Aug 25, 2015

Turkish Diaries: Part 5

To read earlier parts click on the links: Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4

They creaked and jangled in synchronous sway to the gentle ministrations of the padded cushion without either the cushion or the padding. They sang or screamed, I cannot say with conviction, silently. In my mind's eye, they were having a sort of yogic orgy along the lines of this - seizure

It was very droll and humorous.

Until I woke up.

As I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, and shifted my buttocks that were still sleeping, my bones gave a loud ejaculation that eventually escaped from my mouth. They were twisted and mangled beyond temporary repair. My wife was no better off. But then we drew the curtains across and were treated to one of the most beautiful sights I have seen.


Graveyard with a nice balloon to glamour the place. Looks like Ooty bus stand, doesn't it?
Set against a purplish salmon sky, there were these tiny specks here and there. The rolling hills and landscape added several more shades to the already colorful balloons. All the pain in our bones vanished and we clapped our hands in glee. The bus dropped us off in the center of the city/town/village panchayat union of Göreme. The city square was as crowded as a graveyard and a deathly, chilly wind blew about. It was still early morning, 6 AM thereabouts. We quickly dove into our bags and fished out the pullovers and sweaters and Bangalorised the place. Since there was nobody about and the one or two taxi drivers who were around looked shady enough to be extras in a Subhash Ghai movie, we decided to first check out google maps. The hotel we had booked seemed sort of walkable, so away we trudged, us backpackers.

The hotel was more than walkable by any South-Indian-with-a-paunch standards. We reached huffing and puffing only to hear the receptionist say that she was sorry and that our room was not yet ready; we had reached earlier than they expected and we had to wait. For how long, we asked. For 3 hours, she said. What the bleeding hell, I wanted to say, but she was pretty and I ended up saying, Oh, that is alright. My wife said, what the bleeding hell. The receptionist quaked in her shoes and said, you can leave your luggage here sir/madam. Wife said, ok then. Meanwhile, you can also have our breakfast, she added sweetly. Wife accepted this as the right propitiation for the lax in the arrangements. We entered the small dining room to treat ourselves to a massive spread. And when I say it was massive, it was really massive; there were at least 6 types of cheese, 5 types of bread, 3 varieties of eggs, honey, marmalade, juices, milk, coffee, fruits of 4 kinds, cold meat and other miscellaneous items of questionable mien.

The Göreme Open Air Museum:

Stuffed to bulging sweaters, we had around 2 hours to kill. We decided to take a peek at the Göreme Open Air Museum. The hotel arranged us a cab that dropped us off at the entrance to the museum. We quickly purchased tickets (a museum pass of course) and went in.

The place was jaw-dropping. First from an external standpoint: The museum is a landscaped collection of troglodyte habitations by the Christians who were on the run from the ongoing Turkification. So as they fled to the hills, they came across these natural mushroom-like structures ready for them to occupy. They tossed a one rupee coin and decided to stay here and hide out. Second, from an internal standpoint: they converted most of these houses into beautiful churches. The frescoes in each one of them are painstakingly detailed and gorgeous.
TIP 1: Get a museum pass. Everywhere. Starting here. Also, reach the Open Air museum as early as possible. Most of the Asian tourist groups block out the entrances, stuff their selfie sticks in your face for fun, giggle like circus clowns and pose atrociously imitating an epileptic Vitruvian man. Better to avoid all of them altogether.
The museum pass served two main purposes,
  • You get to know all items of interest are there in one glance
  • Express routes everywhere
For example, we had no idea about the existence of the Dark Church aka Karanlik Kilse. And when we did, it was brilliant. The pass also covered another church, Tokalı Kilise, slightly down the road towards Göreme. I had little understanding about the restoration process, but the effort that had gone into this was remarkably evident. Other churches there within the Open Air Museum, namely, Çarıklı Kilise, Yılanlı Kilise and Elmalı Kilise, are significantly smaller but equally vivid. You can keep staring at the frescoes forever; they are magnetic, like Hansika Motwani’s eyes (or maybe not. I don’t know. I am a fan and will be. Forever.).

Sandcastle at Mahabalipuram. Just kidding. This is one of the cave houses.

