Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Of Priceless Souvenirs and Cherished Memories

We spoke different languages, met by an element of chance; yet, his instant endearing act of hospitality will always be my most cherished memory. Where the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean share common ground, Turkey is the land I owe this priceless souvenir to.

It was just my second day on a backpacking trip to Turkey.

After a month of plans, research and bookings, we finally set off for a Western Loop of Turkey; picking up and hot air ballooning across western Cappadocia, scuba diving through southern Fathiye, lounging at Greek influenced Selçuk and dropping off at mesmerising Istanbul.

Our route was to take us from Mumbai to Istanbul, a change of flights onwards to Cappadocia. We touched down at Gülşehir at midnight and drove down to Göreme via Nevşehir.

Waking up at dawn at one of Cappadocia’s beautiful Cave Hotels, I stepped out onto the fresh cold stone floor. The sight that awaited me was pure magic – beyond the peaks of fairy chimneys, the soft rays of the early morning sun formed a silhouette around a magnificent hot air balloon rising up into the deep blue sky.

It was a novelty to actually step into one and get my first ride, though the experience of watching a multitude of them soar up above was exhilarating. To top it all, they give you a certificate to just stand in, enjoy a glass of champaign and enjoy cruising through the sky with a breath taking view below.

Cappadocia has an enchanting mystery to her, an eclectic blend of the old world Arabic charm and bohemian gypsy culture. It is a hub for backpackers and luxury travellers alike with places to explore and cuisines to sample that fit all budgets.
In the evening, it’s almost as if King Midas himself touched all the tops of the fairy chimneys giving Göreme a golden glow.

The journey by road from here on to Fathiye is long but breathtaking as you are travelling across high hills and valleys that finally open up to the sea. Make sure to be awake in the last lap of the journey as you see a gradual change in landscape from tall conifers to shrubbery and then on to cruising along a deep turquoise sea.

I was looking forward to Fathiye for my first ever independent scuba diving experience. After having secured my Open Water Dive certificate in Maldives, this was my first attempt without the watchful eye of my dive instructor back home.
From there, we drove up to Selçuk to experience a deep Greek influence. Ephesus consumed us with history and took us back to the beauty of yore but it was the small cottages in the hills of Şirince that will always stay back in my imagination.

After drifting through the history of the land we were now cruising through modern Istanbul. It is a bridge between the ancient multi-dynasties and Atatürk’s contemporary Turkey.

My favourite things to do in Istanbul: Arabic Music, Mevlana Dervish dance, fish sandwich, the Grand Bazaar, short cruises along the Golden Horn, meandering around the Blue Mosque, Dolmabahce Palace and most important of all – dream about Cappadocia!

And the food you say? From a simple traditional Turkish breakfast of boiled brown eggs, freshly baked bread with raw tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh garden berry jams to famous İstanbullu fresh fish sandwiches from bobbing bright boats at the Eminönü docks, döner kebaps, tavuk doners, an assortment of meat and eggplant preparations to the honey soaked baklavas and snowy turkish delights; my taste buds were on a roll!

Just imagine passing by a crisp, modern eight lane expressway squeezed in between an old world solid city wall extending to infinity. Yup, that’s just it. My last memory in the city sums up the overall image of Turkey that will be set in my imagination for a long time.

To say that I covered the highlights of Turkey’s 780,000sq km in a mere nine day sojourn is to clearly state the impossible. But seeing as I have truly fallen head over heels with the land’s charms, this was merely the beginning of an enchanting saga.

But I must end by saying that this trip would be just a trip without the souvenirs and memories I received from the people I befriended. I thank Jamal for making our stay memorable at the wonderful Dervish Cave Hotel in Göreme and Mustafa Mizrak for the endearing fatherly affection; the coffee Table Book and poster he gifted me are priceless and John for making my apprehensive moments while diving at Fathiye a sweet reminiscence.

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