Istanbul is a city with a hundred names. A hundred names and a thousand mosques.

DAY 1 - First views of Istanbul, Watching the anglers of Galata bridge at dusk
Overnight: Erboy Hotel, Istanbul

From two levels below the Ataturk International airport, the train pulled out of the Havalimani metro station into a bright summer morning. Behind the large windows of the trian, the cityscapes of Istanbul unfoled themselves. Gentle hill slopes with matchbox style apartments peppered with gray-blue Ottoman domes and spear-like minarets. The city of 12 million had some 3000 mosques, it was difficult to ignore the play of domes and minarets!

We rolled through the suburbs and at Aksaray-Yusufpasa, changed from the metro to a tram (a better thing to do would be to change them at Zeytinburnu). The tram dived into the heart of Istanbul - the Sultanahmet district.

DAY 2 - The Bosphorus Cruise, Where Bosphorus, Black Sea, Rumeli and Anadolu meet, Taksim Square and Istiklal Cadessi
Overnight: Erboy Hotel, Istanbul

DAY 3 - Topkapi Palace and Grand Bazaar
Overnight: Erboy Hotel, Istanbul

DAY 4 - Gulhane Park, Aya Sofya and Grand Bazaar
Overnight: Overnight bus from Istanbul to Selcuk

Note to self: If a flight is a code share between a domestic and a foreign airline, book on the foreign airline.

DAY 5 - Istanbul to Selcuk
Overnight: Urkmez Hotel, Selcuk

DAY 6 - Roman ruins of Ephesus
Overnight: Urkmez Hotel, Selcuk

DAY 7 - Turkish bath and Isa Bey mosque in Selcuk; Olive and wine town of Sirence; Aegan Sea beack in Pamujak
Overnight: Overnight bus from Selcuk to Istanbul

For the juma prayers, I asked my way to the Isa Bey mosque. A cobbled street climbed up the hill to Saint Jean and then descended to the Isa Bey moque. Thick palm trees lined the street on one side; rough white-washed homes with red-tiled roofs were spread on the other. The magnificent mosque was built by Selcuk's local governor Isa Bey in 1375 (around the same time, Firuz Shah Tughlaq, the sultan of Delhi, built Firuzabad on the banks of Yamuna and added the top two storeys to Qutub Minar in India.) A rectangular prayer hall built in stone was joined by a courtyard colonnaded on three sides. Two brick minarates rose at the points where the courtyard joined the prayer hall. A earthquake ruined one minarate and the columns in the courtyard, but rest of the mosque remains impressive even today. I later learnt that the stone used in building the mosque was quarried from the nearby Temple of Artemis and the city of Ephesus. Inside, the floor was covered with a potpourri of carpets. The hall was about 40 ft high and topped with a wooden roof. The subtle differences from a mosque in India amused me. For example, the Friday sermon was played out from a pre-recorded tape. The muezzin and the imam were in Western wear - something very rare in Indian mosques. I completed the two rakats of juma - despite the continents and centuries, the motions of prayers have remained exactly identical.

DAY 8 - Blue Mosque
Overnight: Erboy Hotel, Istanbul

Note to self: Never book Air India.

DAY 9 - Museum of Islamic and Turkish Arts; Istiklal Cadessi
Overnight: Erboy Hotel, Istanbul

DAY 10 - Egyptian Bazaar, Cafe along Bosphorus, Whirling Dervishes in a sema at Nurettin Tekke
Overnight: Erboy Hotel, Istanbul

We saved the best activity of the trip for the last. While in Turkey, we wanted to see the whirling dervishes in a sema. While it was easy to buy 40 lira tickets at the Hodja Pasa Cultural Center in Sultanahmet for a daily show, it was would be anything but authentic. There were other options too - Galata Mevlevihanesi, Galipdede Cd.; Contemporary Lovers of Mevlana Society, Fatih and Sirkeci; Mevlana Education and Culture Group, Istiklal Cd. - but all the options were "shows", not a real religious ceremony.

A few hours of research (read translating Turkish webpages to English) revealed that one could participate in a real sema, usually held on Mon and Thu nights, in one of the few practicising tekkes in Fatih. No entry charges, no English guides, no photography. But the trick was to find the right tekke and go there with a local escort. Les Arts Turcs is a group of artists running an art Gallery in Sultanahmet and organize these special private trips to tekkes in Fatih.

On Sunday 8pm, I climbed the three floors to Les Arts Turcs gallery. It was in middle of a renovation. The walls were getting painted, and books photographs rugs CDs DVDs brochures and other art lay in heaps in the middle of hall. The window had a gorgeous view of Aya Sofya on the left and Blue Mosque on the right. Behind the massive minarets, the Bosphorus met the Marmara Sea. Nurdogan Senguler appeared from the mess and introduced himself as the founder of this gallery.

I asked him if he could help us get to a tekke in Fatih. He pulled out his mobile phone and made some calls. "Please wait. A car will pick you from here in sometime," he said.

I was glad we would be able to see a sema tonight.

"So we will see the whirling dervishes tonight?" I asked Nurdogan.

"May be, May be, May be. Oriental mentality, not Western," Nurdogan stressed. "May be we see the whirling dervishes, Inshaallah. Who knows? He knows," he pointed his finger upwards.

"Inshaallah," I repeated.

"The Western people are certain. The Oriental people are optimistic. They leave it to God," he smiled.

A few minutes later, we were in a van headed to Fatih along with 8-10 other people, all of them Westerners. The van pulled out of Sultanahmet and onto the coastal road. The tourists disappeared from the roads and gave way to locals who filled the fish markets, malls and road side restaurants that served grilled chicken and grilled sheep. It was dusk. The driver navigated tight lanes in the shadow of Fatih Camii (third largest mosque in Istanbul after Blue Mosque and Suleyman Camii) to a small monastery in Fatih - the Nurettin Tekke.

The medrese was a series of interlinked rooms on two storeys - ground floor for boys and first floor for girls. The students had just finished their maghrib prayers and were ready for dinner.

DAY 11 - Grand Bazaar, Suleyman Camii, Back to Bombay

Note to self: When in doubt, take a ticket print out to the airport.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Research - Turkey Travel Planner by Tom Brosnahan / Flights - / Bus - Kamil Koc / Hotels - Erboy Hotel via, Urkmez Hotel via Trip Advisor/ Maps - Istanbul Metro / Visas - Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Turkey and Visa form (.doc) / Currency - 1 TRY = 30.80 INR

Tags: Asia, Europe

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