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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

an Indian in Istanbul

Orhan Pamuk is Turkeys nobel prize winning writer  and a favourite of mine ,I have pored over many of his books specially the one on Istanbul where he describes his childhood and a great  part of his life living on the shores of Bhosporous in a luxury villa ,this had spurred an intrest in me to visit this exotic city and if possible meet Pamuk
( I did meet Ruskin Bond in Mussoorie India and chatted with him and even wrote a reasonably popular middle in the Indian express long back ) ,
Istanbul finally did happen but I heard Pamuk was living in  far away  U.S. of A ,

some other time my friend !

Istanbul ,Constantinople names that conjure magic and history  when heard
the only city where east meets west and melds into a wholesome treat
the gateway to Europe from Asia and vice versa
the city that straddles two continents
inhabitants can say Iam going to Asia for some shopping and return to Europe in an hour or live in Europe and go to school in Asia or even  better take a walk along the Bhosporous bridge and just reach another  continent .

Buses and trains ply from Istanbul to all major European cities and to London
(          Graham Greenes Stanbhoul Train   )

The Bhosposrus bridge crosses the Bhosporous strait that connects  Marmara sea and the Black sea .

The  picture postcardness of Istanbul is hard to beat , be it the towering spires or the domed roofs of the old city or its  modern skyscrapers , be it the cobbled narrow roads   the  trumbling trams ,buses or the metro .Green  flowered parks on sloping hills with cute cottages  the    multihued  inhabitants teeming the streets from every part of this world all  befitting a city like Istanbul .

History literally dripped from every where like succulent  juices from the shavarmas in street corner shops did .
The bricked mortar of walls left crumbling on the roadside ,
the Hagia sophia the 3rd century church one of the worlds oldest of its kind  standing tall and beautiful ,
the Blue moque with its six spires
 the Topkapi palace with its treasures of the Ottaman ,
 the Dolmbache palace in its European elegance .

Standing on a hill ( a tourist spot with a couple of restaurants  where one went for a night view of the city ) the cool wind ruffling my hair I could almost hearhorses clacking overwooden bridges
 armoured soldiers crawling over the steep walls of the forts
 tinkling  jewels and rustling gowns   in the harem of the sultan
the lapping waves of the  bhosporous  took me into the past   ,
 the crusaders the ottamans the Byzantines ,the conquering armies and  thier lusty war cries .

This city bent itself under this collective  history, glorious in its variety and all one needed  was imagination to get into a time machine .and  live  its pages .

The early Byzantines and Romans and later the Ottmans who ruled from the 14th century till 1923 all made this city alive .

Kamal Attaturk The founder president  was a dashing captain of the army
He brought Turkey its independence and created  the   secular republic it is today  ,
The airport is named after this reverred figure .

As I alighted from a  poorly  serviced Turkish Airlines business class early  in the morning ,                  bleary eyed and tired the airport stretched itself before me a bit large and confusing .

English wasnt a great  hit here as people just didnt know it and did not  bother to also .

but yours truly would not be so easily beaten ,

with only my camera as luggage
 ( wife was coming in next flight and I gave her the cargo )
I  managed to decipher  the metro station in the airport itself and after some keen observation found out all I had to do was to  put two Turkish liras into a vending machine to get a token which allowed me to enter into the metro till I got out !

then it became all easy

Getting down at the last stop Aksharay ( did not bother to change lines )  I   found out there was a modern tram again for 2 liras  which would  take me to the old city the famed  Sultan Ahmet area which was something like Fort Cochin in my place ,a tourist hub .

It was  drizzling mildly and was cool
walking was fun and I  did it biting into a fresh croissant worth one lira bought from a side stand vendor ,

my eyes grew wide as I gazed at the rounded domes and spires of the Hagia sophia and the  Blue mosque ,
walking into the small cobbled  streets I reached the Blue Tuana hotel booked by me online

It was small  but  cosy and homely
The German Turkish Maria who owned the place  welcomed  me and gave me a  room  with a railway line below
so at intervals I could see and feel the rumbling train .

Ater some rest I got back to the airport , by now an expert in metros and trams collecting my wife and the luggage ( not to be mentioned in the same breath .....oops )

we then got back to the Blue Tuana by cab .

The taxi driver was honest as he made a call from his mobile to the hotel  for the right and charged me just what the   meter said
 most cabs were like that though some do cheat .

   Later we went  to the Topkapi palace a repository of te Ottaman sultans costumes ,weapons and jewels   his     crowns and sceptres .
 Most of the suits and cloaks were huge and  made for giants
 I wondered   whether they were  meant for two  Sultans at a time till I  saw some paintings of some of the huge imperial figures .
Those days one ate with gusto ,enjoyed life and never bothered about fitness I presume
( should have born as an ottaman....... my paunch would have been an asset and  all  those lovely harems .....sigh sigh  )

strangely many of the good  items in the museum were from Indian shores either gifted by some mughal by marriage or aqquired by invasion !

