Entering another era...

Travel Tales

It was in November 2004 that I had the opportunity to visit Turkey. The weather was perfect and I spent a glorious five days there, in Istanbul.

Turkey is a place of stunning natural beauty. It has a history dating back from the Byzantium (Roman) Empire to the Ottoman Empire. For centuries, when Europeans talked about the Orient, it was the sprawling Ottoman Empire they were talking about, with its grand palaces, harems and teeming bazaars.

Istanbul is a very beautiful city, built on seven hills and lying on both sides of the Bosphorus Strait, with a skyline studded with domes and minarets.

Fortunately, I happened to be staying in the oldest part of the city, called Sultanahmet. Every morning, I would awake to the cry of the muezzin summoning Muslims to daily prayers from the
mosque minarets.

I explored around mostly on foot as most sights are within walking distance of each other. Most of the monuments were originally churches, later converted to mosques and are museums now.
The people are warm and welcoming. There is the Turkish hospitality of cay (chai) offered to visitors. I had numerous cups of lovely apple tea in the various carpet shops I walked into. At one of these shops, I accepted an invitation to an Iftar with Haroon, the shop owner and his boys.

There I was, a lone Indian woman among 10-12 Turkish men, chatting and eating with them. They were extremely hospitable and respectful about having a lady in their midst and it was a wonderful experience.

I travelled by trams, buses and the metro. Reminders of the past are everywhere, particularly in the neighbourhood of Sultanahmet. This is the heart of ancient Constantinople.

I stared at the paintings on the ceiling at the Aya Sofya, one of the architectural marvels of all time — first built as a church in the sixth century, and later converted into a mosque.

Just opposite the Aya Sofya is the Suleymaniye Mosque or the Blue Mosque, probably the only Mosque where women can enter now. The blue Iznik tiles on the walls and ceiling are exquisite, extremely beautiful and well preserved.

On the second day of my arrival, I bumped into a couple of friends there. We took a three-hour cruise along the Bosphorus Strait. We had a one-hour stop at the ancient and very beautiful Rumeli fortress, the view from the top were simply spectacular.

The Bosphorus Bridge is one of the largest in the world, linking the Asian Istanbul to the European Istanbul and built on the lines of the San Francisco Bridge. And…the icing on the cake — I got to visit Troy!!! Yes, it exists, at least there seems to be enough archaeological evidence. A wooden replica of the Trojan horse stands at the entrance to the ruins.

The sheer history of the place was enough excitement for me, to be standing among the ruins/archaelogical excavations of one of the world’s grandest tales, the setting of Homer’s ‘Iliad’, the great Trojan War, and just soaking up the atmosphere.

Returning from Troy, we took a ferry to Gallipoli. This is a place where great battles were fought. Graves of the soldiers are still there and there is a beautiful, touching message — a memorial by Ataturk, the first leader of Republic Turkey, engraved in stone, addressed to the mothers of the soldiers.

At the end of five days, I left beautiful Turkey behind, wishing I could have stayed longer.

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