Turkey grand finale: Surreal Cappadocia

Words fail me when I try to describe Cappadocia  or Kapadokya as the Turks refer to it. So I will rely on two trusted sources to do the work for me.

Lonely Planet: Cappadocia is like landing on another planet. As if plucked from a whimsical fairytale and set down upon the stark Anatolian plains, Cappadocia is a geological oddity of honeycombed hills and towering boulders of other-worldly beauty.

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Fairy Chimneys (pic from internet)

Wiki: Cappadocia, a semi-arid region in central Turkey, is full of other-worldly natural sites, most notably the fairy chimneys – tall, cone-shaped rock formations clustered in Monks Valley and elsewhere. Popular for exploration are Bronze Age homes carved into valley walls by troglodytes (cave dwellers) and later used as refuges by early Christians. The 100m-deep Ihlara Canyon houses numerous rock-face churches.

10355797_10152484322251888_3865883129227337933_nVolcanic eruptions created this surreal moonscape: the lava flows formed tuff rock, which wind and rain sculpted into sinuous valleys with curvy cliff faces and pointy fairy chimneys in the Göreme valley. (Source-LP)

10653462_10152484322636888_5285493931760597593_nI first heard of Cappadocia when I saw some photos posted by a friend of mine and wondered if this place was for real. When I decided to join my friends for the Turkey tour, they wanted to keep it free and easy but I was so consumed by my curiosity for this surreal place that I made my tour very hectic by including Cappadocia and Ephesus in my itinerary. A day in Ephesus is good enough to explore it but you need at least 2 nights to enjoy the magnificent offerings of Cappadocia satisfactorily.

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Abandoned pigeon holes carved on the rock surfaces

This place has an equally remarkable human history. Probably looking at the way the landform was eroded by nature, the locals took a cue and began chiselling their homes into the region’s soft rock, some of which have become today’s boutique fairy-chimney and cave hotels which look more stunning at night.

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One of the fancier cave hotels
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Another cave hotel at night time (Photo credits: elkepevi.com)

They also carved underground shelters and and as a result, in the beginning of the 4th century AD, an urbanized but underground cavern architecture was created here. In fact, tunnel complexes formed entire towns with as many as eight different storeys hidden underground.

10445550_10152484325626888_5188795889447892071_nI took an evening flight to Nevşehir, where I (along with many others) was picked up by a van which dropped us to our respective hotels. Thankfully, no glitch happened here. My hotel was in Ürgüp and I was the last one to be dropped, close to midnight. I had booked myself in a cave hotel although it was just for a few hours. It was a very cosy and cute one, owned/managed by a Malayali Turk whose grandfather had migrated here and settled down after marrying one of the local women.

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Hotel Manager

HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE

I had booked a balloon ride the next day which meant a wake up call at 2.30 am! I quickly absorbed the unique interiors of my cave dwelling and tried to catch a few hours of sleep. My ride came on time and I was taken to the balloon site when it was still dark.

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Getting ready for take off after many instructions
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UP we go
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View from our balloon
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Vegetation
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Accordion-ridged valley
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Happy me
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The balloons go pretty low for you to observe the surreal landscape at close
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Time for the sun to rise
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Good morning
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Flying over the city
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Time to let out the livestock
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With 2 jolly Brazilian co-ballooners from Bello Horizonte
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Cheers to a safe landing
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Various flying objects

MY CAVE HOTEL

I don’t remember the name of this tiny place but it is still very vivid in my memory as a one-of-a-kind cave dwelling experience. Here are some pics.

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Entrance
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Turkish artefacts
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The hotel
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Another corner
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Breakfast area – Mr Nair is the guy in red
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Low hanging grapes
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Close-up
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My little room in a cave
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Reception area
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Neighbouring hotel
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The surreal neighbourhood

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If you are in Turkey, there must be cats
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Just a few of them
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Under the car

TREKKING IN GOREME VALLEY

After a hearty breakfast, I went off for a hike with a tour group. Come walk with me…

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Ancient volcanic eruptions blanketed this region with thick ash, which solidified into a soft rock—called tuff—tens of meters thick. Wind and water went to work on this plateau, leaving only its harder elements behind to form a fairy tale landscape of cones, pillars, pinnacles, mushrooms, and chimneys, which stretch as far as 130 feet (40 meters) into the sky. (Source – National Geographic)

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Almost like a psychedelic dream
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Pumpkins
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Happy to be here
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Indiana Jones
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Walk on…

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More food
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Nut vendor
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Enter a caption

As you trek along Göreme Valley, you will see a series of pigeon houses riddling the rock faces. Traditionally, the local farmers  used to collect the birds’ droppings to use as fertiliser. They not only fed them but also painted their homes with kilim-style motifs using vegetable dyes. Cappadocia’s pigeons really lived in style then but now, most of them are empty  and the locals engage themselves serving human visitors. The downside of booming tourism.

