A Delightful Sojourn to Turkey

Dr. Navniit Gandhi
Sunday, March 18, 2018

“Words are a pretext. It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words”.
-Jalaluddin Rumi

We did not visit Konya, in Turkey where the 13th century poet and scholar --Rumi rests, but the twelve day sojourn gave us a glimpse of what the great poet must have felt when he described the mystical journey of spiritual ascent through mind and love to the Perfect One. Yes, Turkey gives the traveller a glimpse of such an experience.

The country has a spirit; it lives and breathes and exudes warmth and boasts of incredible beauty. One can feel the smooth amalgamation of the rich historical traditions and architecture with the modern infrastructure, commerce and convenience. It is incredible, indeed--the way the people carry in their eyes the pride of their legacy and yet manage, to not be shackled by the confines of the past. The Turkish people seem to be cool and live life to the fullest, and in the process, have not frittered away the glorious heritage either.

It was a mesmerising experience to sit on the hotel’s roof top terrace, sipping Çay (tea), while scribbling on a notebook and watching the ferries crossing the glistening Bosphorus, while the Blue Mosque beckoned me to it from a distance. And, thus was this travelogue born…

Despite a few words of warnings by some well-wishers about Turkey not being a very safe destination these days, we decided to go ahead with our plan which had been simmering over in our minds since about two years. There were extensive rounds of discussions about which places to go to in Turkey. It is a vast country, and not more than three to four places (cities) can be visited, lived in and enjoyed in one trip. We decided to not follow the beaten track and avoid going to the oft-visited places by all tourists. We wanted to experience the countryside; go to a village or two and live with a local family in their home. These days, the choice of B&Bs is immense, wherein not only does one get to eat the local food, but one also gets a glimpse of the way the natives live and get to converse with them on so many different topics. It is the conversations that linger on in the heart— long after we have returned to the routine in our own lives.

Bosphorus Bridge

We decided to stay in Istanbul, and then proceed via a Boat to the enchanting mountains of Uludag in Bursa, and then proceed to a scenic village—Sirince, which was a few hours away from Izmir and finally to one of Turkey’s most beautiful islands—Bozcaada. We managed to get the Turkish visa in a day from the Turkish Embassy (though it is advisable to reach there in the early morning hours so as to avoid the rush by the noon) and departed for Istanbul via Kuwait Airways. It is a four-hour flight from here, and the flight was absolutely full. Despite the long serpentine queue at the Passport Control counters in Istanbul—they demonstrated impeccable efficiency and caused minimal inconvenience to the weary travellers. The procedures were all smoothly completed and as we stepped out -the pleasant and fragrant air of Istanbul and a slightly cold drizzle welcomed us with open arms.

The Blue Mosque

The first few minutes as one steps into a new place, tell you quite a bit about the spirit of the place. In our first few minutes, we were in love with Turkey. Istanbul seemed to be welcoming us; the lively spirit of the city was all-encompassing. And, of course, the city seemed to be clean, and the infrastructure—impressive. While driving to the Hotel itself, we made up our minds to immediately step out and not miss the wonderful weather even for a few minutes. We decided to take the Bosporus cruise at night, which usually commences around 8pm. We booked the same at the Hotel, and got a good deal.

At Sirince village

There is an abundance of historical sightseeing spots in Istanbul and there is little time to squeeze them all into one short holiday. Yet, one must certainly make time for the Bosporus tour. We took the night tour and could see the terrific Istanbul sunset and later, the moonlight on the 32 km-long strait which joins the Sea of Marmara (South) with the Black Sea to the north of Istanbul. Not only does one see all the important landmarks lined up on the shores all the way, but there is ample food, music and cultural extravaganza on board.

The next day, our learned guide- Sandy took us on a day tour. We headed to the Blue Mosque and marvelled at its six minarets and the thousands of Iznik tiles that give the structure its blue colour. Close to this finest example of classical Ottoman architecture, was the grandeur of the Hagia Sophia (or Aya Sophia) which was a church and then later, a mosque and now is a UNESCO-listed museum that showcases Ottoman and Byzantine-era artefacts. Sandy explained to us the history of it all, including the facts of the Hippodrome, the Topkapi Palace, and the Basilica Cistern. And then, it was rather unfair that she took us to the Grand Bazaar when we were already so very exhausted!!! My husband must have been amused though, for there was no scope of going through more than a few dozen amongst the thousands of shops that allure the wide-eyed visitors.
During all our tours of the day, we were treated by our guides to traditional Turkish vegetarian (as was our indicated choice) fare. In fact, our guide Samih- at our next destination—which was Bursa told us that he had spent the past two sleepless nights wondering where could he take his vegetarian Indian guests for lunch so that we could enjoy as many vegetarian dishes as were possible. All our guides and hosts were caring when it came to attending to our vegetarian choices. The food was not altogether spicy and even the varieties were limited, but we nevertheless enjoyed the experiments.

