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The magic of Cappadocia, Turkey

The dimly lit, cool chamber that we are seated in, resembles an underground church. A prayer is chanted, followed by a rhythmic drum and the deeply spiritual call of a reed flute. The ancient ceremony begins.
The Dervishes enter wearing tall hats and voluminous white robes. They bow respectfully to one another and then slowly begin to turn in circles. Gentle at first, the twirling gradually becomes faster in time to the music. The arms of the men fan outwards and begin to move upwards as they spin in widening circles.
Their robes become mesmerising clouds. It’s amazing to me that they don’t spin out of control into a dizzy heap. Without being told, it is clear that this is a religious ceremony, not entertainment. 

Photo credit: trekearth.com
“A secret turning in us makes the universe turn. Head unaware of feet and
feet, head. Neither cares. They keep turning.”
Rumi, “The Secret Turning”

Turkey’s famous Whirling Dervishes are a cultural and religious movement that commemorates the 13th century Persian poet, Rumi.
The dance is a mystical method used by the Sufis to draw closer to Allah and achieve inner peace. During the dance, one hand reaches to heaven and passes down the blessings from the creator. The action symbolises the cycles of life for all of humanity and unites the Sufis in love and rapture through this ritualistic trance.

After an exciting few days in Istanbul, we flew deeper into the heart of Turkey.  Heading towards Göreme, the landscape becomes more enchanting and a little surreal. Cappadocia is surrounded by wild, open landscapes with the most astonishing and mysterious rock formations that emerged millions of years ago through volcanic activity. The effect is of a lunar landscape, or as often cited, “fairy chimneys”, that upon closer inspection begin to reveal themselves as homes and ‘buildings’.

We were delighted with our hotel, Cappadocia Cave Resort and Spa. It is located on a peak overlooking the vast plains of the Güvercinlik Valley, just outside of Göreme. The rooms are delightfully cosy and all the shelving and storage spaces are carved into the soft rock. 

Dinner was in a charming traditional restaurant with a central wood-burning furnace where a delicious lamb dish was prepared in a sealed clay pot. When the food was ready, Geoff was invited to use a butcher’s chopper to slice open the clay pot with a dramatic flourish, spilling the tasty filling into a serving dish. This authentically prepared meal is known as “Testi Kebabi”.

Hot-air ballooning in Cappadocia was never a bucket-list item for me, but it certainly should’ve been. During the night, cool air accumulates within the multiple valleys and begins to rise with serious intent around dawn. This reliable flow of air means that ballooning is one of the major activities to flourish in this area. Every single day, significant numbers of balloons float up into the sky at sunrise, brightening the landscape with bold splashes of colour.

Being up and about well before dawn is tremendously exciting. Arriving at the balloon base in Göreme, there is an air of electric anticipation. All across the enormous plain, billowing balloons loll in various stages of awakening. Suddenly there is a roar of propane gas and the flash of hot flame and each balloon is gradually filled with the life-giving, warm air. Silently and softly, the baskets rise above the ground. It is so gradual and so quiet, that it’s a shock to suddenly realise you are several feet above the ground and skimming swiftly across the landscape. Watching the sun banish the night’s shadows and seeing them crawl across the hills and valleys is breath-taking. Sweeping boldly above the mountainous formations and then breathing in sharply as you squeeze between valleys is completely exhilarating.

In the Roman era around 330 BC, the early Christians fled into the Cappadocia area to escape persecution. They carved hiding places, safe dwellings and their churches into the sides of the mountains and even into the narrow peaks and spires. Overtime they developed a honeycomb-like city with cave houses and places of worship amid the boulders, rocks and turrets of the strange geological area. Once our balloon was safely on the ground we spent the day exploring the fascinating region.

Village life in the 21st century – Women at work, men at rest 

A Turkish bath is a public facility for cleansing and relaxing. It hails from the culture of the Ottoman Empire and Islamic traditions. It is similar to taking a sauna and begins with spending time in a room heated with hot dry air, encouraging perspiration. Once the bather is sweating profusely they can wash in a cold pool, get a massage and relax. Traditionally an attendant will perform the washing and the massage.

The beautiful blue stone bead made of glass, copper, iron and salt has become a symbol of Turkey. Known as the Evil Eye pendant or locally as the Nazar Boncugu, it is used to protect the wearer from people that do not mean well. The blue colour absorbs negative energy and repels evil forces. It is found in most Turkish homes and businesses and is also worn as jewellery  

Cappadocia’s nightlife is intriguing as the clubs are located underground in excavated caves. Music, dancing and of course, smoking Shisha were on our agenda for the evening. Shisha, also known as hookah or hubbly-bubbly, is a fun experience when you are in Turkey. Contrary to what many people may think, this is not an instrument to smoke hashish or any other drug. It is a water pipe flavoured with aromatic Turkish tobacco and also hails from the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire. It felt very exotic to relax against enormous, jewel-coloured cushions while sipping coffee and chatting to friends, puffing peacefully as if I’d been smoking for years.

Turkey is such a geographically diverse country. The beauty of Cappadocia surprised us with its unusual moonscapes, underground caverns, fairy tale valleys and balloon-filled skies. A special place that offers adventure and fascinating history.

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