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Pigeon houses
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Decorations made with vegetable dye

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More pigeon holes
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Almost decorated like a shrine

10592830_10152484328086888_6903008380720935149_nPigeons were kept because of their eggs, poop-fertiliser and messenger service.

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Road side cafe for tired tourists
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Toilet
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Ahem ahem!
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In case you are thirsty after the trek
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Tiny watermelons

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More pigeon holes
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Self explanatory sign: I loved the pigeon hole icon
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Alluring comfort of shade
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Presence of minerals
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Effects of Tourism

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Till 1953, people lived here

Human hands also created incredible works of art in this rocky wonderland – they carved caves, living quarters, places of worship, stables, and storehouses in the soft stone.

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Does this look real?
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One more cafe
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We stopped at this town for a shopping break
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Zooming in to the top storey

10320461_10152484331766888_125305611901134583_nIf you live in one of these cave hotels, you will very soon realise why the locals loved to live in these caves – the tuff rock keeps the rooms cool in summer and warm in winter.

Due to lack of time, I missed out on the amazing fresco-adorned rock-cut churches of Göreme Open Air Museum (you need to take multiple tours to cover the whole area). So that gives me yet another reason to re-visit Turkey.

Turkey.Göreme038.jpgFresco depicting the crucification of Christ on the ceiling of Tokali Kilise @Göreme (above)

UNDERGROUND CITY

However, I did not miss out on the unbelievable underground city that gave refuge to many locals. Göreme was located precariously between rival empires – first the Greeks and Persians , and later, the Byzantine Greeks and a host of rivals. So, depending on the political climate, the citizens needed a place to hide – which they found by digging tunnels into the naturally soft rocks. The site also provided refuge for local Byzantine Christians who were persecuted – first by the Romans and then by the Muslim raiders. The sound of approaching hooves literally made them go underground!

By the 4th century, Christians fleeing Rome’s persecution had arrived in some numbers and established monastic communities here. The monks excavated extensive dwellings and monasteries and created Byzantine frescoed paintings in cave chapels beginning in the 7th century, which endure in well-preserved isolation to this day.

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Animals were kept here
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Probably the kitchen

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Alcoves
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Ventilation shaft invisible from above the ground
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Close up of the shaft

Visit to a Carpet Factory

This was just a small part of the tour with a view to encouraging local cottage industry. We were wooed with Turkish tea and savouries and shown countless carpets/rugs/kilims.

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Weaving kilims
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Cocoons: the not-so-strong threads (partially seen on the right basket) are recycled
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This is how silk yarn is extracted after putting them in boiling water

And then we were back on the road again, stopping for a short while at a scenic viewpoint.

10646917_10152484334511888_2204961223387582518_nIronically, the primary threats to this World Heritage site come from the same forces of erosion that created these surreal landforms. Forces of erosion are now wearing off some of the human creations to give them a more natural look. Extensive preservation efforts are on to preserve these natural wonders of Göreme.

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One of our stops for enjoying the moonscape panorama
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Uchisar Castle
The adventurous few climb up to Uchisar Castle, the highest point of Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia, to satisfy their adrenalin rush and to enjoy the stunning panoramic views. We watched them from afar.
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Road side stall

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Closer to the main city as departure time approaches
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It was just after the 2014 elections – a poster of Ataturk looms large

There was also another very commercial stop at a gem manufacturer’s shop where I didn’t feel inclined to take any photos. Some of the women thoroughly enjoyed this stop and happily bought rings and other forms of jewellery. I was dying to go back to Istanbul.

Here is a short link to some other attractions in Cappadocia. The 7-picture slideshow gives a good enough guideline.

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Turkey grand finale: Surreal Cappadocia

  1. hi, this was a great read and loved all the pictures. pigeons would interst an adda in calcutta i think. i may never go to turkey, so your posts will be my little trip i guess.

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