Turkey! (8)

Day 8:

“I have 60 camels. You have two very beautiful daughters. Would you like to exchange?” asked a man addressing my father. While my sister wanted to use the choicest of words for this Turk we came across at 8 am in Sultanahmet, I couldn’t take my eyes off his ear, which seemed surgically restored with grafted skin. One of his camels must have bitten it off!

It was our last day in Turkey and we’d planned to run through as much of Istanbul as we could – eight hours before we had to rush to the airport to fly out to India. Hopping over from Sultanahmet, our first stop was across to the European side, the wooden Galatta Kalesi, which offers a 360 degree view of the city. But more than that the walk up the stairs to the tower is so pretty, sprinkled with painted walls, cafes, memoir shops, and paintings of city scenes being sold by the road. I’d planned to walk down from the Tower to Taksim Square, via Cukur Cuma Cadesi, the street famed for selling antiques but the roads of Istanbul did it for me. I’d not taken into account the inclines of the streets, considering the city is built on hills. Each step required so much effort and what made it worse was the ease with which even the elderly seemed to walking down streets with an incline of more than 40 degrees! Chucking Cukur Cuma Cadesi, we got off the last stop of the metro, Taksim, took in the view of the Dolmabahce Palace from a couple of hundred metres away and started the ‘trek’ towards the Square. In the pictures below, you’ll see women’s shoes lined up on a wall – an art installation funded by Kahve Dunyasi, the CCD equivalent in Turkey, highlighting the deaths due to domestic violence.

Luckily for us, after a thirty minute walk to the Square, meeting and greeting as many people as cats, we found that Cukur Cuma street dealers had set up an exhibition at the Square! Among the trinkets, family heirlooms, old keys, musical instruments, metal statues were postcards, many of them featuring Ataturk and private messages between loved ones (some of which are in my collection now – shout out to anyone who reads French!). I snapped my DDLJ/Trafalgar Square moment among pigeons at Taksim and I couldn’t be happier chewing on simit (way too dry for my taste though) and roasted chestnuts. Another week in Istanbul wouldn’t have been enough for me, there’s so much to see in the city. But everything has to come to an end, even the best of vacations.

As the plane took off for New Delhi, I was leaving behind a piece of my heart in this beautiful country and carrying back a lot of memories, the nazar boncuk (evil eye) talisman, Turkish delights, Pamukkale cotton socks, Turkish kahve and most importantly, body pain!

Gule gule Turkey. Tesekkur Ederim!

In front of the famed Blue Mosque, two of six minarets in focus.
The view of Istanbul from the top of the Galata Tower or the Galata Kulesi. In the backdrop is the European side, the Bosphorus River and the Asian side of Istanbul.
And the last picture in our Istanbul hotel! I will never forget the Turkish Kreps their chef cooked. So yummy in the tummy!

Graciously Yours!

Turkey! (7)

Day 7 :

We’d chalked out this day for the smaller pleasures of life, for a mid-afternoon siesta, for a walk in the village. And for the royally famous, mixed origin (Roman and Turkish), communal bathing ritual of the hamam.

Waking up to the view of the Pamukkale mountain, knowing that you were in no hurry to reach somewhere but that you could walk down the broad road laid outside your hotel, chat up with a 60 year old man selling cotton bedsheets while cycling through town was peaceful in its own way. Obviously, the cyclist-seller didn’t appreciate that I wasn’t carrying Turkish Lira snuck somewhere in my night clothes!

A mother shooed us away, for we came in the view of her camera which was taking a time lapse of the hot air balloons rising through. Her four year old son giggled as we scampered away from her grimaces. While the father sauntered away into town, exploring, the mother and sister donned swimwear to get into the pool! So much for Cleopatra’s pool, where they refused to even step in! I, however, readied myself for a hamam, mentally readied myself, considering its a communal bathing ritual. I still wasn’t sure if I’d make it through without embarrassing myself but stepping into the place, I realised 11 am on a weekday in Pamukkale wasn’t exactly a communal bath time for the Turks! And am I glad for that! The experience, without getting into the specifics, was nonetheless exhilarating and nerve wrecking! I would recommend this to people but with disclaimers, of course.

