The Hagia Sofia has always been my mental image of Istanbul and it was all I ever wanted and more. It’s both moody and magical. The immense chandeliers, the mosaics, the humongous works of calligraphy, the warm yellows, reds, and blues, the light streaming through the tall windows, the juxtaposition of the image of Mary with Islamic verses – it’s like another world where all is quiet and lovely. Even the continuous stream of tourists constantly clicking photos hoping to capture the image for posterity doesn’t deter from the place itself. Or maybe I’m just biased.IMG_2742.jpg

Since it’s construction in 537AD it was first an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral, then a Roman Catholic Cathedral and stayed the largest cathedral for a 1000 years after it was built. Currently, the Turkish Govt refers to it as a museum and there are no longer prayers held within its premises. It’s said to have taken more than 10,000 people and shy of 6 years to build. The name Sophia itself refers to the Wisdom of God. All religious pictures and icons were removed in 726 during a period where they were opposed by religious and imperial leaders. Individuals attempting to restore the structure have a challenge today- when unravelling the older images related to Christianity that were covered by plaster,  it would be at the expense of historical Islamic art. It’s a delicate balance that to us, has somehow let both of them shine through.IMG_2781.jpg

If that was not enough, Hagia Sofia continues to mystify historians with its literal hidden depths. Below the floors are tunnelled passages presumably to let a 5th century Emperor avoid the paparazzi or traffic of the time. While covering the expanse of Constantinople(current Istanbul) it contained graves, crypto rooms, and even a section large enough to sail a small ship in!IMG_2848.jpg

 While I don’t encourage ignorance, I’m glad I read further about the history of Hagia Sophia after my visit or my experience may have been marred by some of it. The structure has been damaged and repaired by numerous earthquakes and vandalism by the Crusaders and the Ottoman forces at different points in time. This too, like typical to churches then, was considered a refuge for people from persecution during times of war. However, the Ottoman forces tragically enslaved, violated or slaughtered women, children, the elderly and sick who were within it for 3 full days after capturing the city. It’s ironical that a place that was witness to such horrors was then made the first imperial mosque in Istanbul. Numerous restorations have added minarets, madrasah, soup kitchen, the sultan’s lodge, mihrabs etc to the building itself.IMG_2771.jpg

In addition to the numerous mosaics, there are 3 giant doors of note too.

  • Marble door– My favourite, it has images representing heaven and hell on either side of the door and led to a space used for official meetings.
  • The Nice door– the oldest of the lot and
  • The Emperor’s door– the largest one there solely used by the Emperor and his posse. Above the door is a mosaic artefact of the Emperor taking blessings of Jesus Christ with Mother Mary and the Angel Gabriel on either side. It’s believed to have been made from the wood off of Noah’s Ark! Now that’s a claim I haven’t heard off before.

Before leaving you can’t miss the queue of tourists waiting in line to touch a pillar. Supposed to feel moist to the touch, it’s called the Wishing pillar while touching it is believed to cure all sorts of illnesses. We, however, can’t confirm that since we didn’t join the line, so I guess we will have to deal with the illnesses when they come!

Note: We had read online about the pre-paid card for most of the tourist place entrances but didn’t realise there were multiple choices among them based on how long they’re valid and how many places they cover. So it led to us, as a group, making complex calculations on which of the cards would be “worth it”. Unfortunately, this is hard to decide unless you’re really sure of your plan within Turkey. We still found the card useful if only to avoid dealing with cash and it helped sort of pre-budget entrance fees into our expenses.

Up next: Blue Mosque and Tile museums: Of beautiful homes for the dead and the living

9 day trip

Champaner : of cliff-hanging palaces and muddy paths to wonder

Next day morning, after breakfast we drove up the Pavagadh hill, we got to Saat Kaman located on the edge of the cliff on the south and built with the local yellow sandstone. It was meant to be the end of a gate but now stands by itself looking intriguing.IMG_3835.jpg

A short distance ahead, we happened on the fort we walked into, upto a path that diverged. IMG_3853.jpgA walk ahead through one of the paths and we landed at the Khuneshwar Waterfalls. We were the only people at this very scenic and dreamy spot. A tiny temple balancing on the rocks, the colour green taking over every spot and the eager gush of water made it the perfect place to take a break and just sit and stare.IMG_3880.jpg

Finally pulling ourselves away, we backtracked and this time took the route to Saat Manzil: a seven storey palace built into the hillside right from the 15th century. While I was hesitant to climb the stairs down after straining my legs a bit on the boulders at the Khuniya Mahadev Waterfalls, a security guard urged me to go on insisting I should.  A view of waterfalls in the distance amidst the misty expanse of green made it well worth it. It feels like quite the spot for the palace – what a joy it must have been to wake up to the amazing views every morning.

