November 24, 2009

Istanbul – Where you should be Part II

Once you are done with the Byzantines, you must meet the Ottomans. Ideally you should start with the Blue Mosque. One of the few (perhaps only) mosques with 6 minarets, the Blue Mosque is the religious heartland of Istanbul. Standing in it’s courtyard in the evening with gulls crying out from its minarets, their calls asking for a safe home return, you feel an unearthly peace around you. Humbled before the Almighty, you walk out into the Sultanahmet Square.

From there one must walk towards the Topkapi Palace and spend the entire day there. Topkapi was the administrative headquarters of Ottoman Empire and the residence of the Caliphs and the Sultans. And within its walls lies riches forgotten to the world.

Topkapi by itself is not the grandest of palaces and yet it contains treasures beyond imagination. In the treasury room you find spoils from the various wars of the Ottoman Empire. You see the Throne Nadir Shah stole from India after he plundered Delhi. You see the Topkapi Dagger with its 3 emerald hilt and numerous gems and jewels. But most important section of Topkapi is the section of Sacred Relics. As I write I still can’t make myself to believe what I saw. Abraham’s saucer, Jacob’s turban, David’s Sword, St John the Baptist’s arm and skull and the strangest of them all, Moses’ Staff. The Old testament came alive in the rooms of The Sacred Relics and I wondered if all that I saw were real. The prophet’s artefacts were preserved as well and I saw devout Muslims bowing before the same.

The four sections of Topkapi and the Royal Harem provide enough fodder for you to spend one entire day in its magnificent premises. But you might wonder was this all the Great Ottoman Empire was capable of in terms of architecture? Even the Europeans thought the same and somewhere in the 18th century Ottoman Empire was called the Sick Man of Europe.

Around 1853, the then Sultan decided to put an end to it. And he ordered the construction of the Dolmabache Palace to showcase the might of the Ottoman Turks. A grand palace was built along the banks of the river. Its staircases were made of crystal. Gold glittered from its ceilings. Riches and treasures greeted the visitor even before he could meet the Caliph. And he went back to his country full of awe. The Ottomans were also looking West at this point of time and Dolmabache has within itself glimpses of both The West and the East. But when you would visit Topkapi, you would feel you have come to the palace of a Sultan while Dolmabache would tell you that you have come to the home of the world’s richest man who also likes to show off.

The best part about Dolmabache is that you can actually see how Turkey changed after the First World War. Here is also where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk breathed his last. The Father of the Turkish Nation died as he saw a New Turkey growing in strength around him.

But it’s slowly getting dark and probably you would like to know about Turkey in the night.

Turkey has one of the busiest night-life I have ever come across. We were out all night till late trying to make sense of the city and its people. The heart of Turkey’s night life is definitely Taksim which houses most of her restaurants and Sheesha Bars. New lounges are constantly gaining prominence. You can go and watch Belly Dancers gyrate to the tunes that have been mercilessly copied by Bollywood. Or you can go and sit in huge lounges listening to new Turkish Music.

But one thing you must definitely do is to go to a performance of the Whirling Dervishes. It’s a transcending experience, taking you to greater heights. As the whirl around their feet taking from God in one hand and giving it to the human kind, you feel happy that the world still believes in peace.

If you are looking for food, however, you might be left wondering what to eat. For vegetarians it is best advised to carry some packed food or else settle for salad and cheese. For the non vegetarians there is always shawarma available. And if you are a Bong, your sweet tooth might just find some solace in the Baklava and the Turkish Delights. One day I will figure out the mystery behind Turkish Delights. What a taste!!!

Every bit of my Turkish Liras spent, I checked in and settled down at the airport lounge, I realized I had to visit Istanbul again.


sayrem said...

of course you have to visit Istanbul again. You never did go to a Hammam, did you?

Madhurjya (Banjo) said...

I walked into the hamams of the royals :)

CJ said...

dude - get a life n share pics!