Before stepping onto the flight for Istanbul, our last stop on the trip, we went pub hopping simply for the ambience and the views that they provided. We met a cafe owner who had been around for almost 40 years, and with the unnerving knack of recognising nationalities of tourists! He was a pleasant old man and probably the only one with that old world charm still going for him. One of the helpers at a cafe was a Pakistani, from Karachi and he helped me haggle with a shop owner for a dress I liked! We didn’t really succeed on the haggling but the familiarity and love that he exuded was heartening. May he get to Canada soon.

Night fell for us in Istanbul and dinner was again at Ozzie’s who welcomed us with a smile and my free Turkish tea! He even offered to take us around Istanbul to get a glimpse of the night life, but unfortunately for him, we were out of the country on the weekend and he was working the weekdays! Next time, though, next time.

Calling over my sister to our side of the road or just waving a good bye to Meghan Markle! You guess! #Megxit

Graciously Yours!

Turkey! (6)

Day 6.

We woke up to the view of the Pammukale mountain, though it’s only a 200m high cliff and the translation of Pamukkale is cotton castle. Our guide for the day, Mehmet, who was taking us on a private tour assured that we’d have long stretches to walk through so we’d better gear up! Little did he know we were going to tire him out with our questions and inability to miss any spot the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Hierapolis had to offer.

Hierapolis, it has been deduced, was similar to a medicinal and rejuvenation centre for the people of those times, replete with supposedly magical calcium carbonate water springing from the Pamukkale travertines, a theatre – the size, acoustics and beauty of which more than makes up for the steep climb to reach it –  bazaar lanes and wine crushers, gymnasiums and cemetery, bathhouses and even Cleopatra’s pool, which was undoubtedly the most popular spot during our visit, combining the myths of eternal beauty and immortality and feeding off the biggest of human weaknesses, but who am I to judge! The ruse seemed to have worked in 2 BC, so why not 2020? Having stepped into the travertines of Pamukkale, I finally relived the innumerable moments I’d scoured the internet to look at the Pamukkale mountain, forgetting the name most times. Snappity snap a few pictures and we were ready for our next stop – the city of Aphrodisias.

The name took us aback too, wondering what part of the word aphrodisiac was borrowed from the city – turns out, all of it! While Hierapolis was awash with columnades and magnificent architecture, Aphrodisias was more of the scholar’s hideout with plain architecture but statues and figurines in marble beyond amazement. And may I say, that their stadium was way more mindblowing than Hierapolis’, solely due to the unexpected vastness of it! They’ve now set up a museum which houses statues which are the best of the lot, or let’s just say the most accessible of the lot, for closer examination. Our guide seemed quite popular among the staff there or maybe it was just Turks being Turks, all friendly and polite, unlike us grumpy-faced Indians, until we see white skin, of course!

The hour-long drive back to Pamukkale was silent, to say the least, but we did manage to tell apart fig trees from pomegranate even in the setting Sun, stop roadside to taste dried figs while our guide washed down a single piece of spiced ragi chip with mint and lots of water! Oh, also. We managed to shop for some of the famed cotton, despite our feet crying out for some air and rest!

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Waking up to the Pamukkale mountain!

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The theatre at Hierapolis in the backdrop – the stage has been reconstructed but there’s another level of columnades that are waiting to be reconstructed. The stage has such good acoustics that you apparently don’t need microphones to address the entire audience.

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The bazaar’s main lane in my backdrop.

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The pools in the mountain in my backdrop.

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And that, my friends, is a coffin of a woman. Or was it a farmer? Notice the detailed carvings!

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A wall at Aphrodisias – a wall made of unfinished statue heads. Wonder what the finished heads look like? Look at the next picture.

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The statue of Goddess Aphrodisias. Found at the museum.

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Trying to get to the bottom of the stadium which could house 30,000 people, with earlier board games carved out in some of the rows!

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Our guide explaining the architecture to us.

 

Graciously Yours!

Turkey! (5)

Day 5.

The rains came and went just in time for our 6 am hot air balloon ride! And guess who were the other passengers in the basket with us? A lot of Chinese (again!) and a Turk couple from Istanbul. Barring the struggle to not photobomb anyone while they kept the shutters going at max speed with their selfie sticks, ensuring that I held my own phone with a grip strong enough to not lose it to the 800m drop below, trying not to worry about balloons crossing each other’s paths because there were over a hundred of them around and the only navigation they were capable of was up and down, I was transfixed by how mesmerizing the whole experience was. The landscape could pass off as waves painted on a canvas. All that we’d seen the previous day from a nose close distance was now laid out from the bird’s eye view. If I were a pigeon, I’d stick around too. The ride ended with a glass of champagne, running around trying to help deflate and fold the hot air balloon, a completion certificate and a picture with happy smiles!