The Hagia Sophia was our next place to visit
the 3rd century church one of the oldest of its kind  built by Emperor Constantine in 360 AD in Byzantine era was said  to have been buit in the very place of a prexisting pagan temple it was destroyed by man and nature several times and reconstructed  , it was fought for during the crusades finally converted into a mosque during Otaman reign and now turned into a museum in  the Turkish republic
It was overhelming and breathtakingly beautiful
 its insides had massive chandleiers illuminating its voluminous space and painitngs and latticed windows

The  Blue mosque ( because of its blue tiles inside ) towered just opposite the Hagia sophia  almost resembling it but for the  six spires
 it was also known as the Sultan Ahmed mosque ,a chain gaurded its entrance so  that even the sultan coming on horseback to the mosque had to lower his imperial head before entering  the divine presence .

the ceramic blue tiles numbered more than 20000 there were chandelliers and caligraphied  Quranic qoutes the Mihrab was made of sculputred marble many of the lamps were covered with valuable jewels and gems philandered later

We then went on a double decker bus over the Bhosporous bridge up a hill to a scenic spot to view Istanbul at night ,tucking into hot soup as we dined in a restaurant looking down on the twinkling lights of this magical city feeling a dream come true .

morning saw us tucking into cottaged cheese and  biting into buttered toasts and buffy biscuits as we enjoyed the home made breakfast from the roof top of the Blue Tuana .
Encouraged by the warm hospitality of Maria our host

We then walked to the covered Grand bazar an oriental souk with multitudes of shops with thier many hued wares from upmarket leather coats to heaped spices the smells were as varied as the colours as we gobbled dono Kebabs ,and succculent Turkish sweets
 freshly baked cakes and croissants emanating a sweet fragrance to the streets as we joined the multitudes in expoloring the bylanes of Istanbul .

   Returning to the  Blue Tuana we   checked out and moved into our new place of stay
 the Swissotel Bhosporous ,
its five star elegance was breathtaking but could never come upto the homeliness of our dear Blue Tuana .

Evening saw us in Takshim the main shopping area of the city
the whole road was lined with huge shops and   designer outlets and was a live fashion ramp crowded and full of life

It exhausted us and we went to a heritage Turkish restaurant
 luckily I could get some rice and yoghurt and this proved a great match with chicken kebabs ...
Thayirsadam in Turkey ( curd rice in Turkey ) should have been a good name for this post .

The T urkish Dervish dance in the Hodgapasha place a few miles away was our next  plan        
 we reached there that  rainy night by a not too friendly and a bit too   expensive cab .

Every Turkish Lira was equal to two Dirhams and something near 28 Indian Rupees .

The dervish itself is  a spiritual experience
linked to sufi thoughts of reaching the ultimate by losing oneself ,
Photography was strictly banned and silence was demanded during the perfomance
The five dervishes revolved in thier own axis and around a small circle in the middle of the hall
ancient chants filled the air and it was a   surreal experience to watch the intent face of the dancers with thier eyes closed and thier minds far away in some unknown world of deep happiness .

one could enter the nothingness by losing oneself by   the repeated revolving
this makes them focus and jettison themselves like rockets out into the stratosphere of spiritual release
something like mediatation or losing oneslf in music .
this was indeed an unique experience .

The meet which  I   came for occupied the days

The next evening we went for a dinner cruise in the Bhospurous where Turkish dancers in national costumes regaled us with energetic and romantic numbers .
there was also a couple of scinitllating belly dances where the sinous movements of the belles  were    in tune with the lapping waves of the Bhosporous .

The night  continued   as long legged Russian passengers threw themselves into the floor for a rumbusto perfomance
A middle aged passenger and an Elvis Presley look alike threw himself to Presley style contortions ,an older man beat rocking and rolling with relentless gusto
As the whole  ship was dancing we quitely moved into the upper deck and cloistered by the cool spray gazed  into the dark waters and the twinking lights of this wonderful city
the favourite place of my favourite author Pamuk

Finally I thought ,     I made it here and
 one day I shall meet you too

Hoşçakalın. (Hosh cha kaluhn) ..that is goodbye in Turkish for you .


Bala said...

All I can say is "WOW"! An excellent treat especially to the gustatory and olfactory senses! I felt I was there with you. I think you are correct that you should have named this Thairsadam in Turkey :) This makes me want to visit Turkey for sure. I am quite confident that I'll have no problems with the food. I might just have to carry a bottle of hotsauce in my pocket. Thanks Hariettan!

Maddy said...

glad you enjoyed the trip - brought back fond memories

mohan mathew said...

The old saying,
East and West,Never the twain shall Meet.
Mohan Mathew

Ujwal Unni said...

I could feel i am in Turkey strolling across the Bhosphorus. Truly very well narrated really would make anyone want to visit this exciting place.

Kannan said...

Hi Hari,

An excellent travelogue that brought back fond memories of our trip to Istanbul in Mar 2011 when it was icy cold brr..brr.. We also stayed at the Swissotel and I spent most of the evenings in their spacious lounge sipping a Martini or Gin and Tonic.. Heaven!!

Istanbul the City of History the City of Mystry!!

harimohan said...

Tks bala ,Ujju ,Maddy ,Mohan sir ,

Ram what was more heavenly the gin and tonic or Istanbul : )

Dr Sateesh said...

Excellent info Hari.
Pictues wonderful and a spicy write up...Indian in Instant-bul. Of to Istanbul on June 7 for a week.

Athul said...

Dear Hari Uncle,

Turkey sounds wonderful, and it sounds like you had a lovely time.

Hope you, Pramila aunty, Shruti and Shyam are doing well.


Dr Sabir hussain said...

Great, thanks

Anonymous said...

Nice pixs hari. The one with you wife in restaurant is marvellous. To be frank, I enjoyed the pixs than the writing. While going thru the blog, I presumed that you will mention about Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. And you have done that in the middle of the blog. Well done.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful writing

Sadasiv Swain said...

I was just wondering if we can ever make it.
Thanks Hari for the information.

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