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We also stopped at the Mint which while simple from the outside had enclosures in the floor presumably to store all the mysterious royal riches.IMG_3911.jpg

The Mahakali temple atop the Pavgadh hill is accessible via a ropeway and is considered the oldest temple in Gujarat being from the 10th-11th century. However on driving to it the crowds led us to change our mind and we instead made our way back down the Pavgadh hill.

Kamani Masjid: is a mosque so named due to the arches that make up most of it. The ceiling long gone, it also has a broken minaret upfront. Overall it’s hard to deduce whether it was left incomplete or destroyed/fell into ruin later.IMG_3936.jpg

We next tried to find Lila Gumbaz ki Masjid, but the negative of visiting during the monsoons was the amount of slush in some of the narrower paths we would take from this point on. That mixed with generous amounts of cow dung from the cattle in plenty led us to give up and return to try another spot.

We moved on in the direction of the Kevda Masjid and yet again a good distance was to be covered on foot only. After a while we came up to an area entirely covered with water where we had to pretty much roll up our trousers and walk through ankle deep water. Just behind us were 3 tiny school kids who with their backpacks were going on their regular day. One of them decided he really didn’t want to step in the slush and Anand gave him a helping hand.IMG20180818121107.jpg We finally reached the lovely Kevda Masjid. While following the rough pattern of the other mosques, it still retains its own charm. The arched entrance with intricate designs is flanked by 2 minars(towers) on either sides.IMG_3961.jpg

Not knowing how far the walk was we had left our umbrellas and ponchos behind. Poor Anand went right back to pick them up while I sat guard over the camera and luggage.

Once done with walked it, now on to Nagina Masjid. The path had no one but us and we had to stop and convince ourselves we werent entirely lost! But finally getting a look at the Nagina Masjid through the mild drizzle was worth the distance. It was my favorite of the smaller structures. The delicate and complex patterns carved out in to the pillars is something one can admire for hours. One can see the 2 storeys and balconies inside the mosque.img_4018img_4012

Passing by the peacocks in the fields on out way back we finally got back to the car and made our way back by the Narmada canal to Ahmedabad.IMG_4031.jpg

Note: We missed out on 2 places – the Lakulish temple and the Navlakha Kothar within the Archaeological park. They seem interesting too, we’d recommend giving them a shot when you visit, especially during the monsoons.IMG_6041.jpg

IMG_6052.jpgWe had our flight the next morning and we wanted to make the best of our evening there, so headed off to Rani no Hajiro to pick up some beautiful bandhini sarees in every possible color for the family.img_6052 By the time we were finished, Manek Chowk was all setup for the evening food extravaganza and we decided to dig into an overly indulgent pineapple ice-cream sandwich. While I called out to the distracted Anand, the sandwich storekeepers also pitched in together calling him “Anand bhaiii” (brother). This was not a bad end to the trip at all- with a feeling of being honorary Gujaratis once you’ve been called Ben and Bhai atleast along the way! 🙂img_6102img_6070

 

9 day trip

Champaner- An unexpected waterfall and a town-namesake pitstop

The next morning after a dry spell through our trip, we woke up to the sound of rushing rain. Thankfully our hired car was being dropped at the hotel but we were in for a surprise. We dragged our luggage getting drenched despite being under the cover of the hotel porch due to the sheer force of the wind on the rain. We drove out only to realise the roads were flooded beyond expectations – all after a few hours of rain. It was a nerve-racking experience being in a hired car driving through unfamiliar roads with the tyres completely under water for really long stretches. Mercifully we got out of Ahmedabad and headed towards our next destination Champaner.

