A PILGRIMAGE TO TURKEY
28 days in 2015
ISTANBUL ANKARA URFA DATCA
Vasanti Gopinath Jayaswal
The Journey to Turkey-A Pilgrimage for 28 days
Daily Journal, April 24- May 22 2015
Vasanti Gopinath Jayaswal
To those who know nothing about my passion and involvement with Turkish mysticism, that was an outcome from my study and practice of ilahis since 2010, may wonder why Turkey was chosen as a destination for a visit. The need for this trip initially came about, only to get a first hand feel for the land of the poets, whose songs in the form of ilahis, I sing, almost daily. Secondly discovering the value of the finds from Catal Huyuk excavations and its connection with the Divine Feminine Principle, plus the unearthing of the Gobekli tepe ner Sanliurfa, revealing the earliest temple ( 12, 000 years ago at least ) was to me, a driving force to visit. Behind all of this, the greatest motivation for this trip came from what I learned from the Kabbalah, from Rabbi Chaim Solomon, my teacher. He reinforced a truth that I have always known. The truth is that we see only 1 % of Reality. 99 % of reality is not available to our sensory systems, but if vigilant then this knowledge is surely revealed to mankind, by Universal or Cosmic forces. It is a Truth that hits the core which is hard to share and words are inadequate for describing. The call to visit Turkey came from such an intimation.
Before you embark on this reading, please keep in mind that this is written by a person who grew up in India, with value systems of an ancient culture based on Sanatana Dharma, a system of Eternal Values that sustain individual and cosmic order, mistakenly called Hinduism, by those who came from other lands. Faith in the Divine has always been the guiding force in all that I do. Since childhood a sense of a higher presence that is behind all that we are, we see and we do, has been the guiding K or constant factor. My exposure to Christianity and the West came during my high school convent days. Having landed in the US since 1966 I have been fortunate to have been intensely exposed by direct transmission- teachings to Vajrayana Buddhism and the Kabbalah. With Turkish music came this need to dig deep into tasavvuf or mysticism, pertaining to the land of Turkey. To know more you may check the Writings section on my site www.ambahouse.org, which includes poems that were written after my exposure to Turkish music. All these factors are sure to have influenced my experiences in and observations on Turkey and its people.
I have called my journey as I saw it, which includes naturally my preferences and prejudices. Surely no offence is meant to anyone or any belief. If perchance the reader may find a remark or two as unpleasant, I do hope that I will be forgiven.
April 24- Enroute to SFO airport
The journey began making a dream that had been fermenting for many years to come of age. My first visit to Turkey as a solo traveler with interests not common was placed before Kathy Kerns of Redwood Sky Tours, San Rafael, California in April. Amazing is all that I can say, as to the way Kathy Kerns worked out not only the details, but kept communications going regularly and adjusted so well to my changing needs. Kathy worked with Kensington tours whose expertise is in custom tours, especially for solo travelers. They in turn worked with a local Turkish travel company called Gemini, in Istanbul. The result was a wonderful trip all planned ahead to perfection.
The Call had to be answered. Anxious plans, depletion of savings, unexpected personal and financial setbacks and most of all the loss of a dear sister of mine, prior to embarking on this trip had to be all crossed with fear and sorrow. Once aboard the Airport Express bus, the conductor's personality helped me to shift my mental gears. Her Oki Doki-s that accompanied the instructions only augmented her transparent genuine concern for the passengers.
At the Turkish airline counter I was reminded of bygone Air India travel days. Inefficiency, confusion accompanied by apologetic smiles ensued before the issuance of the boarding pass. At one point my name was called to see if I would be willing to change my seat. It turns out that it was a husband planning to celebrate his wife 's 5oth birthday, with a cruise trip that began in Turkey. He wished to sit next to her. I figured how sad it must be to sit so far from each other for 12 and a 1/2 hours. Once I agreed, the gentleman Alex was so grateful that he felt he needed to do something. He offered to send me a carton of sample ice cream once I returned to the States. He happened to be the owner of ITS IT ice cream company based in San Francisco.
The United Airline Club Lounge shared by Turkish airlines, was quite a laugh! The only refreshments they had were cold and hot beverages, junkie snacks and fruits. Even the little airport in Trivandrum, India had much better offerings. Folks that use this lounge facility seem to be of one kind, all over the world. Stuffy and robot most of them were. After a few minutes, unable to take this cold atmosphere I made a quick escapade to normalcy that was right outside. So why do I travel business class? My vertebrae that has been impacted by serious car accidents must have to answer to that. It cannot take more than 5 hours of sitting in chairs in the Economy section.
Just as I am about to sit, in rushed a Turkish man. " Do you mind changing seats? My wife would like to sit with me." Once again I moved to another seat, this time with a laugh. Alex's wife who saw this, remarked. "You are the kindest person on this flight !"
There were some comedy routines in this flight. Passengers could hear the discussions between the stewards who often spoke rather loudly. Then there was the chef, a young man who sauntered between the aisles with a sweet smile, obviously proud of his chef's uniform. I felt that I must have given him a hard time with my peculiar vegetarian needs. "No not Indian, too spicy. No cannot have chicken either!" I said.
April 25- Istanbul
Just as the plane landed it rained, an auspicious sign for one from India. The tryst with the land Turkey thus began. A certain level of disbelief of this reality was there. Looking out I saw the familiar mustard flowers, saw a crow like the kind in India and noticed that cars travel in the same direction as in the US.
Entering the airport, I found myself in a crowd of people, the likes of which I had not encountered at any other airport. People were from all over the world with no majority of any one kind. Figuring that the “Pasaport” sign meant immigration I joined the lengthy ques. There was a calm here not seen in India or in the US. At the counter the officials continued to chat casually with each other even as they looked at the documents. A strange sight.
At the exit I was welcomed by the anxious face of Osman Oksuzoglu, who I call my Turkish son after he labeled me as his California mom. Right next to him was a young person with a sweet smile, Erhan, the incoming manager of Gemini. Right next was another young person also from Gemini, holding my name on a placard. Erhan's professionalism was striking right away.
The Best Western Hotel in Istanbul's staff were courteous, efficient and warm. A very young bell boy managed to speak a few words of sweet English, enough to welcome me into a small but nice room with a balcony from where I could see the Marmara sea. Osman and I went over my plans and then took a walk to find a place to eat. On the way I saw many eateries. The sweet shops looked like dessert heavens with the variety of desserts displayed in the windows. Even small food places had such a variety of meats, fish and fowl as well as grills, to cook to one’s taste. Did not see a whole lot of vegetarian cooked food though! Had a small Turkish pizza that night. Yummy, it sure tasted good.
A sad sight that I saw on the sidewalk near the hotel was a Syrian refugee family, a mother with an infant and a toddler. All three looked so beautiful. There they were crouched by a wall in the cold. I shuddered to think of the many that have been rendered destitute by the recent wars.
April 26- Istanbul
Early morning at 5 am, I awake to the azan calls from the nearby mosque. Soon others join in. Unfortunately no longer can I single out the melodious one. I do love to hear this early morning calls to the divine, irrespective of the religion. I know there are many who would consider this a rude awakening. I remember the time when I first moved to my house in Petaluma and woke up to the welcoming sounds of the bell from St. Vincent de Paul Catholic church nearby.
All was quiet at 6am, except for the sea gulls. Boats glimmered on the Marmara sea. Fresh air poured into my room. A strange calm pervaded my mind. A calm that neither in the US nor even in India had I experienced. Yet this is supposed to be a new country for me. The complimentary breakfast at the hotel was sumptuous. The cheeses, the yogurt and the vegetables had more flavor than those in the US.
My first tour was to the Galata area. The tour guide Tolga walked with me through the winding store lined streets, where colorful ceramics, metal art and beautiful textiles were sold . The people I saw in the streets were in all colors and sizes. Maybe this is so because Istanbul is a cosmopolitan city. I did not feel like a foreigner here. Then, on to the Mevlevihane and the Semahane, the monastery of the Dervishes, now maintained solely as a well organized and informative museum, by the government. While sitting in the semahane I relived the significant dream I had in 2014 where my tassavuf name was given in Persian, in a vivid dream by none other than Rumi. Tolga left me by myself so that I could pray at the tomb of Şeyh Galip, a Sheikh and the last of the great classical Ottoman poets. He lived in the 17th century. His work, “Beauty and Love”, is a story that is full of symbolism. All the characters and places are Sufi terms and its theme is, the journey towards the Divine. The tour concluded with a stop at a small eatery where I had a cheese filled gözleme. The elderly lady who kept on rolling out the thin flat breads had the kind of story on her face that spoke of a dignified but hard life.
Trying to get a sim card into the mobile phone was quite a trial as I am simply not a tech savvy person. Once again I saw the staff carrying on casual conversations with each other even as they were helping the customer. It almost felt that I did not exist!
