So, after 4 years 2 different companies promising and not sending me on any international studies, finally i get a chance.I may have missed out on official trips to Thailand, Indonesia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh, but that's fine. When i did get the chance, i came to Turkey!
It wasn't easy, as is with most things with my life, to get the trip going. But god seems to be kinder nowadays and i did finally make it here, never mind an irritant or 2 like work.
Turkey gave a good impression even before landing. Except for the cramped seating, pretty good flight, attendants and food. And good view of Istanbul as you land.
Me and Aditya were welcomed to Istanbul by that kind of taxi driver we thought went extinct with the 90s. Once he was sure we were Indians (and not Pakistanis), he reeled off what he knew about India – Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Raj Kapoor, “Awaara hoon….”. A lot of people we have met so far do not understand India. Its Hindistan for them. Some takes us to be Pakistanis, some Iranians, some Egyptians. A few more days in the sun and Kenyan would be on the cards.
Istanbul has nice parks or sea front cafes along the entire coastline. It seems a normal practice for families to come out in the evenings and spend time at these parks – playing around with kids, flying kites, chatting with friends, working out or maybe even preparing and enjoying dinner till late at night. But the best pastime that Istanbul citizen seem to love is fishing. Some have own fishing lines etc, some hire the kit and catch the small fish (which is available across all the restaurants.) Age or gender are no bar, all love fishing it seems. A group of taxi drivers we met along the jetty insisted we sing along “Awaara hoon” with them, they were anyway singing local songs along with beer and chips. On weekends, these parks and the select beaches across the city are packed with locals relaxing there. Its almost like there is a government regulation that prevents Turkey citizens from spending time at home. Most of these parks also have exercise machines, which are amply used. Betting on horse races , football and playing Turkish Tavlar are other common pastimes. I initially wondered how they get so much time, but now got it. Kaam ke time pe kaam., fir aaram.
To the list of places where i prayed in recent times, you can now add the Sultanahmet Mosque.
The air kissing made famous in Page 3 parties in India are a common mode of greeting friends, but a more common way seems to be for men to touch their heads. People seem friendly, everyone you passby gives a smile, nods and /or enquires where we are from. (The repeated assumption about us being Pakistanis is getting on my nerves a bit now).At the restaurant in the local market close to our hotel, people know us well now – one fellow also stupid enough to bet on a horse after asking to select it. That horse had won last week, finished 9th out of 11 this week.(“Good choice,this horse win, i fuck it every week” – Raki talking). The restaurant people get veg food immediately on seeing me. People come up and talk about India, Turkey and other info they can talk about, like when Tarkan showed up on TV – “he gay, biiiig gay, no, not gay, bisexual.”
Turkey is a smokers paradise. Your girlfriend/ wife or anyone else unlikely to nag you about smoking – she may herself light one. or two. and then more. Also order a beer or Raki.
Efes is the Kingfisher of Turkey, and the Efes cafe’s are awesome. Raki is the local drink with Yeni Raki being preferred brand. To me it tastes like, feni mixed with sauf. Turkish people have a curios way of having hard drinks – 2 small glasses, one with your vodka / raki and other with water / cola. One sip from here, one sip from there and then mix if you want.
And oh, they love Fiat and Punto and Linea. Hyundai’s are taxis (hehehe). The taxi drivers are no better than ours, but most of them are polite.The taxis there seem to have more features than some of the new Fiats, I20s and Skoda’s i have seen in India. And there is always my lovely Tata Indica around!!!
The shopkeepers are also pretty polite, who patiently try to understand what you want and then smile when you dont buy anything and walk away. One guy actually was angry and abusive but i spoke to him in Kannada settled the issue (buli, magne , bewarsi… )
Actually, one would think all of Turks as nice gentle people who nod and smile to all other people.
I am not even talking about the infrastructure facilities, its Europe. One pain point was, you cannot, just cannot cross the road or take a U-Turn anywhere, since traffic is fast moving on most hours, you have to go to designated places for these things. The metro, trams, trains, buses and ferries work almost round the clock and are pretty efficient. And they are required, Istanbul is vast. 20 times Mumbai’s area, same population. Divided in 2 – European and Asian side. The Europan side is a bit cramped, narrow roads , small and low, village type houses, cobblestone lanes etc. while the Asia side is the newly developed region, wide roads, multi storey buildings etc. That doesn't mean there is no traffic,its there all day but peak hours suck big time.
