( 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 http://www.focusmm.com/civilization/hagia/welcome.htm
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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sultan_Ahmed_Mosque
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 .