In the evening accompanying Osman to Üsküdar, the Asian part of Istanbul was quite a challenge but fun. Here was I trying to keep up the pace with a tall lanky young man while taking the tram, then a ferry and then a bus. While on the Bosphorus straits, Osman pointed to a small island on which was a tower, called Kiz Kulesi or Maiden's Tower. It had a popular story behind it. A sultan fearful of a prophecy that predicted that his beloved daughter would die of a snake bite on her 18th birthday built this house on the small island in the middle of the sea. Her father was the only one who visited her. On her 18th birthday her father brought her a gift of exotic fruits. When she reached her hand into it an asp that had been hiding in it, bit her. She died in her father's arms.
After a splendid meal at the Kanat Lokanta where a separate vegetarian section was there, we went to a concert in tasavvuf music by Mehmet Kemiksiz, who I do like, especially the kasides he sings. Unfortunatly the songs were not ilahis although there was one song, Sorma be birader mezhebimizi, which was touching. Turns out that there are very few sarkis that I care for. My love is for ilahis and not even ayins! After the show I was honored when Osman introduced me to him. I noticed all the musicians including Kemiksiz looked up to young Osman.
The bathrooms in this facility had toilets like the ones in India but slightly modified. Only the one for the handicapped had the Western kind which I was relieved to see.
From the ferry to see Istanbul at night with lights glimmering along the shoreline with minarets rising up to the sky was a beautiful sight as we returned to the hotel.
April 27- Istanbul
After breakfast I took to the streets hoping to find a noncrowded ATM. No luck. Also checked on the foods available. A lot of meat and breads. Plenty of salads though with the typical cucumbers and tomatoes. Back to the hotel 's cafe for soup and the popular appetizer platter, the meze. This one had stuffed capsicum, dolmas, sauteed eggplant, slightly hot bell pepper with walnuts, sort of like a chutney or salsa, yogurt with dry mint, salad and was accompanied by Turkish tea.
I am learning to hand wash clothes again and to catch the hottest hours of the day in the afternoon to dry my clothes in the balcony. Feels good to have few clothes and that too cotton salwar kameezes that dry fast and most of all felt just right when I walked amidst the crowds. The vendors who always tried to figure out potential customers would often sing songs from Indian movies when I passed by.
Slowly it dawned on me to be careful about figuring how much to spend for it is not like India where a US dollar fetches close to 50 rupees. Here it was just slightly over 2 Turkish liras.
The long trip to Üsküdar where Osman lives took about 2 and half hours as this was during the evening peak hour traffic. Istanbul's traffic is notorious with cars zig- zagging in and out of lanes at random. This gave plenty of time to get to know Nejak the driver of the private car that the hotel had arranged. He gets up at 2am every morning to take people to the airport. He plies between 13 hotels, works 15 hours daily and gets paid 60Turkish lira per day. He has a wife and a 4 year old daughter Elanaz. Rent alone is 640 TL plus there are expenses for food and utilities he told me. When Osman found out about waiting charges, hot words were exchanged between him and the car company. He urged me to send this car back and just take a taxi. This was at 8 pm in the evening already and I had yet to visit Osman's place. Even though Osman reassured me that taxis were safe, fear prompted me to not go for that option. At any rate a deal was worked. As we walked to the apartment Osman explained how Istanbul tends to rip off tourists.
The small apartment where Osman lives is in a quaint area. Well what little I saw of Üsküdar, quaint, seems to be the most appropriate word. The Asian side of Istanbul has a character quite different from the smaller Avrupa (European) section. Ended up facing the challenge of cooking a meal in a miniature bachelor kitchen, for Osman and his friend Haluk from San Francisco who was to join us that night. Many a call went up to the skies for help. Made rice, mixed veggies in tomato gravy, salad and potatoes dry -sauteed with cumin, black pepper and mint with yogurt added right before consumption. The boys ate well! The cook in me was glad! For a short while we practiced some ilahis in the Hicaz makam that nourished my soul.
April 28- Istanbul
I know that the hands of clocks all over the world are set to be the same yet what is it about time and how it registers different from country to country? In the US when my husband and I travelled to many a state, this feeling of rushing against time seemed so common. In India and Turkey even though schedules are packed yet the hands of the clock do not seem to go that fast.
Walked all the way to the Blue Mosque. Noticed that my hotel, located in the Beyazid area was ideal for me. All the important spots were within walking distance. What is so blue about this mosque I thought? It looked more grey to me. The compound gardens were well kept, the courtyards were extensive. The inside was grand and highly illuminated. However I did not feel any compelling reverence here or pull from the divine even though many men and women were praying all around me.
The need for TV watching was totally absent. Every spare moment I had when not wandering the streets or visiting places, would be spent in the balcony from this 5th floor, looking down at the streets below. So many people down there. They look much healthier than Indians. Men more often engaged in animated conversations while they smoked and when they walked there was a swagger to it. Young women in modern clothes and those in traditional modest clothes, whether or not their heads were covered and regardless of their economic background, wore lot of make up, much like women in the north of India. One could spot the women from the villages who wore simple clothes, whose faces shone with pure health untainted by any makeup, their smiles shy and innocent. I no longer felt that there was a typical look to the Turks. Loved to see this variety in faces with so much character.
During namaz or times for praying, when the azans came on, people continued to go about their business. No longer could I stand the azans from the mosques as so many came on at the same time, making it rather irritating. This was much like the loudspeakers from the various temples in India where religious music all come on at the same time to rent the air. The temples, the mosques, the gurudvaras and the church bells all rent the air about the same time in India. I imagined how beautiful it might have been many moons ago when the population was sparse and spread out, so that hearing the church bells from the one church, the azan from the mosque, the chants from the temple in the village, alerted the residents to pause and reflect on the Creator.
April 29- Enroute to Ankara
7 am and no traffic in the usually crowded streets of Istanbul as I am taken to the airport. The landscaping is beautiful. The small dunes were covered with green grass on which pansies were planted in gentle calligraphic patterns. Trees had circles of blooming tulips. The parks had play structures for children and simple exercise equipment for others. At the airport once again that strange calm, a feeling I have never had in any other airport, not in India nor in the US. No glaring signs either to accost the eyes. Here too the staff were having a jolly time chatting while looking at my booking. In the waiting area I noticed a woman opening a bag of cookies and offering them first to children and adults, strangers who sat in front f her. Only after that, did she start to eat. I remembered how it was the same while traveling as a youth in Indian trains.
A well it colorful store on one side had stuff for kids, novelties and luggage. In stumbled an elderly overweight woman dressed in non Western clothes, pushing a cart full of bulky trash bags and a large plastic bottle with stuff. The store keeper helped her choose a couple of suitcases, one of which he plopped on top of a table. Pretty soon I saw her pull clothes out of the bags and place them one by one neatly into the suitcase. Out of the bottle came non clothing material. People who kept passing by when all this was going on, just gave a casual look and walked on. None of the looks of curiosity that I would have seen in India and none of the disgusting looks that would have ensued in the US were encountered here.
The pilot's announcement so typical of Turkish Airlines went this way " Ladies and gentleman and dear children....". Food that was free came in small lunch boxes. It contained a fresh roll filled with the delicious soft beyaz peynir (white cheese), luscious tomato, bell pepper, lettuce and basil. There was unsweetened yogurt with sweet strawberries, some tomatoes and olives too. Yummy ! The ride was rather bumpy at times. Looking below I was surprised to see mountain ranges covered with snow.
In Ankara I was to stay with my music teacher's daughter Gevher. The drive to Gevher's place in Ankara was smooth. This city registered quite a different feeling from Istanbul. The sight of a stork standing in a nest on the dome of the very first mosque I saw, was a blessing I felt. A phone call of concern from Osman reinforced the feeling that I experienced in the US and in Turkey about a strong telepathic connection that we both seem to have.
Gevher's condominium though modern had a dismal feeling to it. It was located below the street, the lowest floor of a high security building, close to City Center. My hunch that this lady loves black proved right when I walked in. She had decorated the place with colors of the lady bug with predominance of black. I later learned that lady bugs are symbols of good fortune. The black anti -theft bag which was one of the gifts I gave her, was appreciated. The interior seemed more European and therefore practical, rather creative and ergonomic. The hot water heating system for heating rooms was well designed. My music teacher Timuçin kept calling his daughter to make sure all was well. So did her mother from Adana. Like India, often members of modern unit families live and work in different places here. Gevher in Ankara studying, the mother Gul in their home in Adana and the father in many a different cities and countries because of his work.
A student of Hoca (as I call my teacher) by name Gökmen , was assigned to take me places. He called from his car waiting in front. A jeweler by profession Gök is into music and ney making on the side. We visited the old Ankara, situated on hills where an ancient castle and a Roman temple still stand, although in ruins. A mosque and the tomb of Haji Bayram Veli, a much loved mystic saint and founder of the Bayrami sufi lineage was nearby. Not surprisingly this mosque too did not register any special feelings. Both the large tomb and the mosque were obviously renovated extensively to suit the tastes of tourists. Close by there was a cute and small tomb planted with roses, that of Gul Baba, another saint.
