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.

Up next : Cappadocia: Of rose coloured valleys and fairy chimneys

China : EmeiShan and miracles

<Side note: These posts are from a trip I made in 2012 and lived in a gorgeous city named Chengdu for 5 months. Nevertheless, its memories are fresh and warm in my mind and I’d love to share them with you. >

The famed Emei Shan beckoned. Early in the morning, as we took our seats the conductor came up to us, looked at my friend Solo and asked her where I was from. Pretty standard, but he they said something in rapid Chinese, while I tried to fish out my passport due to his serious tone. It was however followed by giggles from our co-passengers because when translated to me, he had just said “Do you have a boyfriend? You should find a Chengdu boy, you know? “😀 Ahh..if wishes were horses.😛

We got to the bottom of Emei and then had a cab-driver add us to the bunch of people he was taking up to the mountain. The group, though strangers to each other, seemed a chatty bunch. As they rattled off in rapid Chinese, I settled in the back corner of the vehicle and gazed at the window. As distracted as I was, I was probably the last one to realise we had just met our smashing start to the trip. The screech of the brakes, and in that instant, my only thought was that I’d settle for anything other than the people dying, especially the 2 in the front (they had the highest probability of injury). A bus and car stranded on the road. My friend saved from hurt by the bending of her trekking bag’s metal rods that took on the impact. I brushed off my bruised knee and off we went back down, had our lunch only to return. This time pretty popular among the travel guides and the drivers on the mountain, even giving us a half price deal for the hotel stay since they’d heard of the accident!

Reached the hotel, dropped off some of the luggage and went exploring the temples in the lower half of the mountain.

Our very first temple visit at Emei was perfect. We were the only ones there, and it was like our own nook of calm in the wilderness with incense and candles topped with tiny obstinate flames.

The very first temple
Steps… the endless despair of steps!

Just another temple on our way up

The only thing better than stories themselves are probably stories etched in stone. Several points on the trek had characters and incidents had been carved out of the mountains with moss on them making them seem a natural part of the landscape.

Stunning carvings on the mountain

The Tibetan Macaques were a speciality of the region and they simply looked hugely unimpressed with the tourists who seemed to make a fool of themselves when they spotted them.


As a snack, I tried for the first time, juicy yacon and the fan-twan (rice with a little sauce with meat/fish wrapped in delicate seaweed. Actually tastes better than it sounds.).  It was also definitely the best 2 RMB I ever spent when I bought a bamboo walking stick for the trek. The trek was long and had mostly views of endless stairs when we looked ahead that merged into the mist, like a hazy portal to a different world.

Intrigue and mystery

The next temple we stumbled upon was the one with, what I’d like to call, the locks of love. Couples could place a lock on the railings of the stairs and the balcony of the temple and throw the key away, it apparently locked them in love😀. Thousands of locks,  and just one simple emotion.

Locks of love

The next morning, we were taken to the start of the trek in a car and head off on our walk, the bamboo stick still providing faithful company in the hauntingly beautiful landscape. You couldn’t be quite certain you weren’t walking into the clouds, the occasional burst of azaleas still providing a cheery break in the otherwise black and white scene.

The misty wonderland

The trek was probably the most enjoyable one I’ve ever had, with us taking frequent breaks as required, to appreciate the ambience, catch our breath, or just experience a cup of tea or some warm corn on the cob.


We reached the golden summit with the steps lined with 6-tusked elephants also in gold. And went up with bated breath, only to see it covered with mist with a dull gold cloud left to my imagination 😐  I wished I had checked the image online before I got there as I’d have then been able to at least know what I was supposed to imagine.:/ (I had decided this would be my no-research trip, though of course, I did check the weather. I’m flexible, but not yet interested in death by freezing/soaking.)

The disappointment…

It couldn’t be helped so we instead visited temples on the top even having to imagine their exterior as the mist disallowed sight beyond a few feet. We entered the last temple there, paused before the deity and Solo entered a door at the back that read to a dining room with a board stating ‘For Buddhist prefectures only’. I wasn’t sure what it meant, so tried to drag her out but we happened to find a travel guide there who said we could actually have a meal there if we wished. So we sat on ornate tables for a lovely meal with lotus stem, pumpkin, sweet potato noodles, a couple of types of greens, soup and rice.

Simple and satiating

We walked out of the dining area and then realised that we were just in time for the mist rising like a curtain to reveal a vision in gold that was breathtaking and majestic, especially since I hadn’t known what to expect. The lowest layer of 100s of lamps, the second of 4 of the 6-tusked elephants, on them a lotus and the last of the Buddha with 10 faces. The temples also were now visible and we had a good 15 minutes to actually view them clearly before the mist came over again. It had been incidental to come across the dining area behind the temple, incidental to find the tourist guide there and if we hadn’t made that resulting stop for lunch we’d have probably just missed the scene and gone back on our way down. Serendipity ?😉

…and the clarity
The temples at the top

Every so often Solo was asked by the locals if she was my translator, and where I was from. One such question round, on being told I was from India, the next query by the guy was if I had walked all the way from India 😐 I knew I was gasping for breath for just this trek, but I wondered if I looked so distraught to seem like I’d been through such arduous effort!