No. These are not my son's scribbles. I don't have a son. These are frescoes.
After an extensive hour well spent, we decided to walk back to the hotel. From the pamphlet that came with the pass, there was a small church that was nearby. We decided to pop-in for a bit. What was meant to be a simple stroll ‘pop-in’ evolved into a 2 hour trek, all the way up to a forsaken church occupied by a solitary security guard. The church was pleasant and the trek, eventful: climbing around clumps of bushes, following the trail signs, vaulting over surprise streams, waving to other trekkers, wondering where the hell we were and slightly worried if we would be able to find our way back - it was good. Good fun, actually.

But now we were really tired and promptly went back to the hotel. The room was ready as prettily announced by the pretty ugly receptionist and we were escorted into Batcave. I mean it was a huge 2BH room, but cut out of a cave. The bathroom had, get this – thyme-flavoured soaps. My wife lost it and went berserk like a kid who had just got a trampoline delivered by Santa Claus wearing a lungi.

I took a short nap.

We woke up and decided to have lunch.


Now this lunch was one the greatest lunches I have had the privilege to have in my life. It happened rather randomly. We were walking around, looking for agencies to book the balloon trip for the next day when we saw a row of earthenware, advertising something called pottery kebabs.

I was intrigued.

We stepped into one of the restaurants and ordered one pottery kebab along with Manti, which the wife had come across in an insipid blogpost unlike this. Ten minutes later, the waitress came to our table with a small pot. She took a spoon, cracked the side of the pot and opened the top with steam billowing out of the pot. A smell of mint, garlic, cooked tender meat, onions, spices and tomatoes pervaded the area. I scooped a huge ladle of the curry and poured it over some pilaf rice and tasted a spoonful.


Within minutes it was all over. I told my wife, ‘Nothing can top this.’ She agreed. And then the Manti came. Oodles of pasta with yogurt drooling all over with meat stuffed inside, with a gentle splash of olive oil drizzled surrounded by spicy curry sauce to connect all the different flavours.


I told my wife, ‘I was wrong.’ She agreed.
Manti on the left and pottery kebab on the right. Just telling this explicitly for the people who can't make out *snigger*.
After this heavy lunch, our bodies refused to move anywhere. Somehow, we dragged ourselves to the travel agency nearby and booked ourselves a balloon trip the next day.
TIP 2: There is no need to book online or in advance. There are several service providers, all of them offering the standard balloon ride for different prices. It is up to you to select the best one. We chose one that was recommended by the agent. He was a gem of a person which we came to know the next day.

It was still afternoon and we were not sure what to do. So we decided to take a small trip to the Fairy Chimneys (Hoodos) at Uçhisar. The bus dropped us off and we walked around drinking in the view of the gigantic chimneys. 

Evil eyes on a tree. The last time I saw something similar was at Thiruvanmiyur temple.

Way too many chimneys but no smoke. 

We tried climbing a steep outcrop overlooking the Love Valley and felt the-almost-verge-of-regurgitated-pottery-kebabs giving us indecent signs, that we gave up halfway through. But we managed to scale one peak and quickly took some facebookitiya-level photos.

The aforementioned facebookitiya replete with dark shades and a Telugu hero intro pose.
Soon we returned back to the city center and took a slow, long, lumbering walk around the boulevard skirting the city center. I wanted to have a go at some raki and we entered a place that weirdly looked like a joint for stoners (pun intended). We ordered a glass and it came with a glass of cold water. Aaaaannndddd…


I had it neat like a true Turkish gentleman and sputtered. It was strong, sweet and incensed with star anise. I loved it. We shared that one glass and ordered Turkish coffee to sober down. 

Gourd souvenirs at the city center for sale. Don't ask me why they have this. Eeeks!
That was a big mistake.

The coffee too, unpredictably, came with water. It did have the appearance of industrial strength crude oil. One sip and both of us were immediately transported to the busy petrol pump at JP Nagar 3rd Phase. It WAS crude oil. Somehow, after several tries, we finished both and headed back to the hotel to take yet another short nap before dinner.
TIP 3: Try Turkish coffee only if you have your life, oesophagus, liver, kidneys and Honda Activa, insured. 
Death by Coffee.


I wanted dinner to be a romantic affair. We dressed up regally enough and landed at one of the many restaurants near the city center that had been highly recommended. We wanted to try some more meats and we did; obviously washed down with a glass of Efes Pilsner. Discussions ranged widely from the balloon trip the next morning to the balloon trip the next morning.
Dead tired, we strolled back to the Bathotel, went straight to our Batcave and into the Batroom, washed our face using the Batwater and towelled using the Battowel, before creeping into the  Batbed under the Batsheets. We called up our Batparents asking them to wake us up, since we had to start from the Bathotel at batsharp, 4:30 AM.