An old hotel nearby that served caravans and horses, that came over the hills long ago, had craft and art stores on top with a courtyard below that served food. Here the renovation was minimal. The wooden walls and rickety stairs spoke of the past. Loved this place and the people here.
It was here that I got introduced to Gok's friend Kadir, a distinguished elder whose calm and wise look was unmistakable. He owned an antique store that specializes in gramophones and LP records. His skinny frame, sharp features, gray hair tied in a pony tail only added to his looks. The moment he found out about my involvement with ilahis he played an old LP. This was a recording done in Paris many years ago by a Jerrahi group who went there to perform their zikrs. Two familiar songs were there. As we left, he gave Gevher and me small jewelry boxes that had sacred verses on the lid, to which he dabbed an attar, the kind received by pilgrims at the Kaaba.
Whether we were in the car, walking, or at a store, often Gök and I managed to slide into conversations on Sufi thinking and mysticism. A few lines from many an ilahi were sung together accompanied by that special joy that comes from understanding the depth of the meaning within. I found for the first time that the unsatisfied cravings that I often experience in America,on listening to Gok, was assuaged. In the US I often get tired of being with a good number of seekers who are not sure of their spiritual identity and therefore were just satisfied at being " wanna be sufis". Here I was glad to discover tasavvuf (mysticism) as being more important than the fashionable Sufism of the modern day. Indeed, was I relieved of much of my thirst when I listened to him. Amongst the many stories he shared here are a few.
" Do you know what happens after a traditional sema is done to music ? The dervishes return to their quarters in silence to meditate. Then when all have left, they quietly return to the sema hall and whirl in silence, with no music this time. It is said that the sounds issuing from their feet, open the heavens. "
" Do you know how the habit of drinking coffee amongst the dervishes came to be ? The mystic Veysel Karani, who was a sheepherder needed to stay awake to do zikr. In order to stay awake he made his coffee and drank it often."
" The Jerrahi lineage's custom of piercing their body began long ago. Prophet Muhammed's grandson had a hard time convincing those around him that indeed he was truly in the blood line. One day as he was about to put his hand on Muhammed's tomb, there appeared a hand, that reached out to him from the tomb itself. The shock of seeing this was too much for the onlookers. To make sure that this was not a dream, they poked their bodies with whatever sharp instrument was on hand. "
" I had the opportunity of attending a Cema done by the Alevis. Half way through it began to rain. The audience left but the musicians continued to play and the dancers continued to dance in spite of the rain. I was overcome with tears."
In the evening Gök announced that Hoca would be joining us. We waited in the workshop where both Hoca and Gök work on making neys and conduct music classes. Using a simple Bunsen burner he made Turkish coffee. I was told that the best way to drink this was, not to add sugar or milk. For the first time I tried coffee this way. From then on he began to suggest ideas and spoke of traditional ways. I found myself humorously abiding by his commands as they were given out with much love. This sort of ease in relationships and a certain warmth in the expression of love and concern reminded me of how people in the north of India behave.
To see my music teacher in Turkey felt very different from seeing him in America . So much more relaxing it was, especially to listen to teacher and student converse in Turkish. The tender love between the two and the obedience that student Gok had for his teacher, was reminiscent of the old Indian guru- shishya relationship. Something not exactly found in the West. On our way back to Gevher's home I was listening to lengthy and detailed description of food items between teacher and student. Again, a reminder of North Indians. Turns out that this was a typical behavior pattern of Tartars. Both of them were of Tartar stock. With that statement, I got the answer for, what puzzled me about Hoca's looks, when I first set my eyes on him.
April 30- Ankara
Early morning prayers at Gevher's condominium was peaceful. I followed that with singing ilahis in several makams. Over the nutritious and typical Turkish breakfast she fixed which included the common Turkish bagel, simit, I learned from her that the Yunus Emre Institutes established in many places were only in name as it served to promote one business man's ambitions and really had nothing to do with the national poet's works. Made a lot of sense to me as earlier I had been reading up on their activities.
I was dropped at the Anatolia museum by Gok. Excited was I that my eyes would feast on the Catal Huyuk, Mother, the oldest Mother Goddess statue that had been removed from excavations near Konya. Surprised to see how tiny she was. Could not believe that I spent 5 hours in this treasure of a museum. Copious notes were taken. My interest in iconography received much stimulation in this place. Never realized until then that Turkey's history goes way back to the Mesopotamian period and beyond. Exiting from the museum I walked up a steep hill and into an old quarter once again lined with quaint shops. In one store I saw a clay model of the Catal Huyuk Mother about 3-4 inches. With the help of another lady visitor who knew English I asked the owner, Lalel if she would sell it to me. She politely refused. The other lady told me that this Buddha was not for sale as it was kept there for good luck. It took several approaches on my part to explain to this Turkish woman that it was not a Buddha and who she really was. Patting Lalel on her back and wishing her good fortune and luck I left the place.
May 1- Ankara
The day began with much confusion. Mistaking Gevher's alarm for a cell phone ring that kept ringing for so long I not only woke her up but ended up disturbing student and teacher from their morning sleep. Gök explained that all plans to be together had to be cancelled as he was ill with sore throat and fever and wished to rest all day at home. I began to explore possibly getting the Istanbul tour operator to work out a new side trip. I certainly did not want my guest status to change to a that of a pest ! But by the time I approached her with my idea Gevher had cooled off. Then a surprise call came from Gök asking me to get ready as he was on his way. Indeed, a very puzzling behavior. I wondered then if Hoca had got wind of what took place and thus got his ailing student to bail me out. At any rate this time I was left to explore the Pirinc area in old Ankara where many artisan shops were located,while Gök went to pray at the nearby mosque.
Later at the workshop I had Hoca and Gok listening to me singing an ilahi that I randomly chose and set to tune, to sing that morning as I felt bad for causing problems. It goes "Hep fesad işlerime, Estağfirullah tevbe,Yaman teşvişlerime ,Estağfirullah tevbe Tevbe Allahim tevbe Aman Allahim Tevbe." Ayla my Turkish friend in Petaluma often wonders how I choose Turkish songs. I had to tell her that I have help from above ! It has to be that I am guided, how else can this happen so often? The song had to do with asking forgiveness of the divine, for man's innate limiting conditions. I prefaced this with the statement that I realized I had unintentionally caused trouble for three people that morning. Gök concluded that he was actually happy for all that happened, for this way he got to hear me sing this ilahi.
Hoca spent considerable time and effort in planning the trip for me to visit Yunus Emre and Tapduk Emre's tombs. He was also pleased with the quote given by Erhan Avci of Gemini company for this trip. On returning to Gevher's place I found she had made for me zucchini and mushroom in cream sauce to go with spaghetti. A hunger the likes of which I had never felt before accosted me as I ravenously ate the food.
May 2- Ankara
The greater part of the morning was spent in choosing Yunus Emre's ilahis to sing on the journey and so practiced them. After all, the pilgrimage to my cherished and most beloved Turkish mystic was finally going to happen. At 11am Gevher woke up and took me out to lunch. We ate at a restaurant that was part of a supermarket. The upstairs had the restaurant while below was the market. The widespread and spacious restaurant had lengthy salad bars with so many choices. There were also fresh pizza counters, separate fish, meat, veggie and bakery areas.
The portions were large and by US standards the prices were low. In the market I got to pick all that I planned to cook for an Indian meal for three. Ginger and cilantro were not available neither were some typical spices. We topped off with coffee at a place called the Coffee lab. Here for the first time I saw Gevher engaged in much joking and laughing. I also got a peek into her current field of study, that of production aspects for multi media.
That night an upset stomach kept me up with frequent trips to the bathroom. I figured that some part of the food I had eaten was not kept at the proper temperature hence spoilage had taken place. This became so worrisome as the next day was my long trip. All night I kept praying in Hindi " Tapduk Emre ki shishya, Yunus Baba ki jai " which meant Victory to Yunus Baba, disciple of Tapduk Emre. The chant allowed for my mind to remain in peace. By morning with the medicines I had taken and with those that Gevher gave me, the symptoms subsided.
May 3- Ankara
Once again, I felt that Erhan had come to my rescue like a godsend. At 8 am the car and driver he arranged came to the door. We immediately left for Sarikoy. The countryside here was so refreshing and beautiful. The driver was happy to hear me sing the ilahis and commented that my Turkish was perfect ! That sure felt good as I worry so much about my pronunciation. With the smattering of Turkish I knew and the couple of English words he knew we managed to carry on much conversations. The divided roads were great and the verdant and lush green fields of wheat on either side indicated the bounty of this land. I remembered from somewhere that the oldest strain of wheat came from Turkey. On the way I saw a sign that pointed the direction to the village where the famous Turkish philosopher and humorist Nasrredin Hodja lived. I remembered then how my young grandchildren loved his humor.