Prettiness at every turn

On the way back just near the cab-stand, we met this very interesting lady travelling alone and Solo asked her if she knew the way back. She instead replied she didn’t speak Chinese which had us a little confused as she sure looked Mongoloid. Turns out she had Chinese parents, was born and raised in Peru, worked in Barcelona and was on a 3-month break from work to explore her roots as she wanted to know the place her parents came from.After an exchange of stories, including that of Shangri- la (she suggested I skip it as my image of it would probably be crushed 😦 ) she went on her way and we took the cab down. Stories of our little accident the previous day continued to follow us as the travel agents and the cab drivers all gushed about how lucky we were. Not too bad a note to keep in mind even for life itself🙂


Will be tough to top this ..

20 Road trip tips

From our road trips in the last several years, this is a distilled list of tips that have helped make our journeys so much more pleasant. Do comment if you have more things you do that you’d like to share too!

Take from Home

  1. Water is your friend. Stay hydrated and carry at least 3 bottles of water from home for 2 people. To avoid increasing your carbon footprint and if you have decent immunity, do request restaurants to refill your bottles with drinking water. After you have paid for your meal there, they are usually very willing. Carry a 2 lt bottle(at least) of tap water to wash fruits you may purchase on your way from the farmers and to wash your hands after you eat them. Also, carry baby wipes/wet wipes for the latter use.
  2. Carry old newspapers. They are marvellous to use in lieu of tissues, wipes, and just to spread on the ground for an impromptu picnic if that’s what you feel like.
  3. Carry non-perishable snacks from home if feasible. In some tourist places, you may not find food till the neighbouring town and the only options may be deep fried stuff in packaging more filled with air than food. Anand finds chewing gum helps him from feeling drowsy while driving on endless highways. (Note: Get rest and sleep if you’re actually exhausted. Do not push yourself then. It’s a safe road-trip, not an endurance test risking your own lives and that of others on the road.)
  4. Use one cover/basket just for garbage inside the car. You can empty it when you see a garbage bin.
  5. Do buy from farmers by the highway, especially fruits, palm jaggery and even honey combs! We’ve rarely been disappointed. They make significantly healthier snacks too. Needless to say get some tender coconut water when you pass by it. It’s refreshing, delicious and naturally free from contamination 🙂
  6. Carry a small pouch with change. It helps at toll booths and paying vendors for small items without searching all over the place and multiple purses.
  7. Carry one set of cutlery- a small knife (to cut fruits), a spoon (to eat unhealthy snacks with without getting them all over your hands), and a fork.



  1. Before your trip, download offline maps on your phone if you have the option.
  2. Even if you don’t want to book your hotels in advance, be aware of the closest towns/cities so you know which direction to head to once it’s later in the day.
  3. Get a good playlist of upbeat songs.(some of which you can sing along with while being severely off-tune). Slower songs though lovely for a relaxed evening at home are sleep-accelerators after a delicious local meal you’ve indulged in on your trip.
  4. Carry a power bank and have a charger you can plug into your car. Clicking pictures, looking up details of places and using maps drains battery faster than you realise.
  5. If feasible, download content related to the history of the place or the monuments you are going to visit. It seems most interesting just before and just after getting there and a random interesting tit-bit makes it that much more fun.
  6. Try some random games in the car- we’ve found 20 questions to be both aggravating and entertaining (depending on which side you’re on). It’s also an excellent undisturbed time to trade childhood stories and often detailed stories of your favourite movie that your fellow travellers haven’t watched yet. Or maybe that’s just us. Try different ones and see what you enjoy.


Madagadakere : The lake that never dries up. Also, has a lot of skeletons at its bottom.


Car Love

  1. Fuel up as soon as your indicator goes off. Being stuck without fuel on a lonely highway in the dark is not safe at all.
  2. Do these checks before you leave
    • Headlamps, taillamps and indicators. You don’t want to be driving blind at night.
    • Water-level in the wiper – Helps to get rid of unwanted dust and bird droppings on your windshield (they happen more often than you’d like)
    • Tyre pressure on all tyres including the standby one.
    • That you have the car tools in the car at all times.

      Our trusty car enjoying a break 


On the way

  1. Take breaks to stretch your limbs or take a short stroll, especially for the driver. Neck, feet, arms, legs and back could all use a good stretch. The fellow passenger could enforce the break taking 🙂
  2. Ask locals (and sometimes petrol station staff) for food recommendations – they often know of the only modest but good restaurant in a small dusty town.
  3. Seems silly but check different seat alignments to see what treats your backbone the best. Something as simple as that removes the strain from a long trip on the road. Carrying small cushions also helps and a neck pillow if you plan to take a nap.
  4. Inform someone at home of where you’re going and where you’d be staying the night. It reduces their anxiety and helps in case of emergencies.
  5. Stop and stare– there’s often beauty all along the way – whether in an unnamed lake with migratory birds, a field of marigolds in bright orange or a sky filled with stars like you’ve never seen before.

    Our reward for an unplanned pitstop at an un-named lake on the way back from Bidar

And here we go…

CaptureThis is Anand and Divya. We’ll start with an introduction to ourselves.

Anand loves photography and food. Divya loves reading and people(mostly). We both love traveling and dogs. We despise crowds and our happiest times are when we stumble into surprises along an unexpected detour.

This is our attempt at sharing our travel memories with you to help you make your own.