The women there can be classified into 2 types – those who dress modern and those who don't. This doesn't mean that ones who wear hijabs etc are any less confident, professional or beautiful than the ones who dress in modern urban dresses. Infact, they could be the best of friends, just different choice of lifestyles. And they are all beautiful, most have fair clear skin, sharp features, and smiling face above all. Stylish accessories, hair set fashionably,trendy clothes and a air of self confidence, comfortable with whatever they are wearing. Most women wear casual dresses on most days .Infact, even most men do. Turks spend a lot of time in outdoor activities which is reflected in their fitness levels as well.
Turkey is actually European to look at but Asian at heart. So habits like littering, throwing cigarette butts about are common (thankfully no spitting). But there is some magic power that clears all of it by the night (or early morning – these Turks are out till 1 – 2 am on weekdays, with family, kids and all). Extended families out for evening excursions, picnics or dinner by the park are common.
The Belly Dancing shows there are actually a part of wedding celebration tradition , so if you go to any of these places, you treated to lot of food, with loads of it being veg and the male and female dance and music shows. They also enact a ritual for some of the gals getting married, in full wedding gear.
For some reason, the wedding function is more Christian style than Muslim, flowing gowns and all that, followed by photo-shoots all-over the scenic seaside cafes all along the city.
Princes’ Islands are like the Matheran of Istanbul. No vehicles allowed, you have to go along in horse cart or cycle. (I cycled and lived to tell the tale). The big and beautiful mansions of the rich and famous need to be seen to be believed. Sailing is another pastime on weekends,mostly on the Asia side. There are no beaches in Istanbul, on the Asia side you have some small patches of rocky / muddy / sandy land which pass of as a beach and the Turks come and play beach games and sunbath there. (This is how travel gives you perspective – the Turks used to literally naked to absorb as much as possible of the sun that i was avoiding). Izmir and Antalya regions down south have good beaches it seems, i’ll possibly go to Izmir in mid July. They say Izmir is more beautiful compared to Istanbul.
Troy is nothing but khandar, but the bus ride to it is awesome! Breathtakingly awesome. And then you see the Turks around not even looking out to appreciate the beauty
For Indians, the traditional shopping destinations are not too interesting. And expensive. You can stick to the cheap souvenirs and dry fruits if you wish.
Outside of India, Turkey must ne the only country consuming tea in gallons? But they prefer having what we call as green tea here. Turkish cofee is another matter, slowly i fell in love with it. Its like the filter cofee we get in South India, but stronger. Milk has to be added to everything as per taste. Food there is prepared without salt. You may have to add salt / pepper before every morsel. The meat eaters prefer grilled fish/ chicken/ lamb, which was not suitable to Indian tastes i am told. But the cheese was good. The Turks mostly have goat’s milk (and i have identified that as the reason they are so fair ).
Police presence is never visible there, but incase of any issues, especially traffic issues, they just appear out of nowhere to solve the problem. And of they surprise you by honking from behind you, they say sorry. There is an elite division of police that deals with narcotics, smartly dressed in black, the policemen (and women ) can check anyone anywhere it seems. But i am told you dont want to be involved with them.
Taksim Square is by far the most happening place in Istanbul, and an estimated 2 million people walk from Taksim to Istikbal Avenue daily. That may be true. The lanes and bylanes of Taksim are dotted with discs, pubs, sports bars. erotic shops, hookah joints and places where you can pick someone for company for a price. At 100 TL / hour plus food and drinks, you better think before you go ahead. And then dont go ahead.
For an international airport, Istanbul airport is pretty sad. (admittedly, my only comparison is with Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangkok)
It seems June and July are the only hot months in Turkey. But that hot was winter in Mumbai. and its windy at almost all times, after sunset you actually feel cold. For the first time in my life, i saw a day where sun rises at 5am and sets around 9 pm. for the first few day, it was disorientating. But soon got used it.
A new experience in this trip was watching football with Europeans. Next time anyone calls India cricket fans crazy, i’ll ask them to go to Europe. People cry on losing!
Met a lot of Afghans and Pakistanis as well. They are normal people, and happy to see Indians.
Now lets see where i go next.