As we approached the town of Sivrihisar the driver pointed out the impressive statue of Kemal Ataturk mounted on a horse perched on top of a hill. He had his one hand up in a gesture that symbolized the forbidding of the Greek Army from approaching. Here was where the Greeks defeated by the Turks, withdrew during World War II according to the driver. The regard and reverence that Turks have for Kemal Ataturk cannot escape anyone who visits this land. It presents itself in the many statues, pictures and words quoted everywhere. In addition, regardless of whether it is a Westernized Turkish youth or a conservative elder, I was asked so often " Have you gone to his museum ? Have you been to the Mausoleum ?'12
The area where the tomb of Yunus lay was rather puzzling as the place had one large marble tomb and two other spots on the ground where I was told the original tomb was. I was aware that several towns have claims on Yunus and so there are many tombs ascribed as his. This was where Gok said Hoca thought was the correct one. While I prayed at the tomb,I was overcome with a strong feeling that whosever remains were inside, it was not Yunus. To test my feeling I uttered the one favorite prayer of Yunus, that starts as Bin bir adlu bir Allah, that I chant every morning. My feeling got confirmed but decided to keep quiet as after all it is the thought that matters and allows for love and appreciation. The compound had a museum with artefacts from the period he lived and several meeting rooms furnished in the style of that time. There is a water fountain with the lines from a poem of Yunus that went " Hakk'tan inen şerbeti İçtik elhamdülillah. ( Thanks be to God. We drank from the wine of Truth-Divine). The custom was to read the words and then drink the water. So nice. Here I met a young and attractive Kurdish girl by name Arzu who was a sweeper. She explained to us a lot about the place. An instinctive bond of love was born then between the two of us. Before I departed, she pointed to the beautiful necklace that she wore. It had a pendant that read Allah in Arabic. She wished for me to have it and I had to lovingly refuse it. Here was a girl not rich by any standards so ready to part with the one nice piece of jewelry she had and make a gift of love with that !
Then on to Nallihan where Yunus' Sheikh, the famous Tapduk Emre's tomb was. A slight drizzle fell as I walked past beautiful red poppies that grew on either side of the cobbled grey street that led to the building, whose architecture was not modern like the one in Sarikoy. In one structure was housed the tombs of 3 of his sons. The main building that looked like a mosque housed the tombs of Tapduk, his wife and one of his sons. As I bent low, again and again in front of Tapduk's tomb I was overcome with reverence as I felt his presence there in the form of a father. Here I met an elderly woman suffering from arthritis who uttered many an unexpected blessing over me, just because I came from so far to pray there.
Nallihan 's Kuş Cenneti , a sanctuary for water and migratory birds was designed very well. It had mounted viewers, animal exhibits and beautiful pictures and paintings of birds that often frequented the place. The garden here had lookout houses and play structures too. We continued the journey to return to Ankara as a circle trip. Passed through the city of Beypazar that had a section that still had houses made of wood. Then on to the tiny village of Gemecek where the small houses laid out in front, all the clay cookware they produce. I would have bought some had I not had more traveling to do. Got to see the Porşuk river I had read about. Farms, orchards and more wheat fields lay on either side. Then the topography changed to evergreen forests and tall mountains. The mountains here were so colorful due to their varied mineral ore contents. The factories that I saw here that processed the ores belonged to a single wealthy business man who owned the Ciner Group. We passed by a village that produced high quality floor tiles using ancient methods. Ayas famous for tomatoes was also on our route. Here rows and rows of plastic tubing provided mini hothouses for the seedlings. In the distance seeing a shepherd covered in a black poncho running after a stray sheep with a stick and goading it towards the flock that grazed on green meadows, was like a picture from a story book. When we arrived at Ankara city it was 2.30pm. I was surprised that I remained just on tea and dry fruits with no hunger pangs the whole time.
May 4- Ankara
Discovering that Hoca and Gök would not be able to have the Indian meal I changed the plan. Ended up making rogan josh. Incidently lamb in Turkey does not stink like it does in the US. Gevher thoroughly enjoyed this dish. I spent most of the day indoors concentrating on cooking, reading and singing ilahis.
Feeling the need to learn more from the exhibits I planned to return to Anatolia Museum. I requested Gevher to get in touch with her father and let him know to not to make plans for a Konya trip. My need to go to the museum had to do again with not the 1% reality that we all see but rather the 99% reality that is not available to our senses.
Somehow the need to visit Konya was not on the top of my list this time, for I felt that this had to be done somehow another time. True, that Rumi and Sufism is almost interchangeable in the eyes of the world. Konya and Mevlana are touted by the locals to visitors and admired by many drawn to Sufism. I found however that there was much Sufism that existed in this country long before Rumi. This is why I prefer the word tasavvuf which means mysticism. I was not into Persian besides. I love Ottoman Turkish language and the ilahi style of poems very much. I simply adore Yunus, Nesimi, Niyazi Misri, Kul Himmet, Fuzuli, Edip Harabi and many more who are all Turkish The attention given to and the spread of Rumi is very much like the spread of Yoga. When the West turns its attention to someone or something then a fashion like wildfire catches ! To me the hold that Turkish ashiklars(mystic poets) have, whose messages were directed to all sections of society and not just to the elite, is much stronger. I have a great deal of admiration for Rumi but what shall I do if these ashiklars pull my heart strings. *
* Check the Poem section Mystic Turkey, on my website www.ambahouse.org.
May 5- Ankara
Second visit to the Anatolia museum. Taxis are cheap here and very reliable as they stick to the meter. Gevher called in one for me and said that when I wished to return she would send another one. To one who rarely travels in taxi the experience was great as I got to converse with the drivers with my minimum vocabulary in Turkish.
Once again I ended up being in this great museum for 5 hours. The thematic layout and separation make it easy for one to take breaks and return with ease. There is much to see covering civilizations spreading over many thousands of years. Much thought has been given to the creation of exhibits that depict exactly how people lived a long time ago. More notes were taken. Evidences of Vedic connections as well as revelations of a personal past seemed to surface. I caught myself working hard to think the way the ancient Neolithic people, the Hittites, Phrygians etc may have thought. The Roman exhibits did not stimulate much interest. While there, a group of cute Turkish preschoolers in uniform walked in. Would you believe that they attended a school where they were taught American culture ? The teachers and young mentors spoke to them and evicted responses in English. Then onwards I began to take notice of group behavior, rude and loud Chinese groups, Japanese only interested in taking pictures and not even following what their leader said, a group of quiet and subdued Muslim Malaysians, and Turkish and German groups who followed the guide all the way.
On the way back I noticed that the buckeye trees that lined the roads were in full bloom. I was also surprised to see every now and then Mahanimba trees, the kind that Delhi has and what in America is called Texas Neem, loaded with tiny blue flowers. Came home to find that I had lost my earring from the right ear ! Realized even more how much I hate having my ears bare !
Sad that I was stuck in a condo and there was not a single stream nearby as this day was Hidirellez Day, a celebration that I have been observing for the last 3 years in honor of Al Hizir alias Zinda Pir, an elusive character, a saint, from the Biblical and Gilgmesh legends. I sang all the songs I usually sing, drew a rose and wrote a wish in symbols. Figured that either at some point I would throw it in a river or sea or take it back to Petaluma and cast it there. There was no evidence of any celebrations in the city however Gevher said that some celebrations do take place in the Old Ankara section on top of the hills.
I visited the Museum of Art which had very interesting portraits and paintings. Next door, was the small but fascinating Ethnographic Museum where one can see how Turkish people lived during Ottoman times. A special section on customs prior to a wedding was fascinating. My only wish was that they had used more Turkish looking mannequins and chosen faces that distinguished men from women. All looked like men. I saw small schoolchildren led by the teachers. As they waited in lines to go to the bathrooms, typical of kids all over the world, I saw girls just chatting while waiting in line, while the boys could hardly keep their hands to themselves.
May 7- To Şanlıurfa
On the return trip to the airport, once again I saw the stork on the mosque. Ankara airport was much cleaner than Istanbul domestic area. They even had separate trash cans for regular waste, metal and separate for plastic and paper. Due to technical trouble even before we took off we had to change planes. The airline was Anadolu and the transition to another flight was rather smooth. At the airport I met two researchers from Australia. They were both German. Their mission was to collect the oldest strain of garbanzo bean seeds found in Turkey in order to add to Microsoft's famous Seed bank in Iceland!
Flying over ancient Mesopotamia, I was struck by the beauty in changing colors and patterns of the land as it approached the waters. The Creator's paintings are unsurpassable!