Advantage of packing earlier than the rest of the family is that you can randomly head out towards the heights where hotels, people and even the birds thin out. And without people in sight, your resourcefulness increases but so does the peace you find in solitude;  checked off the bucket list – create a tripod out of cobblestones to click self-portraits at a random, deserted place!

We were flying out to Pamukkale and who was to know the interesting encounter I’d have on the flight! But before I get to that. Have I mentioned how pleasing to the eyes the people in Turkey were? And no, I don’t mean the shade of their skin but their features and physique – I couldn’t take my eyes off a man loading luggage on to the conveyer belt and damn, if only he’d come to India, Bollywood would have lapped him up! Maybe shoot a garish Bollywood version of the Taken series, spouting Liam Neeson’s lines. Back to interesting flight encounters. So, my fellow passenger started making conversation with me and for the first few minutes, I wondered what he could possibly be wanting from me – because India. He did have intentions alright – but this doctor at Denizli General Hospital’s emergency ward wanted me to create a short video for his fiance and invite her to India after their wedding! I ended it with a flourish thanking her in Turkish and a couple of days later, the lovely couple sent me a video thanking me for my invite! Nothing could be more welcoming to a tourist than the unbridled love and warmth that couple showered on us, even if through a couple of short videos and a 30 minute flight conversation. The doctor also warned us of the slippery slopes and was more than happy to be our emergency contact in Pamukkale, if the need arose. Say congratulations to the couple on their upcoming wedding, peeps! ❤

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Prepping to take off!

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Looking out at the 800m drop! Or randomly into the skies. You decide.

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“Ain’t that pretty?” asked the Mongols.

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And hot air balloon deflated well, in the background. Celebratory champagne, in the foreground.

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And that’s how you set a tripod! Hoping another weary trekker must have appreciated it.

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All set to travel to Pamukkale.

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The doc who loves India! A screengrab from the video I shot for his fiance. 

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The Denizli cityscape on our way to Pamukkale.

 

Graciously Yours!

Turkey! (4)

Day 4.

Did I not tell you about undulating landscapes and fairy chimneys? Add some, actually a lot of, hot air balloons in the foreground. Well, as it happens, with the craze of Instagram, travel bloggers and better-than-ever-before cameras, most hotels in Goreme set up “Instagram worthy shot spots” on their terraces with rugs, mattresses, cushions, food and billowing curtains around diwaans – so was with our hotel. What I had not anticipated was the attire of the guests at sunrise! I woke my family up at 6 AM to catch a glimpse of the hot air balloons and the Sun from the terrace – we walked in on women wearing strappy dresses, flowing gowns, tiaras and a barrage of cargo-pants-clad-photographer boyfriends clicking them. We looked at each other, in attires we’d slept in overnight, hair barely done, no trace of makeup and eyes that looked more sleepy than awake. Well done, us!

We’d signed up for a full day tour in and around Goreme but unlike Istanbul, the group here was a 20 member troop, out of which 16 were Chinese! But they don’t kid when they say that the Chinese click pictures of nearly every-damned-thing! In fact, it’s considered easy to take on Chinese tourists, among guides, because they barely listen, only click pictures. And that’s guide speak, not me speaking. We ventured to the Pigeon Valley where man-made birdhouses have been made for the pigeons – because man and our needs – pigeon droppings help fertilise the soil of the valley. We also saw the Uchisar rock formation, considered the highest in this part of the town, the Kaymakli underground city, yes, you read it right, underground city, the mind-boggling mystery that has been unearthed but not entirely understood yet. Kaymakli isn’t a city that got buried over time, but one which was chiselled under the ground, around 2500 years ago, to escape invaders, both religious and state. Replete with a church, wineries, storage spaces and cattle sheds, it is 8 floors under the ground, enough to house at least 20,000 people and cattle!

