“I went to Turkey,” a ponytailed seven-year-old proudly said in school. It was time for show and tell — how you spent your summer break — in Class 2B. Photographs were passed along the room with children gleefully pointing at gorgeous monuments such as the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, names of which I found out much later of course! One photograph in particular stood out, for me that is.
“That’s the big river separating Asia and Europe,” my friend explained.
To a seven-year-old, still learning the nuances of geography, straits may seem like big rivers, but looking at that picture so many years ago, it stoked my curiosity. By the next three years, my mind had been made up. I needed to go to the country which was part of two continents. As a child I thought, “How cool! You can step into Asia if you don’t like Europe!”
As I grew older and accessing the internet became as easy as A-B-C, Turkey never left my thoughts. A possible reason for my fascination with the country could have been thanks to my numerous visits to historical monuments in India. Both countries have a rich history of tradition and culture and looking at books, I would often day dream about a land called Turkey.
Having been bitten by wanderlust at a rather early age thanks to my parents, I started to read more about the country that has always intrigued me. The grand plan after turning of legal age was to take a gap year and travel the world. Sadly, the question of expenses back then seemed so trivial. I was sure I could manage something like waitressing or teaching in exotic locations to get me through the year. All I had to do was get there. But once college started, so did work. The desire to visit the exotic country was repressed but never lost.
Two friends went to Turkey on family holidays in my second year of college. Facebook was just beginning to get popular and certain pictures made my jaw drop. With a passion for food matching that of travel, my friend’s pictures at Misir Carsisi were imprinted on my mind. From turmeric to sumac, dried fruits to olives, I could just imagine the intoxicating smells coming from each shop, beckoning me, tantalizing me… I vowed to visit, one day.
A colleague was sent to Istanbul two years back on some assignment. Once the official part finished, he decided to travel a bit on his own. On his return and before he could put up pictures of the trip on social media, I stormed over to his desk wanting to see them. I wasn’t let down. Pamukkale to Ephesus, just the names transported me to the hot springs and the Temple of Artemis. I kid you not! I could visualise walking among the ruins, wishing I could time travel. The ceramic evil eye keychain he brought back for me hangs proudly on my bedroom wall among the the many bric-a-bracs collected throughout my travels.
A favourite uncle got married last year. A romantic at heart, he’s always wanted to take his new bride to Paris. But, when he chose Cappadocia I understood the reason, looking at his pictures. The fairytale land beckoned and the magical kiss in a hot air balloon overlooking the vast expanse of natural delightful formations can rival the Eiffel Tower anyday. He told me later, “I’ve been to Paris before, but Cappadocia was the right choice. It left my wife breathless!” Can you imagine feeling such way? Floating over a magical land?
In January, I came this close to booking air tickets for Istanbul. But then, my sister brainwashed me into booking tickets for Munich instead, saying ‘We’ll go there next year, I promise.’ In fact, Dan Brown’s Inferno mentions the Hagia Sophia, which I was reading before leaving for a summer of backpacking across western Europe. And while Botticelli’s Mappa dell’Inferno pulled me to Italy, a little part of me kept wishing I was visiting the wonders of Turkey instead. To see the vast blue, walk through the bylanes, bump into locals and learn more about the interesting history of the country sipping on Turkish coffee. But wishes have a way of coming true I realised when I bumped into a Turkish lady living in Barcelona, who called me home for coffee and gossip. Then, to my surprise, when I met two Turkish students spending their summer in Italy, I was touched by their hospitality. Without a second’s hesitation they made me promise to visit them as soon as possible!
And which football fan wouldn’t want to visit Turkey I ask? The atmosphere during the Galatasaray and Fenerbahce derbies must be electric. While Indian football fans have Mohun Bagan and East Bengal clashes, it must be quite interesting to view battles between two clubs from the same city but different continents! I can just imagine the chants, the calls and colour!
Orhan Pamuk’s book can be found in many homes and certainly on my bookshelves. And as I flip the pages of My Name is Red on a cold Delhi winter evening with a mug of hot coffee for company, I keep telling myself, ‘Very soon, very soon. Turkey awaits you.’
This post is an entry in the “Million Stories” Contest sponsored by the Turkish Embassy, India