Met Shebnem my guide, a very knowledgeable lady who spoke English very well. I could not believe that Gemini Company, my host, had arranged my very own 24 hour guide if need be, as she was to stay in the same hotel as I was to. I got a room with a balcony here to my joy. I began to feel a certain level of amazement and admiration or young Erhan Avci of Gemini.
That afternoon Shebnem took me to the famous Halil Ul Rahman mosque, and to Balikgol, the lake with fish, whose waters are claimed to be healing. The story goes that it was here the God caused rain to fall on Abraham when Nimrod set fire to him. Then on to the cave where Abraham had his birth. I found that only Muslims were praying here. Wondered why other Abrahamic religion followers were not visiting this place. Sat by the pool under the shade of plane trees, sipping tea and chatting about life in general with Shebnem. Amazing woman who taught herself the English language and spends considerable hours in improving her knowledge about the sights that she takes visitors to. Visited an ancient Kulliye, that are schools attached to mosques. This also served as a 24 hour community kitchen for the needy. Walked through a hane, the caravanserai where traders during ancient times would take a break, get accommodations for themselves and their animals and be able to conduct business too. The caravanserai was nicely converted to a shaded eatery, surrounded by stores. Saw many playing board games here over cups of tea. Walked into a bazaar rich with textiles, crafts, spices and grain. Had the experience of eating green plums that is eaten with a little salt. I remembered then my Iranian friend Simi and how fondly she spoke of missing this fruit in America.
Manici hotel where I was staying is an old building renovated to maintain its Ottoman character. It was luxurious in its furnishings. Though loving and sweet in nature the service here needed much improvement especially in communication. English was not a comfortable language for them. From my room I could see the mosque I had visited as well as the old Urfa castle on top of a hill.
In the evening Osman's younger brother Hakan took me to visit his ailing mother for whom I had brought some medicine. With great difficulty Hakan managed to converse in English. His toddler girl Ceylin was quite shy as she sat next to me. The older generations in this family occupy several flats in the same building located in an older part of Urfa. I was sad to see his mother at 59 looking so much older due to her ailments, yet no lack of love for me, shone in her eyes. Then on to the newer section of Urfa where Hakan lived. Hakan is a salesman for a pharmaceutical company while his wife Elis is a primary school teacher. The quality of design and the amenities in this new condo surprised me. The furnishings too were beautiful. For dinner Hakan took upon himself to personally make the famous Urfan dish, Ciğ kofte. This involved an hour of kneading and rolling of bulgur with many spices and then stuffed into lettuce leaves like a wrap. No utensils, just with bare hands. Usually ground lamb is mixed with the bulgur but since I am a vegetarian, shredded omelette was added at the end. Amazing how the meat gets cooked over time with the heat from the movement of the bare hands. Songs are sung at this time to break the monotony of the work involved. The salad served was fresh, lettuce, mint, cucumber. The food was hot t but tasty. I kept swigging at the ayran, my favorite Turkish yogurt drink. Feeling comfortable in my presence Hakan's English began to improve. Soon we were singing ilahis and enjoying sohbet (discussions on the divine). The uninhibited love and respect shown by this family to me awoke me further to realizing that this was something typical of those Turkish people, who have not taken to modern fashionable Western attitudes, of holding back emotions to the point of refraining from demonstrating love for another being.
In airports and other public places I noticed a discomforting trend amongst particularly young educated Turkish women. They did not wish to identify with their Turkish culture but rather clung on to a Neoliberalism when they spoke in English. They often mimicked trends in the West combined with flagrant imbalanced woman's lib behavior. Such men and women often sat aloof from the rest and remained glued to their phones and Ipads. Never saw a smile on their faces.
The room at night was hot and the central air conditioning system was turned off, a habit for this hotel to engage in the spring season. I discovered this fact at midnight after waking up poor Shebnem, as the technician was rather rude in his handling of my problem. Glad that I felt safe opening the door and window to let the outside cool air waft in.
May 8- Urfa
Woke up early morning to a plethora of birds including parrots.Many tall trees near the mosque hosted them. Wandered again in the neighborhood especially the bazaars. It was nice to see a swallow so close in my balcony. Have a feeling that there may be nests below. Spent hours sitting in the balcony and watching people visit the sacred pool, the cave and the mosque where I had gone the first day.
Each night as I lay in bed and gazed outside a sense of familiarity crept in. I could see the well lit mosque, the castle and the red Turkish flag high above, dancing to the tunes of the wind. Somehow there was a sense of comfort in watching this flag which led me to write a poem.
Visited Harran, the site of one of the oldest universities in Turkey and also saw the beehive homes made of mud. I was not too impressed as it felt very touristy and had lost thecharm it might have had at one time. One of the homes that was allowed for visitors to see, was all fixed up with many goods for sale. Looked very artificial. While the beehive home of theirs was kept as a museum, the owners themselves lived in a small modern house. I sat in the covered courtyard and had tea while a Kurdish matron carried on a conversation with my guide. I noticed that Shebnem loved children and made friends with them wherever she saw them.
We walked about 3 miles that night, to eat at a posh restaurant called Culcuoglu Baklava. A dish called Bostana caught my attention. It was sort of like a gazpacho with finely chopped tomatoes, spring onions, Italian parsley and cucumbers in a pomegranate syrup based sauce. The other attraction was a helva made just with pistachios and sugar. On our return I saw a very young perhaps 6 year old Syrian boy with an endearing face and curly brown hair, sitting all alone on the side walk. In front was spread a piece of cloth to receive coins. It was 9pm in the night. All I could think of was what the awful wars are doing to children and families. It dawned on me thenwhat a burden Turkey has taken on in helping refugees.
May 9- Urfa
For sure I know that the swallows have a nest below the balcony. Their early morning chirping was like music to my ears. The tour for this day was to Gobekli tepe, one that I was looking eagerly towards. Mustafa bey our driver was a follower of the Rifai tarikat ( lineage). With Shebnem as the interpreter I learned a lot about this and other tarikats. I sang many an ilahi which he liked.
Seeing Gobekli I had more questions than answers. So here it was that the late Dr. Klaus Schmidt had discovered a mysterious temple complex, constructed and heavily used by hunter gatherers of Neolithic times. Information coming out of these excavations showed that long before agriculture came into being the need to have collective worship existed for mankind. Instead it was this kind of collective worship that brought about the need for agriculture. From then on food gathering for large numbers of people was planned, not random.
In the souvenir store I met Nikol, a German who was from the German Archaeology Institute, and who had worked with Schmidt. I shared with him my admiration for Schmidt's personality and his achievements. As I was leaving, I mentioned to him some details about a significant dream I had in November 1995 when I saw the strange structures which I drew in my journal. It was only in March 2015 that I realized after seeing pictures of the excavations sent to me, by a Turkish house guest in Petaluma, that indeed the structures I saw in my dream were exactly the Gobekli tepe ones. Nikol was astounded and so shared an information that surprised me in turn. "Did you know" he said, " that it was in November 1995 that Schmidt discovered this place." I answered that I had no knowledge whatsoever about the place or the person when I had the dream.
Mustafa bey had a surprise for us when he took us to the new Urfa museum which was yet to open. His connections with the Tourist department came in handy. We were there when the Governor of Urfa too was there. Here was an unbelievable world class, state of the art museum. I felt that Urfa would soon get global attention because of the museum as well as due to Gobekli tepe.
Discovered that I had lost another earring again from the right ear. Wondered what message the Universe was giving me. Talk less, listen more? Wandered in the Balikgol area again looking for decent vegetarian food. Decided to eat boiled corn severed from the cob and served in cups. Vendors in kiosks serve these with a sprinkling of several choices in spices. Quite filling and tasty.
May 10- Urfa
The tour company had arranged Nemrut for me to visit thinking I might like that place. I told Shebnem that I was not interested in seeing a place that had structures that were built only to satisfy King Antiochus's ego. So Halfeti was the next choice as Gaziantepe where I would have liked to go would take more time. The drive to Halfeti revealed acres and acres of pistachio trees. Apparently Urfa grows the best pistachios and they are of two kinds, the regular ones and the not so tasty pink ones. The beautiful waters of the Euphrates, and the Ataturk dam made it a popular spot for the Turkish people to enjoy on weekends. Both Shebnem and I received a red rose from the head of the rental car agency , who was Mustafa Bey's boss. So nice as it was Mothers day. Seemed like Mustafa bey knew people everywhere we went. I loved the way he waved to schoolchildren as we drove past them. " See how they say Eyvallah and acknowledge us." he remarked. I also admired the toll free call he made, when he noticed an accident on the way. I learned from him that there is a special prayer called Istihara that one can recite in order to ask the divine to guide one via dreams.
This town I found was bringing back the cultivation of the black rose that it was famous for and which had become practically extinct. Once again I had green plums dabbed with salt. This was followed by a delightful tortilla type wheat bread with bran, filled with white cheese and parsley. It was cooked on an upside down wok that sat on a simple stove, tended with wood fire.
