Friday, 6 June 2014


Days 4 and 5 in Turkiye (27th  & 28th May 2014): I think I left my heart in Cappadocia.

We drove from Pamukkale to Cappadocia via the Aksaray Highway, and spotted fields of white poppies along the way. These poppies are grown for the poppy seed industry, i.e. for use in food. Unlike the situation in some of the neighbouring countries, dangerous drugs and narcotics are not a serious problem in Turkey.

A weather-beaten statue of Nasreddin Hoja, a folk character in Persian and Turkish literature, outside a fuel station along the Aksaray Highway. There are many monuments to Nasreddin Hoja in this district as it is believed to be his birthplace. He is said to be a Sufi populist philosopher who lived and died in the 13th century. I've read some of his anecdotes and they're more politically-incorrect than profound :P

I will miss Turkish bread when I leave this beautiful country. The sesame-covered rings (simit) are the best. The baker very obligingly allowed me to take a picture of her freshly-baked bread at this truck stop along the Aksaray Highway.

We made a quick stop to visit the Sultanhani Caravanserai in Aksaray Province, along the highway. Caravanserais can be found along ancient trade routes, especially along the Silk Road, and served as rest areas for traders. The Sultanhani Caravanserai was built in 1229 (dated by inscription), during the reign of the Seljuk sultan Kayqubad I. This is the largest monumental caravanserai in Turkey.

Within the Sultanhani Caravanserai is a covered courtyard for winter use. The walls are high because camels and horses would be brought into the winter courtyard as well.

Outside the gates of the Sultanhani Caravanserai , I met this lovely Anatolian Shepherd. A clueless tourist had given him an apple, which he politely ignored. But true to his herding instincts, when the wind blew clumps of dandelion seeds his way, he started herding them with great efficiency, nose to the ground. I didn’t want to be the one to break the news to him that dandelion seeds don’t need to be herded.

It was raining when we arrived in Cappadocia (Kapadokya), but fortunately, we woke up to good weather at 4 a.m. the following morning. We were to fly over Cappadocia in a hot air balloon. The company we registered with is Kaya Balloons, and the crew is very experienced and professional.

Our guide Ahmet took this photo of me in the balloon. Gosh, I look so excited, like a lunatic.

Sunrise over Cappadocia.

The unique topography of Cappadocia was created through lashings of volcanic ash, moulded by millennia of rain and river flow. Early human communities in Cappadocia learned to seek shelter underground in the region’s soft rock formations, and this left the countryside littered with underground shelters, fresco-covered churches and entire villages cut out of the rock formations.

A short video clip of the hot air balloon flight, which lasted over an hour.

Our guide Ahmet took this photo of me with our hot air balloon pilot, Emre Ozturk. Many thanks to our pilot for a safe, comfortable and immensely memorable flight.

We visited the Kaymakli Underground City in the afternoon. The underground cities of Cappadocia are thought to have been first carved out by the Hittites. During the 6th and 7th centuries, Byzantine Christians extended and enlarged the underground cities and used them as a means by which to escape capture and persecution.

A tree decorated with nazar boncuğu amulets in Pigeon Valley, Cappadocia. Nazar boncuğu amulets are believed to offer protection against the evil eye in Turkey, and so the amulets can be found on every vehicle, house and commercial building.

Oh, good! Ahmet is treating us to dondurma. I’ve eaten enough to put several dondurma sellers’ children through college. I consider it my contribution to the Turkish economy.

Visiting the Goreme Open Air Museum in the afternoon. It was an important Byzantine monastic settlement which housed around 20 monks in the 16th – 17th century, and later it became a pilgrimage site.

Taking the stairs up to one of the chapels.

When Ahmet first told us about “frescoes”, I had imagined paintings of Da Vinci and Carravaggio’s quality. Well, they are not. They are mostly really folk-artsy etchings on the walls and ceilings, with some characters (which I am not allowed to photograph, unfortunately) with obviously Asia Minor stereotypical features.

Some of these rock dwellings are still inhabited. Many have been converted into hotels, restaurants and shops. 

Visiting the Cappadocia carpet-weavers cooperative, where women are taught a trade and then paid to teach it to others back in their villages to keep the art alive and help rural women achieve economic independence.

Visiting the studio and art gallery of Chez Galip, Turkey’s most well-known pottery artist. His nephew gave us a demonstration on making pottery using a kick-wheel.

This is Thor, the canine companion of Chez Galip. Thor is not usually friendly with strangers but he walked right up to me and asked for head skritches.

 We went to a cave restaurant after dinner to watch cultural performances. The place was crawling with drunk white trash and clueless Asian tourists, and most did not accord sufficient respect to the dervishes. I felt sad that the Mevlevi Order is only allowed to perform their sema ceremony as a tourist attraction. Music is a major part of Sufi worship, including zikir, the sound of rhythmic chanting. The believers recite the 99 names of Allah and acquire positive energy by doing so. The dervishes point their right hands up to the ceiling and their left hands down to the ground as they turn, which symbolises receiving blessings from Heaven and sending them down to Earth. (I learned about the latter from our ever-erudite Ahmet and from my tattered copy of TimeOut Istanbul :P) I hope if you ever get the chance to witness a sema ceremony, you remember to stay respectful and silent and refrain from using flash photography.

Breathtakingly gorgeous musicians performing folk songs.

A female whirling dervish. It was difficult to get a good photograph of her. She was moving really fast and was obviously in a genuine trance.

Performing a celebratory wedding dance. The Turks are such effortless beauties.

Cappadocia is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and the people make it all the more charming and special. Leaving Cappadocia to continue our journey to see the rest of Turkey was hard, but I hold on to the hope and belief that I will be back again someday. 

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