At one of the shops I came across, they were playing songs from Bollywood films and I was so surprised to find myself humming the words before I realised where I was at – and no the owner of the shop wasn’t Indian, he was a Turk. Another shop owner I’d come across ran a cafe, shop and his home (of 70 years where he’d been born and brought up) out of a fairy chimney, up the slopes. A flag hung out of the window of one of his rooms, visible from the road, probably a sign of his occupancy or just his patriotism? I didn’t ask. By the time, the end of the tour approached, my sister was undergoing a crisis, tired of looking at everything volcanic and listening to everything Chinese and our guide was undergoing his own bit of crisis, trying to grasp that I wasn’t 18 and I had actually put in an effort to learn the numbers of the Turkish language. Not many put in the effort, he said, a history teacher who’d learnt too many languages to not become a tour guide. Night came and so did a light drizzle, scaring us that the hot air balloon tour next morning might be washed out. We decided to brave the weather while we could, pulling out our hoodies and umbrellas to walk into the town, under amber street lights, on cobbled streets, the warmth of the indoors luring people off the roads and the four of us sauntering silently, letting the magic seep in. Also, we were very hungry, hence angry and irritable.

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The hammock I fell off from thirty seconds after the picture was clicked! Real hot air balloons is the backdrop.

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Mah family straight outta bed – so much for living in 2019 with Instagram. #MomentsToCherish.

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In the backdrop a tree with the Turkish evil eye beads, also called nazar boncuk, traditionally believed to ward off the evil eye.

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After my visit to the 70 year old cafe owner – up there in one of the chimneys is his house.

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Goreme, under the spell of a light shower, revealing parts of its’ magic to us…

Graciously Yours!

Turkey! (3)

Day 3.

Oh, my poor throat! I finally did step into a hospital, Haseki Hospital, at 6:30 AM, having woken up at 3 AM to a throat that refused to even swallow saliva. They say it gets better after the worst. I disagree. Bless the soul of the cabbie who offered to help us through the super-efficient, extremely clean and swift medical checkup process (well, government hospitals in India are not really a place you’d want to step in, so). But paranoia overtook me while we were on our way back to the hotel at 7, the Sun not having risen yet, and our cabbie driving us back through alleys and off the main road he’d driven by earlier – they obviously treasure their tourists considering my paranoia was unfounded. Surprisingly though, we couldn’t find any pharmacy or Eczane, as they call it, open at 7 in the morning – what happened to the 24X7 emergency medical access concept?

Well, plopping a few pills down my closed throat, we were on our way to Goreme village in Cappadocia, in Central Anatolia region. When I’d read about the landscape of Goreme village, words like psychedelic, otherworldly and mesmerizing, popped out – I couldn’t quite picture it because no matter how good a camera, what the eye sees, can’t be captured well enough. But as soon as we started on our way to Goreme from the Nevsehir airport, I knew we were in for a treat! Undulating landscapes, interspersed with small towns, pretty houses and wide, clean roads. Goreme was a village with a population of 2,000 and possibly as many tourists there! The village is placed smack in between the fairy chimney rock formations, houses, shops, restaurants, hotels all carved out of the same rocks – soft enough to be chiselled at but strong enough to live in. Go figure! The first question my mother posed to me after checking in to the hotel room was, “How long are we staying here?” I was taken aback and dished my usual sarcasm at her. It was only after we were back in India and discussing the highs and lows of the trip that she told me why she asked that question. As Indians, we’re so used to seeing people around us all the time that in my Mom’s words “when I barely saw a soul over the hour-long drive I wondered if you kids had made the right choice of location in a country we barely knew anything about.” And I thought I was paranoid.

Also, God bless medical science. I was able to slide rice and veggies down my throat by evening – pottery kebab style! ❤️ Turks and their soups are something of a tradition, so we figured why not. To our parents’ surprise and our dismay, the ‘lentil soup’ we’d ordered was basically, ‘ghar ki daal‘. Guess what was ordered with every meal for the next four days?

 

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That’s kaynak suyu in the package and musluk suyu in the glass – courtesy Turkish Airlines.

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Kolay Sudoku completed! Kept me occupied for the most part of my one hour flight to Nevsehir. The medium Sudoku was already that way when I picked up the mag.

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That’s a pottery and ceramic kiln on our way to Goreme – families over the generations have been in this business, knowing very well how much their products can be in demand. Prices are competitive enough compared to Istanbul, at least on the gorgeous larger pieces. Turkish blue is obviously the colour in favour.