Couple of nights in Urfa while wandering the streets in the evening I heard men singing folk songs. Shebnem explained that this was Sıra Geceleri, music gatherings particular to Urfa. Men gather to sing while often the Cigkofte is prepared. Women are traditionally not allowed in these celebrations. The music was thoroughly enjoyable as for the first time I was hearing traditional folk.
May 11- Urfa to Dalaman and then to Datca
Not much of a sleep as my stomach was upset. I was sure that it was due to eating the green plums. By breakfast time I was hungry though. Manici hotel's breakfast menu even though not as lavish as the President, it had some typical Urfan dishes. I was surprised to see dried egg plant and dried bell pepper dishes that were so delicious. Olives had interesting and spicy marinades.
Before we left for the airport Mahmud, the cook gifted both Shebnem and me, some biber paste that he used for the eggplant dish and a jar of pistachio coffee. Packed and ready to go I took a last gaze at the lobby here that was furnished in the grand Ottoman style. Mustafa bey on seeing me pensive in the lobby commented to Shebnem that he thought I looked sad. Indeed I was very sad to leave this town.
At the airport there was a mix up with my boarding pass, as a result of the negligence on the part of a staff member. I noticed that hardly anybody spoke English. Shebnem took it upon herself to rectify the situation. I think the flight got delayed slightly because of this. As we walked to the plane, I saw Shebnem communicating with gestures and words to the pilot as to what happened.
The nature filled drive from Dalaman to Datca took about 2 and a half hours. The driver had an uncanny resemblance to Andy. My neighbor in Los Angeles,Ben Oklar, Andy’s father was Turkish. The way the driver so skillfully negotiated steep mountainous curves made the trip exciting. As per my request he changed the station on the radio from pop to folk music. I could not handle Turkish pop. On either side of the road, stretched orchards of orange, figs and apricots. I saw empty stands that indicated what may be full during summer and fall. Flowers such as foxgloves and red poppies greeted us all the way. On approaching the peninsular city of Datça I could see both the Aegean and the Mediterranean sea. The natural beauty of this area that receives much rain was intoxicating to me whose origins are from luscious and humid Kerala.
Heavy thunder and lightning accompanied us as I got into Orcey hotel that Seda my host had arranged. Once again I got lucky in getting a room with a balcony from where I could see the Mediterranean sea just a few yards in front. For the first time I found myself in a place catering to a different Turkish crowd that I did not care too much about. Even though this was an off season month I could tell that those that visit this place could easily be put in two categories with one common trait. The elderly folks were of the Las Vegas type and the young ones were the pop culture type, both totally comfortable in Western fashions and trends. For the first time I had wifi problems which the young receptionist tried to pass off as due to the thunderstorms ! No hot water either.
May 12- Datca
Woke up to a beautiful sunrise. Took a long walk on the beach front. The shores of the Mediterranean sea or Ak Deniz as they call it here were full of pebbles not sand. The water was rather clear and there were men swimming even though it was early morning. The air was fresh and filled with the fragrance of flowers.
In the afternoon I met Seda my host and fixed timings with her for my talk on yoga and a workshop on Indian devotional music for her students. Seda was a very wealthy and popular person in this community. She took her students twice a year to India where she combined visits to ashrams and regular tourist spots.
In the evening I visited the girls who worked in the office. Got the hot water and wifi situation corrected with diplomatic insistence. All were very young and rather inexperienced at this job. The manager and her co worker Bouquet and her friend Shayma asked a lot of questions about yoga. They knew that I was to talk at Seda's Surya Yoga Studio. As a result I demonstrated excercises in Nada anusandanam and Pranayama in which they participated wholeheartedly. Shayma shared with me her desire to study in England in order to improve her English. A major in Industrial Engineering she desired to work in an area of law, helping women's problems. She spoke of how she would often wake up happy from dreams where she spoke English fluently. English she said uplifted her spirits like nothing else did. Her family owned a pansyon where the guests who stayed there, as Datca is a resort area, got to eat organic food prepared by her grandmother using vegetables from her own garden.
The food situation was not the best here and so needed many a creative approach till finally I got decent food and on time. While waiting in the restaurant I noticed that in the daytime the TV had continuous Turkish pop music while in the evenings, soccer games came on.
I loved to watch the birds here. The seagulls rather slim, sounded more like angry cats. The swallows darted back and forth over the swimming pool, skillfully skimming over the waters as they passed. What a way to get cooled off. Wagtails came right up to my feet to eat crumbs off the floor. There was another type of bird here that looked sort of like a mocking bird but much larger.
May 13- Datca
Took long walks that ended up in city center. Here the mulberry trees on the sidewalks had their branches drooping with fruit. Many stores carried locally grown herbs, almonds, olives and textiles. On my return I saw umbrella stands from where women sold fresh fish and octopus. These were caught by local fisher folk who practically lived in their boats.
Datca surprisingly had very few mosques. This city I heard is rather liberal and so did not vote for the conservative AK party. Stray animals were handled here quite different from India. I noticed that along the beach walk there were small containers, some that had pieces of bread and others had water for them. A touching sight on the beach was to see in the evening, a young couple laying their baby in a large towel and by holding the edges and swinging it back and forth to get their kid to sleep.
In Datca I had to figure out what to do when I return to Istanbul. Previously the last 4-5 days there, would have included attending concerts and spending time with Osman. However plans changed as Du Sems, the ensemble that Osman is a part of, had to be in Sicily at that time for a series of concerts on the music of Turkey and Greece. Even though I was not drawn to visiting Hagia Sofia nor the Topkapi palace, for the sake of family and friends I decided to visit them. The Archaeological Museum was a must for me. In addition, I picked the oldest synagogue Ahrida located in Balat. This is where the Jewish people live since the 14th century when Ottoman Sultan Beyazid the II gave them refuge from the Spanish inquisition. The inside architecture is unique I read, and the highlight is the Teva that resembles Noah's Ark. I informed Erhan of Gemini of this tentative plan in Istanbul. Ahrida visit was optional I told him as I had read that prior to visiting this place the formalities were rather cumbersome.
The excessive wind began to stir up my allergies so I decided to stay indoors and read upon Knidos, the ancient Greek settlement, now in ruins, that I planned to visit the next day.
May 14- Datca
For 130 TL the hotel arranged a car to take me to Knidos, 40 kilometers away from Datca. My interest grew after I read more about this place. There is a legend behind this need. Having completed the kalamezhuthu ritual on the three authentic deities of the text, the Devi mahatmyam, a culmination of 36 years of religious disciplines, I no longer felt the urge to observe Navaratri as usual. Instead I slid naturally into another area. For the last three years instead of the traditional Fall Navaratri observance in honor of Chandi, I had begun observances to Demeter by applying Kerala tantra technics. This need for applying came about, after my study of the city seal of Petaluma. I had also begun to sympathize and appreciate the efforts taken by the group Ethnikoi in Greece. For the first time in recent history the ancient worship system of Greece is being given its rightful place among world religions only because of this group. Ethnikoi is being targeted unfairly by the Government of Greece which is ruled by the Greek Orthodox Church. The Demeter statue taken from Knidos now resting in the British museum drew my attention further. To visit a settlement where the Greeks had once practiced their indigenous religion would open up more avenues of exploration, I figured.
The drive which took an hour was well worth the effort in spite of a mild headache. We went on a winding way through tall mountains. Roads though narrow had very little traffic. On either side grew almond, fig and olive trees. Could not help thinking how blessed Turkey was with this abundance in grain, fruits, vegetables and nuts. The village of Yazi had small houses on either side. The road was so narrow that I felt if I stretched out my arms, I could touch the porches. Reminded me of my trip to Therur near the tip of India. At that time I was researching the origin of the Avalokiteshvara worship that began in Podhiyil hills near Kanya Kumari, at the tip of India. Once again I found this driver too, was very receptive to my singing ilahis. when surrounded by such a beautiful scenery I always felt like singing the poems that the sons of the land composed. It was nice to get the comment that my Turkish was perfect. Very encouraging !
On arriving at the ruined Greek settlement, I stopped at the souvenir shop to get a map of its outlay. The lady let me borrow one but not before stating that she wished Britain would return the statues taken from there. A deep sorrow overcame me seeing how much destruction had taken place as a result of greed and expansionist motives, a good bit of which was based on religious- superiority complexes. While standing on the hill above I could see where the dark blue of the Mediterranean sea met the light blue of the Aegean. Looking from the top the red poppies scattered between the grey blocks of the ruins seemed to proclaim that beauty was not lost after all.
