Go Turkiye: Cappadocia, the Land of Fairy Chimneys

If I was given the option of just visiting one place in Turkey, my answer would have been Cappadocia. You would have not seen this kind of landscape anywhere in the world, a large number of rock formations resembling chimneys caused by weathered volcanic eruptions millions of years ago.

We approached the region from Konya in the evening, a journey of about three hours. As we entered the main city of Nevsehir, we could see statues of horses all over the town. It was here that we came to know that the word Cappadocia means “Land of beautiful horses”. Over the next few days, we could see many horse ranches spread all over the region.

Cappadocia is known for its caves and hotels that are located inside caves. Our hotel Demisos Cave Hotel, located at Mustafapasha was one of them. The climb to the hotel was quite steep, but once inside we found a completely stunning experience altogether. Each of our rooms was actually a cave, with all facilities like an attached bathroom and modern amenities. Since there were no windows, initially we felt a bit claustrophobic, but soon got accustomed to the place. The hotel run by a lady had about ten rooms and had a coffee shop outside to cater to the guest. 

The next morning was balloon time. Cappadocia is known for hot air balloon rides to watch the sunrise. I am not too comfortable with heights and adventure sports so opted out of this experience. My wife along with my niece left at 4 am for the hot air balloon experience, which costs around Rs 18000 per head in Indian currency. 

The team returned around 8 am when we were having breakfast in our cave hotel. The balloon experience starts just before sunrise, as you see the first rays of the sun lighting up the Cappadocia chimneys. There are about one thousand balloons that go up every day for a short ride of around one hour. About a dozen persons are huddled in a basket that is attached to the balloon. The overall experience is exquisite.

However, the ride is not without risks. A week before we reached, a hot air balloon crashed while landing killing three of its passengers – all Spanish tourists. 

After a sumptuous homemade breakfast at our hotel, we were ready to explore Cappadocia. Our guide was a young lad just out of college, and he showed great enthusiasm in showing us around. The region has a number of valleys, and each has its own style of fairy chimneys. The volcanic eruptions had resulted in soft rock formations in the region, and wind and rains washed away part of these deposits with the harder part protruding out to the extent of even a hundred feet. These rocks were malleable and easy to carve out, so persecuted groups in many periods found it convenient to carve out homes, churches, and even stables for their horses inside these chimneys. Entire underground cities also came up to protect them from the enemy, and the larger ones even had ten stories below the ground level.

Cappadocia is known for its rocky valleys. Our first stop was the Love Valley, where it was our first look at the phallic natural structures. Next was the Fairy Chimney Valley, where the structures were different, looking like mushrooms. In fact, the local police station was housed in one of the mushroom-shaped structures. 

Cappadocia also has a couple of castles built out of the rocks, and Uchisar is perhaps the most famous of these. A huge rock structure with windows like pigeon holes used to house a few hundred people. After visiting one of the palaces our last stop for the day was Goreme Open Air Museum. The museum houses the large monasteries that were cut out from the tuff or soft rocks. We took a walk around the structures and visited a church located in one of them. The Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire had taken refuge at Cappadocia, and thus there are many multi-storied sites with religious inscriptions in the caves and the chimneys. There was a large community dining room and kitchens too. The structures are as old as 1800 BC. 

In the evening we visited a local café in Mustafapasha for dinner. He assembled very tasty and fresh local sandwiches which we enjoyed with Turkish coffee.

The last day at Cappadocia took us to Rose Valley. The valley is thus named because the chimneys here are colored rose. There is a long trek that we attended but as it was too steep, none of us except our niece could handle it. We visited the Avanos pottery town as well as a pottery workshop. Avanos has had a tradition of making pottery since the BC period, and even now the locals are continuing it. Some of the products are very intricate and can be compared to the best in the world. 

We were pining for Pide, the Turkish pizza ever since we landed in the country. Our guide took us to a village pide place, where we could try cheese and beef pides. The specialty of pides of this region is that it is extra long. The preparation of the pide was also shown to us.

Our final visit was to the Underground City at Kaymakli. There are many underground cities in Cappadocia, most built by Greeks to protect them from attacks by Persians. Later during Ottoman rule, refugees used to still live in these cities. Kaymakli has eight floors all underground, and one can only reach up to five. Some of the pathways and narrow and low, in some places you have to crawl. You can be privy to an entire city with stables, churches, oil factories, kitchens, storage places, and wine factories. 