The Batcouple slept off.

Fickle luck waited for us on the morn.

Aug 15, 2015

Turkish Diaries: Part 4

To read earlier parts click on the links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

It was with a heavy heart that I pulled away from winning the Nobel Prize for Economics and woke up. It was with a different heavy heart that we got ready that day as we were leaving the first leg of our trip from the beaches and venturing out. My wife had prudently enquired the day before as to the timings of trains departing from Selçuk and we had planned accordingly as outlined in the VIP brief below,

09:30 AM:    Depart from Selçuk bound for Denizli
12:30 AM:     Catch a bus from Denizli to the North Entrance
01:00 PM:     Walk down to Pamukkale
05:00 PM:    Catch a bus back to Denizli
05:30 PM:     Stare at Turkish chicks
05:33 PM:     Get beaten up by wife
05:35 PM:     Nurse wounds
10:00 PM:     Overnight trip to Cappadocia

Now, even though I would like to attribute this brilliant one-day plan to our highly sharpened travelling acumen, it is with deep disdain that I have to force myself to acknowledge this link. It gives absolutely full details on how to do it. And we followed it word by word, like the time my friend Manhar from engineering copied the answer to describing a 3-phase Synchronous Motor and promptly forgot to return my sheet, ensuring I had to rewrite the answer from scratch.

After a rather heavy, dispassionate and slightly redundant breakfast with the same menu, we bade a cheery farewell to our host and left for the railway station. En route, we exchanged some currency at a jewelry store as advised by the hotelier.
TIP 1: Exchange at jewelry stores only, across Turkey. They give the best rates. The first time we did, that was the best rate we got and we rued for the rest of the trip, wishing we had done more.
At the railway station, we spent a good 20 minutes figuring out where the platform was. There were two railway tracks, but only one platform – the one that we had got off on. Logic suggested that the same train cannot go in two directions and the one going to Denizli must be on the second track. But there was no other platform. A daily commuter on the Mumbai local who would have started with a full crop of hair would have ended up resembling Agassi by the end of deconstructing this conundrum.

We eventually located a small raised concrete thingummy, 1 ft in height 2 ft in width, snugly built between the two tracks. We quickly crossed the tracks and stood on, made to understand that this was it. It was, as they say, it, when soon enough around 50 odd people crowded around the narrow concrete pathway. The train came, we boarded and off we were.

The train journey

The train journey was uneventful. Apart from the fact that I forgot my book – Bartimaeus The Golem’s Eye, while getting off. It was a sad thing to happen. Very sad. Very very sad. Very very very sad.


Denizli was a stale breath of fresh air, with its skyscrapers and huge buildings. It took us back to our European travails where the stark contrast between country and city had often befuddled and unsettled us. We followed the instructions as given in the link above, deposited our luggage, booked the night bus tickets from one of the several service providers (all of them are the same) and then waited for the minibus to the Northern Entrance of the necropolis at Hierapolis.

The Necropolis

The Hierapolis cemetery is one of the most thrilling and scariest places I have seen in my life. The minibus took us through Pamukkale town and up a small hill, winding through a vast expanse of what looked like the shooting spots of Mad Max Fury Road (it was not) ejecting us out at the even more desolate Northern Entrance to the Hierapolis.
TIP 2: Since the shuttle goes through the town and has a stop there, there will be travel agents who will urge you to get down so that they can accommodate their folks in the van. They will tell you that it is the same thing and that the travertines can be accessed. All hogwash. The same logic as applied at Ephesus applies here - easy coming down than going up.
Walking between the sarcophagi, the tumulus graves, and other scary looking ruins gave us the heebie-jeebies. The darkly clouded weather made it look even spookier, we were almost expecting some ghost to jump up out of a grave and offer us HDFC credit cards. Speaking of depressing, funny things, did I mention the Gujarati couple whom we met in the van along with their two children?  We did not make conversation, obviously. But they thought we were from another country and went on fighting unabashedly; the wife doing most of the talking, as in most marriages, blasting the husband to kingdom come for making them walk so much. The husband was mute – what else can the poor chap do? It was a forbearance that I missed and later paid the price.