A good bit of the area was blocked as work was going on with heavy equipment. I found one person who spoke English, he was Yazin Gokcer from the Archaeology Dept. of Selcuk University. His take on the statues being taken away was just the opposite of the lady. "We Turks only know how to destroy." he said. Yazin was truly thrilled that I was from the US. This was a new reaction as most often when introduced to the Turks as Hindistanli or Indian, I got a loving response. In Istanbul I remember a man who threw a kiss to Indira Gandhi when he found out where I came from. Another spoke how close the President of Turkey, Erdoğan was to India. When my connection with the US was mentioned the reaction was generally benign. No animosity though. Yazin showed me the book published by Selcuk University that was meant for learning English. It was very poorly done. He wondered if I could teach via Skype, conversational English. I had explained to him that I got my Turkish right only if I thought in my mother tongue Malayalam where the sentence construction is identical. I was also introduced to Yunus, who worked for the Turkish government on this project and who was especially good at calligraphy. On my return a good cup of Turkish coffee took care of my headache.
For lunch the girls at the office had me try the bulgur wheat salad called kisir. It is stirred with sweet red pepper paste to which was added a bunch of chopped salad veggies, green onions and eaten with lettuce, pickled cabbage, green tomatoes and olives. Extremely nutritious and tasty it was. Yogurt with minced carrots and dry mint served as a side dish. I considered it quite a victory when these girls so much into pop, began to sing the chorus with me when I sang ilahis, as requested by them. Had an interesting conversation with a friend of the manager, Berna. She had been a Sahaja yoga practitioner for 4 years, finally gave it up and so had many questions about Hindu philosophy
The quiet gardener became friends with me as soon as we shared our love of plants. Murat a part time chef who reminded me of Molto Mario ended up making gourmet dishes for my vegetarian palate. By the way the tea packets in the room from one brand- Dogadan was awful. I had been accustomed to good tea all along. So too the tea in the restaurant was pitiful, probably the same brand. I ended up going to a local supermarket to buy Earl Grey. Oh yes, then onwards my morning tea sessions combined with bird and sea watching became a routine that I looked forward to each day.
During the evening walk along the beach two ladies stopped to converse with me, for they recognized me as being Indian. Sherma was so excited to share her love for India, for the deity Ganesh and her solid belief in mantra, even though she had never visited India. Her friend who could speak only Turkish had been to India too. Sherma showed me her japa mala for Ganesh and a green beaded prayer mala for Islamic chants. In saying goodbye she hugged and showed her cheek for a kiss as she was thrilled to hear what I had to say about Ganesh. Though taken back initially at this request I yielded, for by now I recognized a prominent Turkish trait. The Turkish people are not afraid to show their emotions. They are also very romantic and their love and respect to all is an encompassing one. It was so common to hear the suffix abi ( elder brother), bey ( sir), abla ( older sister) when people addressed each other. Hugging in the public out of undiluted love not just between a couple was rather common. When any person experienced some difficulty, strangers would rush to help. There was an awareness of belonging to the community of man that was more important than personal individuality. Families I noticed therefore were bonded much closer than in America.
May 15- Datca
Wandered in the streets of City Center. Met an artist by name Ilter Topcu, who has a store that sells products he makes. Here was a person whose experiences in India, where he stayed for a while, caused him to tell me " India is the Mother of the World".
A typical memory blank situation happened to me when I tried to withdraw money from the ATM. As it is have a phobia for ATMs. Could not figure what took place and found I could not remember the sequence in my code ! So then on I had to seriously plan the finances for the rest of my days as many places do not take credit cards. It was a humbling experience.
The lecture cum music session at Seda's Surya Yoga studio went surprisingly well. I discovered that the Turks could handle pronouncing Sanskrit almost flawlessly compared to English speaking folks. They picked up the music too with ease.
Only in Sanliurfa did I reach a climax in understanding why I had to come here. Throughout the trip, Istanbul, Ankara, Sarikoy, Nallihan, Urfa, Harran, Halfeti, Gobekli area and now in Datca and Knidos, all along there was this one thread that had the flavor of Love Divine. The satisfaction of my passion for the contents of love, as expressed through the ilahis, where transparent love for mankind could never be separated from love of the Creator of this world, was evidenced here, on almost a daily basis. My love affair came through not via the elite, the rich or top of society. It came through ordinary people like taxi drivers, guides, simple family members, store keepers, cooks, service providers etc. The transmission of giving and receiving love was smooth and uninhibited. Often we would engage in casual conversation ending in questions about my visit. So then upon hearing me sing some ilahis and speaking about the poets, a bond would surface between us, where the sharing of love for the divine was the core. They felt free to express their philosophy and approach to the divine and narrated many incidents of divine intervention in their personal life. Only in such folks did I find an unadulterated non- commercial love for the divine. My selams to them from whom I learned so much.
May 16- Datca
Early morning stroll followed by a quick look over of the Saturday Farmers Market. Glad that so much was so close to the hotel. Rows and rows of stalls featured spices, fresh vegetables, grains, jewelry, crocheted work that Datca was famous for, regular name brand clothes and plenty of food to eat.
Returned to do some packing, the only time when everything ends up looking so organized. Down below I heard loud conversation. This being a weekend, families were lolling about in the pools. I could hear the calls of " anne, anne" meaning mommy, mommy, typical of kids of that age making constant demands on their mother.
Strolling all the way to the distant harbor in the evening, I noticed kids in a park, sliding down a ramp with their bottoms on torn up cardboard sheets. It looked like the sheets were provided for them. Then by the shore a lone fisherman sat working on his bright orange net, fixing every tear so deftly. Foods on display in the restaurants by the shore had varieties I had never seen elsewhere. This was a great place for those who love seafood. One strange vegetable dish called Deniz Borulcesi caught my eye. Returning to the hotel I checked it out to find it was what in the States is called Sea beans. Oh yes, one can find them off the coast in Bodega bay too. That evening the loud soccer games that folks watched in the bar and in the restaurant kept me up late into the night. The Turks love soccer.
May 17- Datca to Istanbul
Dalaman airport though small, was very neat. Met a young Telegu Indian couple from England who were on a vacation. They too loved Turkey and felt it had the best of the East and the West. In the waiting room I saw trees loaded with flowers in an adjacent courtyard. They were exactly the ones that I remember my grandmother’s house in Kunnamkulam had. They were 2 tall slender trees that greeted us on either side, as we came down the stone steps to get to her house. Parijatam they called it in Kochi, spikes of tiny white flowers with such intense fragrance.
In every plane I took so far, I saw that the stewardesses never seem to help passengers load their luggage in compartments above. So too when the luggage was heaved on to the belt in the airport. No one helps, strange. So too often in Indian airports I noticed the same behavior. Once again from the plane I saw snow capped mountains although the snow seemed to be melting fast.
At Istanbul airport even though this was a Sunday, there was the familiar and loving face of Erhan. We spent some time in the airport discussing possible trips that I could take in the four days I had left. The skill he had in the way he combined professionalism with genuine concerns for the human was rare and admirable. He helped me figure out my ATM problems with much laughter. I felt with all that he had arranged for me on this trip, I knew I had gained another son like character in Turkey. One I could be very proud of for many reasons.
Istanbul greeted me with heavy traffic and people picnicking everywhere. It was fascinating to see the simple makeshift grills families brought from home. No fire rules and no one was getting hurt ! Every available space of green was taken up. Men and women were huddled over the meat and vegetables, chopping them up for cooking. Fathers played ball or flew kites with the kids. Young folks and women in long gowns and head scarves played hand ball. Humanity was laid out there for me to see. Did not mind the snail pace of the traffic. All along new buildings stood side by side with vestiges of ancient Roman walls and forts.
Returning to the same hotel where I stayed before, I was surprised to Ergin, a receptionist, who usually works at night. A gentleman's gentleman was he. He took time and trouble over every request made to him by visitors who often crowded the office. Got the same room 521 which he booked for me ahead of time knowing that I loved that room. When Sherap at the Guest Relations Desk asked how the trip was, my answer was " The trip was great. I feel I am back home now! " Yes, Istanbul had become a home.
Glad to come out to the balcony and gaze at the calm Marmara sea with redlined boats all parked all over. The sea gulls here look and sound more like the ones in the States. To the right I could see the large Beyazid mosque that is being remodeled. In the olden days it served also as the fire watch tower. The sultans had this watch tower built as in those days buildings were made of wood.
Visited the Archaeological museum where the section on the history of the city of Istanbul occupied a separate floor all its own. It had many interesting displays, charts and exhibits. I was awed to notice as to how many civilizations called this city their home! A strange sense of sorrow took hold of my mind when I saw the Hittite and Mesopotamian collections. The Kings looked so dignified. What happened to their culture, their ambitions? Are the only remains of that glory just in stone sculptures and broken pottery? Or if one believes in reincarnation, are we carrying any of that knowledge or desires in us? Typical of me, who believes in the right of cultures to worship the divine as thy saw fit, I regretted the loss of their particular connection to the divine that was expressed in so many intriguing symbols.