We spent two days in Cappadocia but actually, you can definitely spend a couple of days more. There are many walks, treks, horseback viewing, and exploring the caves that you can do. Many people visit Turkey just to visit Cappadocia. 

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Go Turkiye: Kusadasi & Pamukkale

The history of Turkey makes a very interesting reading. In ancient times Hittites were the original inhabitants of the Turkish region, but after their fall the Persians took hold of the region. Alexander the Great led the Greeks in conquering the country in the 3rd Century BC, but after a few centuries, the Greeks lost control to the Roman Empire. Soon the Eastern part of the Roman Empire established its own independence and was known as the Byzantine Empire.

The ruins of Ephesus and Hieropolis bear testimony to the changes during these periods, and no trip to Turkey is complete without visiting these two locations. We flew down from Istanbul to Izmir, a city in Western Turkey, and then drove down to the seaside town of Kusadasi, which is the gateway to the old city of Ephesus.

The tourist town of Kusadasi is located on the Aegean Sea, which separates Turkey from Greece. The small town has a population of only about a lakh. The harbor is known for luxury cruise liners coming in from Greece bringing in tourists from across the world, who are mostly headed for Ephesus an hour’s drive away.

We reached Kusadasi in the afternoon. The Marina Hotel where we checked in was close to the seashore, and from our rooms, we could get a clear view of the blue sea and many boats of different shapes and sizes there. Multiple cruise liners were seen at a distance. In the evening we visited the seafront, a buzzing space with many tourists and dozens of restaurants lined up on the coast. We again tried some Turkish Ice Cream here. The dinner at the hotel had a nice spread, extensive mezze dishes, different varieties of olives, and the Turkish dolma were some of the highlights.

The next morning we moved out early. Our destination today was Ephesus. After a touristy visit to a leather factory, we headed to the House of The Virgin Mary located on top of a small hill. Mother Mary used to live here towards the end of her life after she was brought there by Saint John who was designated by Jesus to take care of His Mother. The place was thronging with tourists mainly visiting the chapel and the wishing wall, where people can write their wishes on a piece of paper and leave the strip here.

The ruins of Ephesus were a few kilometres away. The city, popular during the Greek and Roman rules was built during the 10th Century BC and was destroyed by the Goths in the 3rd century AD. The main places to visit in the huge area were the Gate of Augustus, Amphitheater, Temple of Hadran, and the Library of Celsus. As the guide was explaining the rich history of the place, one feels transported to a different civilization itself. I did not have much idea about Greco-Roman history, but still had one of the best days of the trip.

The following day, we left Kusadasi for the quaint town of Pamukkale. The trip to Pamukkale involves a road trip of a couple of hours. Many tourists do this location through a day trip, but we decided to stay in the village for a day before proceeding to Antalya.

Pamukkale is known for its hot springs and travertine terraces formed out of carbonate mineral deposits from the hot spring water. As you travel, you come across areas with huge white deposits, just next to the springs. The name “Pamukkale” comes from “cotton castle”, stemming from the fact that the white deposits resemble cotton. The water from the hot thermal springs supposedly has healing power which leads to many people taking baths in the water bodies which get created from the water from the springs. 

It is the healing powers of the water here that led to the setting up of the city of Hieropolis around the 7th century BC as a healing centre.  It was initially a Jewish settlement that later became part of the Roman Empire. The city was destroyed due to an earthquake later, but from the ruins, one can get a very good idea about the civilization at that time. We looked at the remains of the streets and the gates, an amphitheater that remained quite intact, as well as a necropolis with graves and tombs. A thermal pool where Queen Cleopatra used to take bath during her visits here is aptly named Cleopatra’s pool. Many tourists take bath here. And finally, there is a museum, with artifacts and statues that had broken off from the structures.

We enjoyed our bath in the hot spring as well as went around the ruins on a conducted tour in a buggy. The Hieropolis is one location that narrates the history of the land, and again it is important to take a guide along with you.

Late afternoon, we checked into our hotel at Pamukkale. The novelty of many hotels here is that the bathrooms attached to your room have a connection to deliver thermal spring water so that you can enjoy a thermal bath privately. Our hotel also had a swimming pool with this water.

The town of Pamukkale is quaint and enjoyable. There is a hot spring bang in the middle of the town. We walked through the local market, stopped by at a local café for sandwiches and coffee, and checked out some goodies at a local grocer. This was the part of the trip where we could get a feel of the local life.

We had a long trip ahead to the coastal city of Antalya the following day. We left Pamukkale the next morning with happy memories and wished we could have a longer stay here. 

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