Cappadocia – a forever place for finding magic

When we landed at the Nevsehir Airport, a group of people clapped joyously. I wasn’t sure whether the tourists were applauding because our aircraft was a Boeing 737 which has lately become infamous because of its misadventures and they were thankful for a safe landing or they were simply excited at being in the Cappadocia region.

The airport was tiny. Its smallness was comforting, almost quaint. I bade goodbye to the friendly Turkish man with whom I had an hour long conversation spanning diverse topics: Turkish politics, his years of living in Holland (and his love for Holland and its people and a desire to return there one day) and Qatar and on his experiences on being back home, to his anguish at the way tourists were being overcharged in Istanbul, especially at the Grand Bazaar and by taxi drivers, to corruption (in Turkey and in India) and his belief in doing good deeds and the concept of karma.

He showed me photographs of his wife and two lovely daughters and promised me that Cappadocia was going to be very enjoyable and very surreal.

An other-worldly landscape and a Bollywood song

He was right. The moment our van hit the road and started its journey out of Nevsehir, I was mesmerised. It was as if I was transported to a place somewhere between earth and heaven, a landscape so surreal, so other-worldly that it brought to my mind a Bollywood song.

I felt like Madhuri Dixit in the 1992 movie Khel, in which in a dreamy sequence with Anil Kapoor, she sings ‘Na hai Zameen Na Aasman, Laye Kahaan ho Humko…’ (This is neither the earth, neither the sky – where have you brought me?’

My husband would have been very annoyed if I had burst into a song then, so I held myself back but my mouth was agape. I was more interested in looking out of the window than in holding a conversation. For I had never ever seen something like this before.

Around me it seemed as if a children’s illustrator had taken a canvas and painted several mushroom shaped structures that rose from the ground – some with little doors and windows, and yet others stood together like ancient beings, huddled and sharing a secret.

The little village square in Goreme

When we reached our hotel in Goreme, it turned out to be located in the tiny village square. My husband was nursing a sun stroke that he had acquired in Istanbul and while he slept, I ventured outside. There were horse carriages taking tourists on a drive, a Kinetic Honda lay parked in the shade of a tree, various shops selling carpets, souvenirs, ceramics, pottery, sun hats lined both sides of the road, sharing the space with restaurants providing ‘Anatolian cuisine’. A mosque was right next to our hotel, with its own fountain and grapevines laden with bunches of grapes. There were fig and mulberry trees, rose and marigold bushes and a shop next door providing ‘classic cars’ for touring the region (much to the delight of the ever present Instagrammers). The sound of quad bikes was interspersed with the clip clops of the horses. After the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, this seemed picture postcard perfect – I could even hear the birds chirping when the sun set. (Lots of sparrows and swallows.)

Glide over the landscape, merrily merrily in the morning light

I was in two minds about the hot air balloon ride, but I must admit that even though it is a touristy thing to do, gliding over the magical Cappadocian landscape proved to be one of the most exciting and exhilarating experiences of my life. It gave wings to my imagination, and here are a couple of lines that came to my mind as we floated in the skies – it was our first ever hot air balloon ride.

Like some giant creatures of a mysterious night, the hot air balloons first lay sullen, face down on the earth,

Then they slowly rose, moth-like from their shells, gaining shape and size, and power of a beastly kind,

At the crack of dawn, they roared and shrieked and bellowed as swallows took flight and sheep huddled under a rock,

Fed by a dragon’s flame, they finally took to the skies;

And in their claws were the startled lambs as the balloons circled the ancient Cappadocian land.’

This land harbours many a secrets and sights – underground cities, castles and churches, valleys and trails

There was so much to see around the area – from Goreme Panorama point, the underground cities of Derinkuyu, to Goreme open air museum (includes all the churches carved out in the rocks), hiking in Rose and Red Valley, Ortahisar Greek town, pigeon valley (believe it or not, people collected pigeon droppings for fertiliser and this labyrinth of caves has dovecotes carved into the rocks so that it became easier to collect the droppings), to Pashaba or the Monks valley, the Uchisar castle – the list is endless and each landscape is as breathtaking as the other. It absolutely felt that we were on another planet – no wonder one of the Star Wars episode was shot in this area.

(PS – in the images below, can you make out a camel and a human face? Hint: Top left for the camel and bottom left (first in the row) for the human face resemblance. )

Food, people and conversations

One of the joys of being in Cappadocia was also the conversations that we could have with the local people. For instance, we were crossing the Goreme mosque on our way back to the hotel, and a slightly large-built man in a beard stopped us to say hello. He was sitting on the bench outside the mosque. ‘Are you Hindistani?,’ he said. When we replied in the affirmative he said, ‘Hindistani people always tell me that I resemble one of their Bollywood actors.’ I stood there a bit puzzled, when he said, ‘Shammi Kapoor! Don’t I look like Shammi Kapoor?’

(The Turkish have an unusual term for India and Indians – Hindistan and Hindistani)

I couldn’t really make out the resemblance but I said yes, and we chatted for a bit more. He encouraged us to go inside the mosque ‘It’s beautiful and it’s open for everyone.’ But, I said, pointing to the bag of cat food, ‘We were out feeding the stray cats and we must deposit this back at our hotel before we can go inside.’

‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘I will hold it for you.’ And so he did and my husband and I went inside the mosque (separate enclosures for men and women). It was a small but beautiful mosque and I found it very peaceful. I said a prayer – for my mother and family and friends and before a woman and her children joined me in the enclosure upstairs, I had it all to myself.

But perhaps one of the funniest ‘conversations’ happened when we were looking to buy cat food. We asked the young man at the reception where we could find it because the grocery or provision store we had visited before didn’t have any.

His English was rudimentary or perhaps he got confused – but he started pointing us out to restaurants, then for some reason to a hat shop. We went back and forth, using hand gestures to denote food and trying to make a gesture that could convey a cat. But it seemed like he couldn’t understand what we were saying. Suddenly my husband went ‘Me-ow, Me-ow, Me-ow, Me-ow’ and then lifted his hand to his mouth.

We all burst out laughing. None of us could stop for about five minutes, but he finally understand what we were after!

Kadir, the owner of the cave-hotel that we were staying at also told us a very interesting thing and it had to do with the tandoori oven. If you visit the underground cities, or the caves, you would see that all of them had a space/pit for a tandoori oven. Even when the village folk were in hiding, they couldn’t do without their oven and made sure that the caves and underground cities were equipped with one. However, their cooking in the oven took place in the night instead of day time so that the smoke wouldn’t be visible to their enemies or approaching armies.

Kadir said that a tandoori oven was a very important part of a Turkish household. In his childhood home, which was in one of the fairy chimney caves, the oven was used not only to bake bread, but make tea, coffee, boil the water and it was their chief source of warmth and heating during the winters. ‘But it wasn’t just a place for food and warmth – it was where the family came together. I remember sitting around it, with a circle of brothers and sisters and cousins (we all lived together) and our grandmother telling us folktales, stories from her childhood and all of us in rapt attention. Even when we renovated this hotel, we found a pit that was used for the oven and this place is very ancient, so we know that it is a tradition that comes from a long way back.’

It is lovely to imagine, isn’t it? A Turkish family assembling around their tandoori oven, sharing cups of Turkish tea or coffee, with stories and conversation flowing freely – children engrossed in the folklore and tales their grandparents shared with them.

That brings me to the food that we had in Cappadocia. I have already told you about the food we tried in Istanbul in my blog Meeting Istanbul. In Cappadocia, we had the following – chicken sac tava (a small cast-iron pan is brought to your table with a fire underneath it, in it are bits of chicken, vegetables like peppers and fine beans, there’s a gravy and portion of rice in the middle), vegetarian and lamb testi kebab or the pottery kebab ( the waiter brings a clay pot from the oven to the table and ours used a sword to break it open. You could have lamb, beef, chicken, shrimp, carrots, celery root, onions, garlic, and potatoes in it depending on what you have ordered), chickpea oven stew (chickpeas in a gravy, cooked in an oven and served in a clay dish), vegetarian and chicken casseroles (again cooked in an oven, served in a clay dish with vegetables like mushrooms, a portion of Bulgar wheat and also a green salad. The vegetarian version had mushrooms, aubergines, tomatoes and cheese. The chicken one had chicken and tomatoes and both were served with a green salad). We also had a fruit plate – it had watermelon, melon, oranges and grapes.

Perhaps the best part of our day was the breakfast – it was served at our hotel and it included fried aubergines, cucumbers, Turkish peppers, different kinds of cheese, three kinds of olives, eggs, three or four kind of Turkish breads, juice, coffee, tea, figs, peaches, watermelons, melons, grapes, dill and potatoes in yogurt, Turkish sausages in eggs, honey, jam, cakes and several (what I thought were kind of chutneys but I really don’t know what they were apart from being delicious!). Plus an assortment of salty and sweet biscuits. Take a look below:

We didn’t take a lot of food pictures – my husband hates it that the food goes cold while you are taking pictures and he hates being photographed as well, so I can’t help but share the pic below!

It is a picture of my husband. He is grimacing. His hand is held over his face so that he can't be seen - though it doesn't cover his face entirely because his nose and lips are evident. On the table is our food. The pottery kebab and chickpea stew and the Aryan is served in a bronze/copper drinking cup.  The chairs are made of cane.
The man who doesn’t like being photographed! (He was having the vegetarian pottery kebab, I had the chickpeas stew and Aryan. I had also ordered a side dish of pilaf.)

I must also add a few photographs of the lovely village square at night before I go on to the dervishes.

The minaret of the mosque is lit up for the evening
All the fairies come and light up the town and then they fly away to their hiding places

In the whirling of the Dervishes, let your sorrows be forgotten, in the whirling of the Dervishes, let the love be awakened

I am going to end this rather long blog post with a few words about the dervish ceremony that we attended. It was at the Saruhan Caravanserai – just outside of Avanos. Now, we haven’t attended any such ceremony in Istanbul or anywhere else, so if you want to know where the best ones are, you should refer to more experienced blogs on whirling dervishes because there are many places where these ceremonies occur and some are carried out by schools or orders that have quite a lineage.

All I can say is that what we attended was beautiful beyond words. In that hour, I forgot many of my worries – it was as if a weight was lifted and something inside of me flew out to be one with the swirling dervishes. As if something of me was with them – a sort of energy that danced, that rested near their hearts, their hands – it was a most surreal experience, the closest I have had to being in a sort of a trance. Please do attend one – whenever you may get the opportunity. May all of us be blessed, may that beautiful energy that came to rest with me for that hour – may that energy pass on to you and your family.

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