The Bosphorus Bridge
‘Shahrukh Khan!’, exclaims the man, sporting a smile, at the sweet shop at the Ataturk Airport. As he tries to sing a Hindustani song and even though you know it’s the same age-old trick to garner every Indian’s attention, you still can’t avoid but smile back at him. Even here they watch bollywood, you think. Little do you know that during the next one week, you’ll end up humming Turkish music yourself, eating more Turkish food than you’d have eaten on a normal day back at home, drinking more Cappadocian wine than you’d have in Sula and perhaps praising more folks than you’d have abused on a regular day in Mumbai.
Indeed, Turkish delight is more than just Baklava and Lokum.
The Roman ruins at Ephesus
You don’t know where to begin. Like the several generations of Byzantines or Greeks before you, you too land up in Istanbul, the mystical cosmopolitan city that is the bridge between the east and the west, both geographically and culturally. How else do you explain the presence of oodles of salad in the same plate as a pottery kebap? Or that of Turkish rock and Tarkan’s pop music CD’s in the same shelf as the famous Sufi music ones? As you roam around more of Istanbul and Turkey, you realise it’s a tad similar to your own India, with a pot-pourri of cultures, music, food and architecture. And to your amusement, they literally sound similar as well. Chai, duniya , zameen, sabun are just few of the several words common between Hindi and Turkish.
Pigeon Valley – Goreme
Someone’s told you that the one place to go to in Turkey apart from Istanbul has to be Cappadocia. Well.. terrifically right and terribly wrong! It is indeed one of the best landscapes in Turkey with weird rock formations, and even weirder (but amazing) cave hotels to live in and a wonderful opportunity to take a hot air balloon flight at the most competitive prices in the world (a bigger price to pay for it is waking up at 5 in the morning to make it to the take off location, but totally worth it). But your next stop, Fethiye makes you realise what you’d have missed had you followed the earlier advice and stopped at Cappadocia. With a visit to the Oludeniz lagoon, that can make even the waters of Thailand look colourless, you are sure to return back with a golden (if not black!) tan. And the simple, yet tasteful Gozleme (Turkish handmade pastry), which will keep coming back to you wherever you are in Turkey, but you’ll find them really good here.
The beautiful lagoon at Oludeniz
And then, you take another scenic bus to the west, to Selcuk and Kusadasi and Ephesus(or Efes), all in the same neighbourhood but drastically different. One of them, a cute, small town, with even cuter and smaller cafes, the second, a happening beach town and the third, an excavated ancient city with majestic ruins of the Greek and Roman times ( and a beer named after itself!). Each of these, a captivating experience in its own way.
The library of Celsus at Ephesus
And by this time, you have fallen in love with Turkey!
You still end up asking WHY? The answer lies in the loads of pottery kebaps (they’ll bring steaming hot Turkish stew – vegetables, chicken, etc. in a pot, and crack it open right in front of you) or doners that you or your friends have gobbled up in the last one week, the Gozlemes that have so reminded you of the aloo and paneer parathas back home, the bottles of Ayran that have been gulped down every day (and no, it’s not alcohol.. just a refreshingly richer version of India’s chhaas), the Raki – the aniseed flavoured drink that changes its colour the moment you mix chilled water in it and the baklava( a honey or syrup sweetened pastry filled with nuts), halva, lokum (confectionary with small cubes dusted with sugar or coconut), sekarpara, kemalpasa (something like a gulabjamun), name it and you have it sweets – that taste as awesome as they sound :), the Turkish Maras icecream that just doesn’t melt – and comes with its own fanfare of bells, sounds and mischief – it’s a task to get it from the ice cream seller ( Try it, and you’ll know why I say this)- but deliciously worth the effort :). To your delight, even the buses you travel in serve you free cold drinks, snacks, coffee and even ice cream (in our bus, the man came back for another serving and we happily obliged).
The answer lies in the sizzling Turkish music (sometimes live) that has accompanied each of your drinks, your breakfasts, lunches and dinners. It lies in the amazing scenery that you have witnessed alongside all your bus journeys. But most pleasantly, it lies in the amiability of the people you met along the way, in the conversations with little kids who are as gripped by Fenerbahçe’s football as by their fathers’ booming hotels, in the honesty and the warmth that greets you everywhere you go in the countryside, the help that’s coming your way even before you have asked for it. It makes you believe that for once, you did the right thing by not taking a direct taxi but three different buses to reach your village cave hotel from a small town airport. Only then you realise how the helpfulness of the countryfolk makes the phrase ‘language barrier’ lose all its meaning here. Quite frankly, it seems difficult to get lost in turkey. You’ll always find someone to tell you the right way :).
If you ever go to Turkey – remember to learn one word before you go- ‘Teşekkür Ederim’.
It’s Turkish for Thank You. You may end up using it far too many times.
Because, Turkish Delight is indeed more than just Baklava and Lokum!