Dear Turkey, I remember sitting at your Ataturk International Airport, waiting to board my Turkish Airlines flight back to India. You welcomed me with arms wide open, charmed me with your beauty, and overwhelmed me with the kindness of your people. In my 20 days, I picked up pieces of your language, learned to maneuver your territory, indulged my taste buds in your food, and in a moment I didn’t anticipate, I came to know you as my home in another part of the world. I quickly built my first impressions of you when I got here, and if there is one thing I would change of them, it is that you are more beautiful and your people more hospitable than I could have imagined.
Guest post by Harsh Mehta. After reading about my vegetarian adventures in Turkey, Harsh asked me about all the Turkish vegetarian dishes I didn’t try, and left me craving to take my taste buds to Turkey again. Through this post, he attempts to tempt the vegetarians among you to plan that trip to Turkey and treat yourself to Yaprak Dolma, Testi Kebab, and Turkish Baklava, among other vegetarian delights.
In a country where people love their kebap as much as Turkey, finding vegetarian food was a delight in itself. Treating my taste buds was a welcome bonus. While I expected to be eating a lot of mezze and aubergine, I didn’t find any till the tail end of my trip, when I landed in a small village on the outskirts of Capadoccia. I did however, sample delicious Turkish vegetarian dishes in small towns and villages along the Black Sea coast in the north of the country, and I’ve found myself salivating as I reminisce about the indulgences!
My trip to Spain materialized so quickly and unexpectedly, that I really didn’t have enough time to contain the excitement of flying business class on Turkish Airlines, revisiting Turkey enroute, and losing myself on the cobbled streets of Europe again. The start of the trip felt like I was coming a full circle; my tryst with travel blogging took a serious turn on my first Euro trip a little more than a year ago, and this week-long invitation from Spain Tourism meant everything I had worked so hard for and dreamt of, was finally coming true!
I wrote this story for The Hindu. We maneuver our way through Northern Turkey’s gorgeous countryside, across alpine meadows sprinkled with the colors of spring, past cattle grazing on fields of wild purple grass, and alongside carpets of blooming sunflowers. It’s been eight hours since we boarded the bus for the famous Sumela monastery in eastern Karadeniz, our last stop in the Black Sea region of Turkey, before we head into Kapadokya’s underground cities. When the sun set an hour back, it took with it the pleasure of gazing out the bus window at the majestic landscapes, and the monotony of the dark quickly set in.
Whoever said that planning a trip is as much fun as the trip itself, probably didn’t have to spend hours researching on Google on what will make for a compelling visa application, or what phrases in the local language will help you strike a chord with the locals, or whether you’ll find anything vegetarian to feed your starving self, or how big a hole to expect in your wallet. Sometimes, I’m convinced that travelling must’ve been so much easier before the internet, when you didn’t have a choice but to go unprepared, try your luck, and see for yourself what works and what doesn’t. You wouldn’t have too many experiences to rely on, even if you did lap up that guidebook. But I digress. We have the internet, and thanks to that, I make a living! Based on my own experiences in Turkey last month, here are ten tips to make your planning simpler:
Once ominous and difficult to navigate, the Black Sea derived its name before the Greek colonized its shores, and was often more blatantly referred to as Inhospitable Sea. No, it is not black in color. On the contrary, it flows in an entire spectrum of blue, along the coast of northern Turkey, where I fell in love with it at first sight. Such are its shades, such is the intensity of sunsets over it, and such are the skies that protect it.
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” ~Aldous Huxley. To travel is also to discover what no guidebooks, travelogues, documentaries, or photographs can tell us. While travelling in Turkey, I got the chance to interact with Turkish people in small towns, despite the lack of a common language, and make observations that Google couldn’t tip me about. Here’s a collection of the quirkiest ones:
In the wee hours of the morning, I manoeuvre my way through the cobbled streets and ancient stonewalls of Safranbolu, a small town in the western Karadeniz region of Turkey. I had been reluctant to leave Istanbul, probably the first big city I’ve fallen so in love with, but as I step back in time into a 300 year old Ottoman house perched on a slope, I’m glad I came! Genghis, my host, greets me with a warm smile and bits of English, and shows me to my quaint room in the part of the house now converted into a pansiyon (pension aka guest house).
Since I moved back to India exactly 11 months ago, a lot has changed in the way I travel. Shoestring budgets no longer decide where I choose to stay, unlike in my student days, and reviews of other people no longer heavily influence my choice of accommodation, unlike in my corporate days. In the last 11 months, I have learnt to swim to the depths of google and take leaps of faith with accommodation options that have struck a chord, review or no review, cheapest option or not. For the most part, I have been pleasantly surprised, sometimes even overwhelmed, with the discoveries of home stays, farm huts and forest camps that are littered in secluded places throughout India, and India Untravelled was born out of these discoveries. My choices have facilitated interaction with native families and communities, helped me travel a bit more responsibly, and let me live like the locals of a place, even if for just a few days.