The strong incense in the dimly-lit enclosure was intoxicating. Strains of soulful music, slow drum beats and chanting comprised the prelude to the ‘Sema’ ceremony. The dervishes walked in one by one, and stood solemnly, hands across the chest to testify god’s unity. In the sacred ceremony that followed, they greeted each other, took off their black cloaks to reveal white robes underneath, and started whirling gracefully in circular paths, to represent the journey of man’s spiritual ascent to perfection through love. A recitation from the Quran marked the end of the rites.
Nostalgic from the experience, my sister and I returned in silence, to our cave hotel. Built into a cave, the suites (replete with all creature comforts) offered ‘Ali Baba’ style enchantment. The magic of Cappadocia had only begun…
Pressed for time, we skipped the Balloon Safari, during which one drifts dreamily over the surreal Cappadocian landscape at sunrise. We opted for the Red Tour instead. The tour started with a view of the Uchisar Castle. Guide Muammer briefed us on the day’s agenda as we rode to a store for a free tasting of Turkish sweets and dry fruits.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Goreme Open Air Museum is a strikingly beautiful monastic settlement dating back to the Byzantine period. We visited the Apple Church, Snake Church and Tokali Church. Frescoes, depicting scenes from Christ’s life, are fascinating. It was interesting to note how the monasteries were planned, with storage, cooking, dining and burial areas.
We headed to Avanos which is acclaimed for its pottery. The Hittite method of pot-making was demonstrated at a workshop. The gallery’s dazzling display of blue and multi-coloured souvenirs tempted me to buy a plate with tulip motifs, to adorn the niche in my kitchen wall.
This was followed by a lavish Turkish buffet. Perhaps, Muammer had noticed me binging — the next stop was a walk along a wooden chain bridge over the Red River. The bridge divides the charming old town and modern Avanos.
Sepia-toned shapes loomed large as our bus rolled into Devrent Valley. The volcanic rocks that dot the landscape have been weathered to different shapes and sizes and tourists are asked to let their imagination run wild to guess what each resembles. This has earned it the name ‘Fantasy Valley’. A rock pillar that looked like a village belle to me, was perceived as a mushroom by another… the medley of guesses was peppered with laughs.
Soon, we entered similar territory. Erosion has given the volcanic rocks the shape of mushrooms and they are fondly called ‘Fairy Chimneys’ as folklore suggests that Pasabag was once inhabited by fairies living underground. We admired the spectacular structures standing tall.
The Red Tour ended thus, with a flourish, setting the tone for the Green Tour.
Next morning, we embarked on a 20-minute drive to Derinkuyu Underground City. A network of tunnels and stairways led us to see eight floors. The structure of the walls, wineries, grain storage chambers, stables, chapels, family and communal rooms showed the far-sightedness of the almost 20,000 inhabitants in those days, hiding from the enemy.
A steep stairway took us to the Selime Monastery, from the top of which we got an aerial view of the Selime Sultan Turbesi or tomb and cemetery.
Lunch was at a quaint restaurant. We were served delightful Mezes as appetisers. Chilli tomato paste, grilled eggplant and mint yoghurt dip were quickly consumed. Chicken Manti and kebabs were the main dish choices. Baklava with its fine layers filled with nuts proved the chef’s savoir-faire.
We descended a flight of steps down to the Ihlara Valley for a 4-km walk along the Melendi River. Guide Bilal pointed out ancient churches in the volcanic rock caves on either side. We walked quietly, the stillness punctuated by the unpremeditated art of unseen birds and the murmur of the cool river breeze. A stop for strong, Turkish coffee was deeply refreshing.
The tour culminated in a visit to an onyx workshop and Pigeon Valley which is marked by innumerable pigeon holes in the rocks, made during the Byzantine period, when pigeons were used as messengers and their droppings in fertilisers and natural dyes.
The Turkish Night was the perfect finale to our last evening at Cappadocia. Turkish delicacies served with Raki, the local anise-flavoured rice drink, could satiate the most discerning palate. Scintillating belly dancing, flamboyant folk dancing, and mellifluous strains were applauded by a high-spirited audience… mesmeric moments I wished I could freeze.