We made quick time reaching the colossal colosseum within 40 minutes; the walk was peppered with glimpses of the calcified landscape that we were to see later.

The theatre was very similar to what we had seen in Ephesus, only bigger. If the two theatres in Ephesus had a baby and that baby had another baby with the colosseum in Rome, then it would be this baby theatre. The climb is slightly steep and the topmost point is definite to give vertigo. But the view is stupendous, the valley towards the west, the ruins that we had just passed to the north, the town a bit beyond, on the south west.

Suffice to say, we spent a lot of time taking photos.

The Antique Pool and Lunch

After around two hours of walking and taking snaps, we entered the Antique pool. The pool was a complete fraud. It was nothing more than that-blight-of-water-theme-parks, the lazy river. But I wanted to take a dip and so I did. My wife was comfortable sitting it out and taking James Bond-level photos of my rock-solid abs, wading into the pool, wading awkwardly amongst octogenarians in bikinis, wading over half-sunk ruins and wading generally while clutching a toe that I had just scraped painfully against a pretty sharp stone. The water was evenly warm, not hot, and there was this nagging feeling that somebody had just peed in it. With the multitude of kids around, I was really skeptical. But having grudgingly shelled out 40 TL for this, I was not going to waste even one minute. I had a leisurely swim.

After I was done, I was ravenous. We ordered a döner kebab that was exorbitantly priced and tasted like sandpaper wrapped around a brick. Disappointment notwithstanding, lunch was redeemed by the ever-awesome Efes pilsner. We then strode to the final highlight of our day – the travertines.

The Travertines

My brother had long nurtured an ambition of driving all the way to Ooty from Coimbatore on a two-wheeler. The foolhardiness of this goal was obviously lost on him even though highly mature adults (read me and my mother) advised him. But all thanks to an ever-understanding father, he surprised him with a Royal Enfield on his birthday. I can vividly picture that day, when he came home from office to see this brand new RE standing in front of the house with dad holding out the bike keys, mom frothing at the mouth and me eating paniyaraams with coconut chutney. Even after 40 minutes, his jaws were still in take-off mode.

We had a similar reaction.

The travertines is awe-inspiring to say the least and to believe that nature could be so brutal in creating something so increasingly beautiful with every passing second of seeing, was too tough to take in one go. Like kashayam. We were numbed for some time, around 5 seconds after which I took out my camera and started taking pictures.

The next 1 hour or so, we spent descending ever so slowly evading the numerous selfie sticks, a gang of boisterous Telugu people with whom my wife wanted to quickly have a chat and I gave her a look that would have shriveled a tortoise, and other locals who wanted to take pictures with me for some reason. All the way down to the town, we squelched our way through pools and pools of water-filled calcium deposits. We reached the bus stop and ruminated what we had just experienced, while slowly munching authentic Turkish Kwality Walls ice cream.

We reached Denizli as the evening shadows lengthened. It had started drizzling.

The Best Baklava

We did not mind the pitter-patter and strolled around the city, taking in the smells of baklava and meat sizzling at corner stores, the colorful streamers waving across the roads, trucks emptying electronic goods, cars and bikes waiting at signals and the women with neatly embroidered scarves, girls with tattoos and piercings, men who were selling cheap imitations of mobile phones and jewelry, and kids just returning from school. Out of sheer boredom, we stepped into a bakery at a corner that was run by a small lady who spoke very bad English.

She was just taking out steaming baklava from the oven and ladling them out to trays. Wife suggested that we taste one. We did. And that was the best, softest, wettest and sweetest baklava I had tasted in my entire trip in Turkey. It was highly regrettable that I did not buy there and wasted a lot of money in Istanbul buying the same sweet for a steep price. It was criminal.

And also stupid.

We reached the bus station with an hour to eat dinner and have tea. We walked into one of those many outlets at the station and had another one of those İskender kebabs that tasted quite awful compared to what we had throughout our trip so far. But it was one of those days when the food was not so good but we had already eaten our fill of beauty.
TIP 3: Do not eat anything at any bus station. There are better restaurants outside with better menus at cheaper prices. Always.
The bus was nothing more than a normal KSRTC Volvo bus and was actually slightly worse off. Nevertheless, we were too tired to complain and dozed off.

The next day was supposed to be a surprise at Cappadocia.