However on seeing the map, we noticed a detour we could simply not avoid- one to the town Anand.

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Just in case I had second thoughts…

It’s not very many people who can boast of sharing a name with a town and so we had to drop in even if only for him to enjoy a fruit based lassi that he deemed was perfection. For those not in the know, the place Anand is the milk capital of India where the Operation Floor launched in 1970 transformed India to the worlds largest milk producer.

Driving on to Champaner, the historical city established in the 8th century and named after the General Champa who was also a friend of the then King Vanraj Chavda.

Note: the area called the Champaner-Pavgadh Archaeological site is huge- ie., 3280 acres so we wouldn’t recommend exploring it all on foot. There are numerous rickety cars available for hire so there shouldn’t be too much trouble exploring even if you get there via public transport.

Our first view of the place was that of hills topped with mist and a glistening Patal lake providing a backdrop to the simple but beautifully symmetric Sakar Khan’s Tomb from the 15th century.

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Patal lake

We noticed several vehicles parked at the spot and people going beside the tomb on foot. Curious, we enquired and found that the path led to a waterfall.

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Sakar Khan’s Tomb

We walked past bright green foilage, ruins of the fort, purple flowers reminiscent to us of the Valley of Flowers, gurgling streams and fellow explorers. Unprepared for a trek, I quickly used Marathi/Tamil mami dressing hack to covert my flowing skirt to a pair of trousers to navigate the large and slippery boulders that is the only way to reach the Khuniya Mahadev Waterfalls.

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The green path to the Khuniya Mahadev Waterfalls

Considering the waterfalls were not part of our plan it was such a delight – the waterfall itself was translucent and the breeze made it all the more ephemeral. We spend a good amount of time just watching the water flow into the crevices and nooks of the rocks below splitting into umpteen tiny waterfalls.

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Khuniya Mahadev Waterfalls

Once back we picked up a steaming cob of corn each to munch on and then headed to the nearest point to us- the 15th century helical step well with the staircase along the wall of the well shaft vs the other step wells we’d seen on our trip.

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Helical step well

We next headed to our favorite of the places that day – the Jami Masjid. A few steps in and one would be at the section with an open roof and lovely stone-screen work.

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Jami Masjid, Champaner

The mosque itself is accessible through porches from the north, south and the east. It is easy to believe the structure with almost 200 pillars took 25 years to build under the king Mohammed Begda.

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Jami Masjid, Champaner

Like in many mosques we’d seen in Gujarat- the patterns reflected more the culture of the craftsmen from Hindu, Muslim and Jain backgrounds rather than strictly what is seen traditionally in Islam.

Incidentally there were several artists painting within the mosque that day. Some of their interpretations that we enjoyed almost as lovely as the mosque itself.

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Jami Masjid, Champaner

There is a lovely octogonal pond for ablutions on one side of the mosque too.

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Jami Masjid, Champaner

A little ahead is the Kabutarkhana Pavilion next to the Vadatalav Lake. It’s a simple structure with upper walls intentionally riddled with pigeon holes to allow the pigeons a place to stay thereby yielding the place its name.

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Kabutarkhana Pavilion next to the Vadatalav Lake

Just opposite is the Khajuri Mosque that raised on a slightly higher level , looks like it was left incomplete.

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Khajuri Mosque

The Saher-ki Masjid is another mosque just a little away which is a far simpler version of the Jami Masjid. The mosque was meant for the Royal families and the nobles that therefore it’s size wasn’t as much of a concern as that of the Jami Masjid meant for the public.

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Saher-ki Masjid

Citadel of Muhamed Begda is just something we passed by which mainly encompasses the gates and bastions with rooms for the watchkeepers.

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Citadel of Muhamed Begda

One area called 3 cells is exactly as promised- 3 cells surrounded by greenery and more ruins.

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3-cells

Bawaman Mosque: is a simpler mosque that also seems to have been damaged quite a bit with time.

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Bawaman Mosque

With it getting dark, we had to call it a day and went over to the hotel we had booked. It was clearly one of the strangest we had experienced since it was in the same floor as a movie theatre. Unfortunately we were too exhausted to stay up for the show later in the night and had just missed the evening one, but nevertheless it was definitely a stay to remember.