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The foyer outside our rooms – so pretty was the place that while our parents settled in their room, we made the foyer our resting area.

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That mirror! And the reflection.

 

Graciously Yours!

 

 

 

Turkey! (2)

Day 2.

Waking up to the call of azaan for fajr, (last count put Istanbul being home to 3,000 mosques, approximately) the realisation dawned that I was starting to lose my voice – the lump in the throat on the flight couldn’t be diagnosed as misplaced nerves anymore. Turkish Kreps and their fantastic version of paneer in my tummy, we went in search of a doctor using Google Translate to explain to the security guard that Google Maps was telling me there was a doctor inside. Five attempts later, he understood what we were trying to tell him, only to be turned away by the lady doctor because ‘foreign nationals’! Lesson 1 learnt!

Downing the throat soothers a pharmacist provided me, (cuz antibiotics require prescription, damn Turkey, OTCs are real here!) we set foot into the Grand Bazaar – via the local tram network, my fascination for which I’ll explain in future posts – the overwhelming desire to just sit and stare at people bustling, trying to sell their wares, the sea of beauty gushing about in waves, myriad nationalities under one roof created over 550 years ago, still serving the purpose of drawing awe and helping trade. Ceramicware with handpainted patterns, stunning pieces of silver, mirrors of all kinds and for all walls, the ostentatious display of Turkish delights and teas were spread around all over, with the narrow less bustling lanes ending into storerooms and open spaces for the shopkeepers to unwind and sip on Turkish tea! The shopkeepers correctly recognise Indians as hard bargainers, but walk around with a few packets in hand and a lovely smile – you might land discounts and even a couple of phone numbers.

Lunch was followed by a long walk on a group tour (two Americans, one Brit, a couple from Phillipines, Chile and four Spaniards!) around the Sultanahmet area, the tombs, Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet (also, Blue) mosque and the Topkapi Palace – I was glad for the sports shoes I had on, because any other choice of footwear would have been disastrous. Evening came and so did the fancy clothes and high heels because we were going to cruise on the Bosphorus, Europe on one side, Asia on the other, the jewels of Istanbul lit up, the bridges shining bright red and the biting cold wind, which couldn’t tame the squeals of delight or the snapping of mobile phone cameras! The three-hour cruise was worth the money with folk dances, belly dancing, 25 nationalities and sharing the table with a shy but lovely couple from Kazakhastan. I wonder if they felt the same about me, considering I was mostly grunting responses to my family, or silently trying to gulp down parts of the four-course dinner that had been laid out for us.

Oh yes, the throat was now worse.

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A sweetshop at Grand Bazaar – not sure if the sweets on display were more eye-catching or the chandelier!

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Ceramics and mirrors – the famed Turkish blue on display in full splendor.

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Istanbul is full of cats – and they’re so comfortable around human presence that don’t be surprised if a couple of them plop themselves into your lap of their own accord. Here’s my mother playing with a kitten.

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Crowds clicking Hagia Sophia in the backdrop – from basilica to mosque to museum over 1500 years.

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Atop the cruise, wind rushing through our hair – if the picture had audio, you could hear me cursing the wind through in between my chattering teeth.

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Moonlit Bosphorus clicked off the cruise, the Asian side of Istanbul by the riverbank.

Graciously Yours!

 

Turkey! (1)

Day 1.

Three months of persuasion, three months of planning and touchdown into Turkey a week after Prez Erdogan declared support for Pakistan was putting me through the jitters because to assume Indian passports would be unaffected would be naivety! A six-hour Indigo flight while revising our itinerary, recalling all the phrases in Turkish that I’d managed to cram in my head in the last one week, checking up on what else my parents wanted to see, re-checking our documents for the third time and pushing away that lump in my throat, we finally landed in Istanbul.

And I was prepared for everything but the wave of white skin that hit me! My sister and I stole glances at each other first and then openly started giggling because the grass doesn’t always look greener on the other side – sometimes it actually is greener! Before I sound more racist than I just did, we don’t have preferences in skin colour – we felt like we’d walked into a Hollywood film and that takes some time getting used to. When the time came to show off my Turkish skills to my family, I fumbled and forgot all of it, ending up using sign language to ask our chauffeur how long it’ll take to the hotel. The drive to the hotel was mesmerising, to say the least, new Istanbul’s tunnels, apartment blocks and wide roads giving way, across the Bosphorus, to the bustle of the Asian side with its’ street graffiti and event and movie posters! For an Indian, spending an average 90 minutes of the day travelling, the streets of Istanbul were bliss to the ears, the entire city seemingly a no-honking zone.

