When Harshvardhan Rane asked his best friend Vikram where he should go for his holiday, Vikram in return asked him what type of trip he sought. The answer included backpacking, great landscapes, mixed culture, a bit of history and sightseeing, great roads to drive on, plenty of food, superb weather and great people. Vikram got back with Istanbul as the destination.
“I trusted him blindly, and I’m extremely happy that I did. It had everything I visualised and much more in abundance,” said Harsh. With Vikram, “the best travel buddy one can have”, Harsh went to the Ihlara Valley, a place known as the Grand Canyon of Turkey. “We walked down 100 metres into this canyon, a 16-kilometre gorge cutting into volcanic rock in the southern part of Cappadocia. This was a 4-kilometre trek alongside the river through a jungle. We had a pit stop where we had tea in a small hotel built on the middle of the river. We also saw ancient, manmade churches in caves. This was one of my favourite parts, as I love greenery and water. It was a truly great hiking experience.”
They wanted to experience every possible form of transport in Turkey (flight, hot-air balloon, high-speed trains, metro, taxi and ferry). “So we hired a car and drove 750 kilometres between Ankara and Cappadocia, while on our way to Cappadocia we saw this vast salt lake known as Lake Tuz, one of the largest hyper-saline lakes in the world. We were really amazed by the sheer size of the lake, which reminded us of a cinema location. We loved the fact that we did not plan the trip at all, and could stop over and explore places like these spontaneously.”
One of the first things Vikram and Harsh chose for this trip was to bunk it out. “We stayed in dorms throughout our ten-day trip. This one place called The Dorm Caves in Goreme Cappadocia was constructed inside actual caves. It was a very new yet comfortable experience, as you meet and share space and experiences with travellers and hitchhikers from all around the world, 16 of them in one cave.”
Istanbul has one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 streets and over 3,000 shops. “The interesting part about this place is it falls in the Asian part of Turkey. We were really fascinated to cross the Bosphorus and get here. I have to admit that once we entered, we did feel like we are in Asia thanks to the spices, colours, sweets and crowds.”
There were so many special moments, but one tops them all. “Being 2,000 feet above the ground in a hot-air balloon was definitely one of the highlights of our trip, and the only thing that we had to actually plan. The balloons are mostly booked and generally full. The experience was breath-taking in the realest sense. There was no noise; only the sound of short bursts of fire blazing hot air into the balloon. I could only hear the air inside and outside of my body, breath and breeze. We felt lost floating in the air, the most calming effect.”
Harsh says anyone looking for an urban backpacking experience should definitely visit Turkey, but he also advises travellers to heed their hearts. “Just close your eyes and visualise your holiday before you choose a place. You can never explore a whole country in one trip, but I would like to think I have seen the tip of a beautiful iceberg. I would love to go back and explore much more. I just can’t forget the warmth of those smiles, the chill in the breeze, and the unbelievably fresh air.”
..... Devashree Goenka