We travelled to Bursa by boat, and loved the comfortable two-hour smooth sailing. We stayed at a lovely hotel which offered a lovely scenic view. Samih took us to the Uludag mount, where the peaks are laden with snow in the winters and the place is ideal for skiing. The snow was just visible on some patches then (in June), but the ride on the telefrik (open cable car) was a thrill. There was enchanting greenery and running streams all around and the smooth roads made it all a pleasure to absorb the sights. Next day, we visited Cumalikizik- the first and the oldest village of the Ottoman era, and is now taken care of by UNESCO. Bursa was the first capital city of the Ottoman Empire, and even today it is identified with not just path-breaking architecture but also, its Silk and Iskender Kebap (slices of roast lamb –which was traditionally raised on a diet of thyme--dressed with browned butter and savoury tomato sauce).

Cumalikizik, Ottoman times oldest village

Though we did not want to bid goodbye to the pleasant airs and people of Bursa, we did… and were driven for more than eight hours to Sirince village—a village of 600 inhabitants in Izmir Province. On the way, our driver insisted that we try another fascinating drink—the Ayran- a cold yogurt beverage mixed with salt. It was our first one we had there, and many more followed during the successive days. We stayed in an old, but massive mansion which had abundant fruit trees in its courtyard. We took several walks to the village square and had local meals. It all seemed to be akin to a fairy tale. Our guide- Ilker took us to the House of Mother Mary who is believed to have spent her last days on earth there—on a mountaintop to the south of the Ephesus. In order to give us a feel of how life must have been 2000 years ago, it is also important to visit Ephesus—the ruins of which give us a glimpse of the glorious days of Greece and Rome.

Mother Mary's House

The Ruins near Sirince

After spending two nights in Sirince, we took another picturesque drive for seven to eight hours, and reached Bozcaada—an island of Turkey in the north-eastern part of the Aegean Sea. After reaching the Canakkale province, one has to take a ferry to be transported to the beautiful island. Here, time stands still as people laze idly on the several beach fronts and enjoy the luxury of sun-bathing in the day and shopping or strolling idyllically in the evenings. It is a place to be there; simply without a care in the world. There are stone houses, the preserved Church and the Greek district and narrow winding alleys full of restaurants and cafes. Each house or hotel or café, seems to be even prettier than the others. There are vineyards and patisseries all around, and the island is a haven for sea-food lovers.

Figure 8: The Turkish delights

After spending three days on the island, we returned to Istanbul. In fact, we were eager to return to the city and wanted to discover it more keenly. The next day we took the longest Tram route and went up and down with no specific agenda, with our eyes trying the absorb as much as it could—from the people to the shops and the monuments and the bustling cafes. At the end of two more days, we were convinced that we had not seen anything much… that we had to visit again for another fortnight just to get a little deeper feel of the city.

Bozzada Island pier

There were words we learnt in Turkish; there were culinary delights we savoured; there were peaches and apricots, and mulberries that we plucked and picked and gobbled; and there were inspiring tales we heard of the people, their lives, their struggles and their aspirations. The memories linger on…

As I pen down this travelogue, sitting in Kuwait, I nostalgically relive the memories. I miss the Turkish meze overlooking the Mediterranean harbour and I yearn to know more about the lives of the sociable and family-oriented Turks. I miss the fresh fruits seen everywhere and the stalls selling Pilav and the charming ways of the Dondurma sellers… I miss the Turkish tea in their tulip-shaped glasses and despite the travel advisories to the contrary, I dream of going back to Turkey once more.

Dr. Navniit Gandhi is an academic, a feature writer and an author. Her publications include several academic papers presented at National and International conferences/seminars, nearly 250 feature articles in magazines, newspapers, and on web portals, two e-booklets and nine Books. Presently, she teaches at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and counsels and conducts training workshops at Gurukul, Kuwait.
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Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Great writing style. I enjoyed and decided to visit Turkey soon..

Monday, April 2, 2018
Thanks for sharing your travel experience.It gave me enough information for my plan of visit to turkey.

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