Nature's canvas

Land of Surprises

Nature's canvas

With surreal natural earth formations, open air museums and cave chapels, Cappadocia is like another planet. Lakshmi Sharath enjoys a feast of imagination

The sun tip toes into my room as I wake up rather gingerly and look around me. A ray of light streams through an open window, lighting up the earthy walls, as my eyes get used to the cave hotel where I am staying. A luxurious chamber carved into a rock, this is my first experience of living in an atmosphere that reflects the terrain of Cappadocia in Turkey. With a cup of tea in hand, I open the door to let the morning light in. My room is at a height, almost perched high on a cliff and facing me is a rock that towers over me like a phallic symbol while a haze surrounds the town of Goreme below.

Nature’s handiwork

I set out to explore the town. I see tall columns of rock standing in every corner. Shops, restaurants, homes are carved into them. A truck carrying hot air balloons whizzes past me. There is a nip in the air. But for fellow tourists on a walk, the roads are almost quiet. I get ready for my first port of halt — the Goreme Open Air Museum. The sky is a brilliant blue and it is almost a cloudless day. All around me is a sea of cones and pillars that seem to touch the sky. As we reach the World UNESCO site, two men clad in a traditional coat woo us with dondurma, teasing us with a long paddle that holds a mass of white stretchable ice cream at one end. I am, however, lost in a world of magical shapes, that rise from the ground and give a surreal touch to the landscape. 

Cappadocia is synonymous with these natural earth formations that give your imagination wings. No wonder they are called fairy chimneys or hoodoos. I am standing below one of these earth pillars that were formed by nature, courtesy erosions and eruptions. As I walk along, I get a glimpse of the work of man in these natural creations. Spread around is a vast monastic complex with 11 churches, carved in these rocks filled with some of the most beautiful frescos of the Byzantine period. Dated between the 10th-12th centuries, these cave chapels were sites of religious refuge of monks who had settled here.

The names of these churches are intriguing and so are the stories around them. There is the Apple Church, the Snake Church, the Sandles Church, the Dark Church among others. In the Apple Church, I see paintings from the life of Christ and stories from the Bible. While I did confuse its origins to the story of Adam and Eve, I hear the name comes from an apple orchard that grew here initially. The Barbara Church is right behind the Apple Church and has more motifs that depict stories from mythology.

In the Snake Church, I see a fresco that depicts the killing of the Snake by St George and St Theodore, while opposite the entrance is a painting of Christ with a book in hand. However, the most spectacular of all churches is the Dark Church, which takes you inside through a narrow tunnel. There are paintings everywhere, on the walls, on the domes but I am a little surprised that the eyes of all the Biblical characters seem to have been scratched out deliberately. “Superstitions,” says my cryptic guide without any elaboration, even as we quiz him on this.

Flight of imagination

I take in the scene. Rock hewn pinnacles surround me. Mounds and hillocks are everywhere while small openings seem to be carved into them. There are narrow doorways and window like projections. The jagged edges of these pinnacles seem to take a form of their own while some of them scale up to 100 feet high and more. 

As we leave, my guide points to the Tokali or Buckle Church that lies a bit outside the museum complex. Stunning paintings in rich indigo, decorate the walls of both the four main chambers that include sections known as the Old and the New Churches. Depicting in detail here in vivid hues of red, green and indigo is the Life of Christ. Outside is a nunnery, which rises up to the six storeys high.

We leave the open air museum to explore more of its troglodyte homes. Apart from the museum, there are valleys. In Devrent or the imaginative valley, the fairy chimneys tease you. They rise up like dervishes in a frenzy, almost like statues stopped in motion while they were in the midst of a feverish dance. In another hillock is a lizard shaped chimney posing for your camera. Almost every hoodoo here looks like a creature from the wild, as the forces of nature have chiselled them into shape. I stand there mesmerised looking at the lunar landscape and I see forms of a camel, a snake, a dolphin all rising from the ground. It is almost like a game and one can play spot as many forms as possible in the magical valley. My guide even points to a chimney that looks like Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus. 

Standing there for what feels like eternity, I realise that Cappadocia defies all adjectives. This is where for instance chimneys are not man made and they look like mushrooms or dragons. The valleys are not green, but are filled with pink, ochre or beige tinted hoodoos. This is where you find people living in both underground cities and in towering pyramids and pillars of rocks. And this is probably what both Rajinikanth and Nicolas Cage have in common, as one waltzes a romantic song, while the other rides a bike in frenzy in this magical landscape. And this is where I would like to come back again and lose myself.

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