I sit down and boot up my computer, the cursor blinking on my blank document.
Mmm.. a million reasons ? I close my eyes and let my mind go over my memories of Turkey.
A flood of recollections, rays of sunshine, smiles filled with kindness, words of help, old stones full of history, mouth watering food and a nation of foodies, friendly souls, bargaining with earnestness, charm edged with vivacity, beautiful women, debonair men, organization within busyness, modernity amidst tradition, and above all -nationalist pride. All of these flash quickly before my mind’s eye.
Memories that shift and change, focus and blur, competing with each other to fill up my mind’s eye faster than an eye viewing a kaleidoscope can see a change of pattern and shape. Challenging me to put into words, what I have felt with my heart.
Months later, it is all so fresh that here I am, smiling to myself wondering where to start. I have blogged and spoken about the food, people, cities and yet, have come no closer to describing the essence of Turkey as a whole. This country which is a sum of the whole yet, somehow, more than it.
Any tourist destination is what the people living there can make it.
Turkish people are physically good-looking and vivacious, European and Asian in their sensibilities, and traditional and modern in their outlook. Grandmothers in head scarfs push prams with chubby babies and slim women with amazing complexions and dressed fashionably sashay past as do traditionally dressed men and women. Men with the ubiquitous cigarette dangling from their lips or fingers treat you with courtesy and let you pass with a smile.
The helpful man who left his meal to translate the menu into English for us, perhaps, gave us our first insight into just how helpful Turkish people can be. It also told us just how important it can be for these people to go the extra mile and make a tourist comfortable.
IZMIR-On the promenade
Travelling on our own, the three of us had only our guide books and maps. But, as time went by, we also learnt to trust the dutiful concierge, helpful corner-store owner, friendly waiters, concerned passers-by, and so on, to help us with directions, suggestions or advice!
If an army can march on its stomach, as the proverb goes, then the tourist comes a close second.
One of us was a vegetarian (no eggs as well), and we could not help wondering at the outset, just how we would manage in a country known for its meat kebabs!! Tramping through the kitchens of Topkapi palace or admiring the bowels of the Derinkuyu underground city, whilst worried about the growling stomach of one amongst us was not an irony which we wanted to deal with.
In fact, I was asked this question, repeatedly, after my return as well.
The answer was that we had a marvellous and amazingly vast repertoire to choose from. The vast majority of Indians are ignorant about the range of vegetarian food available in Turkey. From the Ayaran ( a lassi-like drink), which became our staple drink as did the local beer, the borek made of cheese, the dolmasi made of vine leaves, olives, cheeses, salads ( our favourite was made of roasted and mashed eggplant, garlic and curd )as also the various lentil soups with flavoured rice, we had many varieties to choose from. Casseroles, fresh salads are made to order should one wish. Street food kiosks here are similar to Indian ones (only cleaner), with fruits, chestnuts and corn sold on corners.
SIGHTSEEING AND MONUMENTS
The Blue Mosque-Istanbul
From the sunny Konak square of Izmir, to the fairy chimneys of Goreme, the ancient wonders of Ephesus, the charming valley of Ilhara to the manmade cities of underground Derinkuyu and the multireligious sanctum of Hagia Sophia to the Sufi mystics of Sarihan , Turkey offers something to every tourist. The religious minded, the cultural enthusiast, the history lover, the foodie or nature lover, each one will find something to marvel at.
NIKE` PLAQUE at EPHESUS
WHAT I PARTICULARLY LOVED:
I could fulfil my lifelong dream to see the Hagia Sophia and soak myself for the longest time in the history of this building with its unique testament to being at the junction of two great religions. It also bears witness to the futuristic vision of this country’s founder-father, Kemal Ataturk, who is still loved and revered by the Turkish people.
When we visited, the holy month of Ramzan was just days away. But, we grew used to hearing the melodious call for prayer or Azan from the mosque and quite missed them when we returned home.
One of the most amazing things about Turkish cities, is the remarkable level of safety that one feels whilst travelling at odd hours. Walking back after a post-dinner stroll along the Avanos river, strolling along the Kennedy Caddesi bordering the Marmara Sea or taking the eleven P.M. tram after viewing a dance performance at Hodja Pasha in Istanbul, we felt no hesitation or fear.
We met women travelling singly or in small groups, all feeling perfectly comfortable in this milieu.
Stall-owners in the Grand bazaar and Spice Market, when told that we were Indians were quick to say, “Ahhh..Salman Khan! Shahrukh Khan!!”giving us an identity in the commercial madness that exists in these confines.
The unashamed calling out to the customers and no-holds-barred bargaining is something many Indians will relate to.
So, shopping was an enjoyable experience in Kemeralti in Izmir, and the pottery market of Avanos as well. I bet the shoppers in the market-place of ancient Ephesus, whose ruins we saw, had had just as much enjoyment as we did.
AN AMAZING MEMORY-THE INDIAN DRUM MADE BY A TURKISH POTTER!
We wandered into the pottery workshop of Mehmet Korukcu, a drum maker, in Avanos, Cappadocia. He makes Turkish drums called Darbuka, African drums called the Udu-drum and get this… also makes the Ghatam, an Indian drum made of clay. Using techniques employed thousands of years ago, he makes drums which are then bought by musicians for their pperformances.
To perfect this art, he has also learnt how to play the drum and kindly obliged us by playing some of the drums in his workshop. Furthermore, he also played the beats as we sang a song from a Salman Khan film”Mashallah, Mashallah, chehra hai mashallah,”( incidentally shot in Turkey!
Despite the language barrier and miming needed, we could understand each other very well. Consequently, the hour that we spent in his cave-workshop, Place Du Udu, was a great experience. More so, because, when we mentioned that we were Indian, his smiled and said, “Ah, Zakir Hussain!!!”
Art, food, music, history and people join us in more ways than we know.
If the taste of some foods like the butter-milk Ayran, lentil-soup with rice(daal-chawal) gives you a sense of satiety , the sound of the Darbuka get your feet tapping, the words like Kandil ( lantern), Dukkan( store), Zemin ( ground) make you feel at home, the habit of having Tea (Cai) at every conceivable time of day give us a sense of Deja` Vu, it is because some of our ancestors picked up these traditions while tramping through this country on their way to our shores…er…mountain passes.
We just have step out of our homes and visit Turkey to discover this familiarity. And more of this destination that is enchantingly unfamiliar, as well.
“This post is an entry in the “Million Stories” Contest sponsored by the Turkish Embassy, India.”