Turkey situated so close to middle eastern cities that are undergoing traumatic experiences must find it tough to stay balanced. Ataturk's legacy of secularism has already been entrenched here yet there seems some sprouting of ultraconservatism occurring now. To me it seems that while secularism cannot afford to forget the past, conservatism on the other hand cannot afford to discourage growth and change for the betterment of society. If politicians would remove greed from their minds and keep the above two values, there may be untold progress in countries that have a rich past. Young nations like America and Australia may have to remind themselves that there is absolutely no substitute for a culture that has taken centuries to form. There is a depth to these countries that need to be understood and respected. Indeed, this would facilitate greater peace.
I bought fresh roasted chestnuts again and then back to the bazaars looking for gifts. At a restaurant that claimed to serve Ottoman cuisine, I had green beans, egg plant with lentils, carrots and dill leaves which I ate with rice. Somehow the plump grains of rice coated with oil that was served everywhere here, was not to my taste. I did miss the long grain basmati rice.
It was wonderful to meet Amy's cousin, young Nicholas who is majoring in Turkish studies. Here was a person with whom I could share the newly discovered love for the Turkish people. What a well traveled, tender and sensitive person and a lover of Nature he is. He relished the Indian food that was delivered by Kamlesh, a Gujarati that I had just met that morning while wandering in the bazaar. Kamlesh was getting ready for the opening of a vegetarian Indian restaurant, where he would be doing the cooking. Turkish people tend to like only their food it seems. The second choice would be Italian. Nothing past that. I did not see any ethnic restaurants in the areas I wandered.
The visit to Hagia Sofia left me with utter disgust. The walls had been scraped off with no evidence of iconic frescoes. Instead rows and rows of calligraphy mounted on stands lined the rooms. Two wrongs never made a right. First the original temple to Aphrodite was converted by the Byzantines into a church, then the Ottomans turned it into a mosque. Now it is a museum. A museum that to me, stands to remind us of the arrogance of religion and of greedy kings. I bolted out of there fast to save my sanity. I visited next the nearby Topkapi palace. Another disappointment. The grounds were vast and left to one's imagination as to what might have been there. Only the kitchen and the relics room had something of interest. Did not wish to see the harem section. The rest were bare. All was not lost. Just as I was leaving the palace building, the famous Ottoman Military band, Mehter, performed outside. It was a marvelous sight and sound experience.
Consumed by hunger I stopped at a restaurant that displayed some vegetarian dishes. The way they made the eggplant with a small amount of french lentils and a dab of yogurt on top was a nice change. I have noticed that the inside of the eggplants here even when roasted do not turn grey like they do in the US. It stays a creamish green. Perhaps the variety was different. The host here had a build and look that struck me. Perfectly at ease I asked him. " Are you Turkish ? ". With a face that broke into a smile with no trace of offence he replied. " Yes I am. Why ?". “Something about you reminds me of being Greek" I said. He pointed his finger at me and broke into laughter and said" I am from the Kara Deniz (Black Sea) area and many of us there have traces of Greek blood !"
I was surprised that the Guest Relations person at the hotel, the tall and beautiful Sherap was from Iran. Turkey presented better opportunities for study and employment, hence she opted to be here though her family live in Iran. She suggested that my next trip should be to Iran and listed a bunch of cities that would hold my special interests.
May 20 - Istanbul
The trip to the Ahrida synagogue situated in the Jewish part of town, Balat, planned by Erhan with great pains, was simply as a response to my wish. This is the oldest synagogue in Turkey. I wanted to see its famous boat-shaped tevah, reading platform shaped like the ark of the covenant. There are strict formalities including informing them details of one’s passport. The appointment was at 10am however due to the difficulty in finding this place in spite of the map, I was 30 minutes late. The gates were bolted. No one answered the intercom either. Part of the problem was my negligence in not having my cell phone on. Apparently Erhan who was trying to alert me about the situation and had no success therefore. A passerby young Turk from this neighborhood spoke for a long time on my behalf to the caretakers who lived just a few houses away. I could see the lady argue with him about me coming late.re was no change.
The kindness shown by Burhan, the driver who relentlessly kept asking people directions to this place and the way he was hoping that I would get to see the place, took my notice. On my return the concierge and others standing outside the doors of the hotel took sincere interest in whether or not I was successful. Perhaps they already knew something about this place. The Jewish folks who live in that area are rather aloof, they said.
In the afternoon I visited the Grand Bazaar to buy gifts. I noticed then a lane solely lined with bookshops. In Sinan Gozen's 50 years old bookshop that specializes in rare books, calligraphy and portraits, I found here a book, that I had wanted ever since I saw it at the Ankara Museum. The book was a bulky volume on the history of the 12, 000 years old Anatolian civilization. It is extremely well written with photos galore. I had early called several shops and checked at the local museums with no success. It was not available on Amazon and on Abe Books it was frightfully expensive. Not only did I get the book but also got to know the owner and his son who were very knowledgeable in Turkish mysticism and music.
In the evening as I walked towards Aksaray, I noticed the clothing stores on the main road carried exclusively foreign name brand ones. This was the same in the Grand Bazaar. Nowhere could I find any traditional clothing. There were some near the area where the Topkapi palace was, but they were gaudy and shiny almost like those used in belly dancing. How sad. Perhaps only small towns and villages still carry traditional materials for clothing. What I saw as display from these stores contrasted with what lay by the sidewalk in that area. Huge ancient broken columns that had carvings, were piled up in a random fashion. Folks sat on them to rest and smoke. Smoking is a habit so rampant amongst all ages here. Wondered what the boulders were doing there as they looked like rejects from excavations. Truly modern Istanbul is a city sitting on many older cities and civilizations.
May 21- Istanbul
The way I landed with a pair of silver ring ear rings was quite an experience gained from a small shop, Gold 585 in the Grand Bazaar. Once again through the selection of this jewelry I had conversations with the owner, in my broken Turkish and his broken English. The topic was on the divine. He like others shared with me, intimate experiences of the divine, which he like the others said that surprisingly had shared with no one else. By now I was totally convinced based on the manifold experiences on this trip, that the language of the Company of Goodness and Truth Seekers (Satsang in Sanskrit) goes beyond that of words and religious affiliations. Words only facilitated the formation of a runway, from where love of the divine could take off, like an airplane. All of life is an excuse for this transmission!
That night I stopped at a small internet cafe nearby. The young man like many others that I had met on this journey learning about my involvement with ilahis, wanted to know if I was a Muslim. To him I said, like I said to others, who asked the same question, " I have made a request to Allah that all doors be open for me to enter. Hence even though I was born and raised a Hindu, the doors of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and now Turkish mysticism has been opened. I know many more will open." Most were touched by this answer but this young man had a different twist. He quickly got his lap top going and on the screen, he displayed the movie, The Life of Pi and showed it to me. He exclaimed joyfully. " Like him!". " Yes" I said emphatically.
Lying in bed, the last night in Beyazid, the imminent approach of the end of a beautiful dream, passed before my mind, like scenes from a movie.
End of a Journey, pilgrimage perhaps
In this beloved country that is a bridge
Between the East and West
The universe had laid out a red carpet for me.
The background was painted,
The land with soil moist, some dry, both red and black
The seas, the mountains, the farms
And orchards dotted with little villages
Serpentine rivulets and rivers
That winded through fields of grain
Yielding as we passed to tall buildings
Cities with modern facilities
Connecting the Rural to the New
With roads that are good.
Museums and excavations
Pointing to a distant past
Proclaim my descent here
As coming from the ever so far.
Within each town big or small
Pockets of crowds and bazaars
With plenty of people and colorful wares
Eateries, mosques and parks everywhere.
The red flag waving goodbye,
Every now and then catching my eye
The kiss that my hand received, out of respect and love
Faces of those that showered affection and concern
For me, some known and some very new.
Radiant smiles from sweepers, storekeepers and stern faces
A disarmament ensuing when " Gunaydin" was uttered.
Most of all, the music of words simply divine
Coming from sources least predicted.
With my head bent in awe
Feeling so blessed as never before
Forever in place, to all of the above
Selams are in order
From this anne, abla and hala
A musafir at last.
May 22- Istanbul
My last day of this beautiful journey. Early morning, even though I woke up after the morning azan prayer. I could hear melodic chants being recited from far. A very auspicious and calming feeling overcame me. I stepped on to the balcony to take a last look at the calm Marmara sea, with its boats. Felt very blessed as I looked around and heard the sea gulls cry. I was soon to turn away from this city that had become a home to me and from Anatolia, land of the mothers that lay beyond. With a deep breath, I spoke with a sigh of love and gratitude.
" Istanbul, I am to leave you now ! "I said, looking towards the Marmara sea.
The End of this Journey
POEMS written in connection with this pilgrimage are posted in the Poems section in this website, under the title, Mystic Turkey.
Istanbul, to many a mother and to me too
The Flag of Turkey