India-West contributor Vikram Nath Sahni traveled to the mysterious land of the Turks with his family to explore the gorgeous, yet sometimes rugged terrain of the nation and experience its rich culture and history. In this two-part series, Sahni narrates his journey…
In the picturesque sultanate of Istanbul, Turkey, one will find an amazingly captivating historical city which features multiple mosques; most notably the “Blue Mosque,” aptly named for its elegant sapphire tiles and stained glass windows.
Directly in front of this landmark is the Hagia Sophia — the word itself meaning ‘divine power and holy wisdom’ — which was originally a Roman Catholic cathedral erected in the 4th century, but later was turned into a mosque by Sultan Mehmed II in 1453 with the conquest of Istanbul.
The true uniqueness of this architecture lies in the fact that it combines a central domed design with the traditional basilica plan and includes murals of Mary and baby Jesus along with odes to Allah. In 1935, the Hagia Sophia became a museum and attracts over 2 million tourists each year. One of the most interesting spectacles about this whole experience is when you tell a friendly local that you visited the Hagia Sophia, often the first question they ask is if you think it should be a church, mosque or museum.
From the Hagia Sophia, one can meander down a side street and have lunch at a traditional Turkish restaurant called the Han, which features a woman making Gozleme, similar to a Paratha, and have a cup of delectable Turkish Tea, known as Cha.
After Gozleme, world famous kebabs and an afternoon filled with elegance, one can embrace local culture and visit the Grand Bazaar. A covered structure with over 4,700 shops and seven entrances, dealing in various merchandise ranging from jewelry to rugs; the local merchants will politely offer you a cup of tea as they tell you about their wonderful wares. Bargaining is prevalent in the Bazaar with customers often reducing the first quoted price to half and then haggling their way up from their. It’s a wonderful place to pass by a rainy afternoon and spend some money. On the way back from the Bazaar, one can be treated to decadent cookies and tea at Mustafa, which is a comfortable shop filled to the brim with over 20 different varieties of Turkey’s best dessert, Baklava. From nutty to chocolaty, and from green to orange, rows of rich Baklava give off a sweet scent that finishes off a cozy pre-dinner snack.
With memories and the taste of Istanbul still lingering in my mouth, my family and I headed to the snowy paradise of Turkey, otherwise known as Cappadocia. Although the airport where we landed was no bigger than a basketball court, the atmosphere around us was filled with excitement and a unique buzz that could only be present in a foreign land. The drive up to our hotel was a new experience as the van filled with 15 people shook and bustled all the way up the narrow streets to our sunset cave hotel.
The cave dates back to the Ottoman Empire and is set high above the village of Goreme. It offered spectacular views on every terrace level. Here, we met the friendly owner who showed us to our room, which not only had a television and American-style beds/bathroom, but also was equipped with Wi-Fi connection that was equally fast to the one we have back home in the United States.
From here, the true Turkish experience started as the owner took us to a restaurant that served Raki, which is a clear licorice flavored beverage which becomes cloudy on adding water. After dinner, we embarked on the “Turkish Night” that our hotel offered, where we were able to watch and participate in traditional dances, and yet again have some more Raki. The next morning, we decided to rent All Terrain Vehicles and go exploring. We had the opportunity to go inside caves which clearly depicted signs of primitive human life, as the ceilings were painted with elaborate designs and pictures of the devil and god. Along with this, we could see the fire pits that they cooked their food in, which the Turkish people refer to as “tandoors”. After seeing this amazing sight, my family and I went to our hotel, where our “red tour” started.
On this tour, we visited Cappadocia’s most famous attraction called the Goreme Open Air Museum where we saw castles, columns and chimneys carved in soft rock by nature. From the Rose valley to the Red valley, we passed by numerous rock formations and caves that this region of Turkey is famous for. With these beautiful vistas engraved forever in my mind, our family boarded another airplane to commence the second phase of our trip.
(To read Part II, click here)