Like most wives in India, my mother was keeping the famed karwa chauth fast too and it was a delight watching her break her fast in the hotel room with a Turkish vegetable casserole, mushrooms carefully removed and eaten by me, and bread! While she rested, my father, sister and I decided to roam the alleys near Sultanahmet, cobbled hilly roads, deserted and dark, no directions to follow, no people to ask until we traced our steps back and settled for the cozy little pizza place we’d walked past earlier. Fatigue was dawning upon us all, our first night in a strange place where we didn’t know the religion, the language, the culture but the excitement of the exploration kept all fears at bay!

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The first glimpse of Istanbul – a pretty sight, the open air parking and lined cars.

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Enroute the hotel we were put up at, driving by the Bosphorus, one of the many mosques of Istanbul in the backdrop, seagulls all over the sky. 

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Being introduced to a few famous Turkish pottery pieces – the wine jug, glasses, bowls and the coat! At the lobby of the hotel we were put up at.

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Mother breaking her fast.

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The cobbled streets lit at night, cold breeze caressing our cheeks and the silence of the city peaceful and inviting.

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Rounding up our meal with a Turkish tea, courtesy of our host at Ozzie’s Pizza!

Graciously Yours!

 

The Phoenix.

What started with me drowning in the depths of the eyes of Patrick Verona, the ‘juvie’ bad boy with his manly charm and brown curls never really ended, even though it’s been almost 12 years since those eyes lost the light of life.

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By the time I saw the Dark Knight, little did I know Heath Ledger was already dead or that he was the same 19-year-old who had stolen my heart in ’10 things I hate about you’. When I did put two and two together, it was too late to share the grief of his loss – people had numbed to his death by then while I was suddenly dealing with fresh punches to the gut, re-watching his films, reading the news pieces of his death with a face to it now, a face I recognise, a laugh I can’t seem to forget, and that wide smile that just melts me into a sloppy mess on a hot day.

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I sat to watch the Joker today, recreated by Joaquin Phoenix and team – still in two minds as the opening shots rolled in. I didn’t want to betray Heath’s memory but I wanted to know what the hype was about. As the scenes played, there were places when I imagined Heath in place of Joaquin or how Heath would have handled the scene or how different the body language would have been. Obviously, all of this is just mere conjecture of Heath’s image in my mind but isn’t that what fans do – juxtapose our idea of a celebrity onto their persona?

By the time the film ended, I had forgotten about both Heath and Joaquin – the character had taken over my senses, making me jump in my seat, spout expletives, rub off the goosebumps lining my arms. That itself speaks volumes about the absolutely stunning work the team has done! Maybe the film wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

But. Is Heath Ledger the Phoenix or is Joaquin Phoenix the one?

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Call it what you may – my fondness for Heath, or my first taste of blood being the Joker from Dark Knight, or a soft spot for the dead, or the relentless anarchist Heath’s character was, or simply blind fanaticism – but I’d still turn to the Dark Knight to watch my share of creep. Maybe Joaquin’s Joker seems too real, too close, too human? Or maybe Heath’s Joker explains the mania all of us have but are afraid to explore?

Never mind what I feel, the Joker is here to stay and go down in the rolls of history once again, for sure.

Graciously Yours!

And it begins?

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So far, whenever I have submitted my writings to a magazine, contest, literary agents or even publishing houses, all I received were rejections. Hence, when the submission to Spark Magazine was a go, I was too stunned to even react! It is only now after three rounds of edits, publication date having passed 48 hours and having refreshed their webpage for the September issue multiple times to confirm that it really happened, has the feeling sunk in that I have been published by a magazine! ❤ Thank you to the team at Spark! ❤

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Yayyyy! You see that? Now read it here!

I hope the run continues for a long, long time now and that every publish of mine, little or big, gets me as excited and makes me work as hard, like this one. There is no success sweeter than the one that requires the sweat rolling, not literally, of course!

Graciously Yours!

P.S.: Waiting for your feedback!

 

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