WHEN IN RUMI ’ S LAND

Rishi Majumder dons the local colours and slips into the ancient country of Turkey


antalya

ANTALYA

When King AttalosII of Pergamum asked his men to find ‘heaven on earth’ in the 1st century BC they settled after a winded search on the region now dubbed Antalya, filtered from ‘Attaleia’ a name Attalos had (rather pompously) coined from his own. Approaching the Antalya airport by a Turkish Airlines flight, however, what greets our gaze towards this ‘gateway to the Turkish Riviera’ is lots of greenhouses. “Those greenhouses nurture agricultural produce – citrus fruits, cotton, cut flowers, bananas etc,” answers Nazli, our sprightly tourist guide. Antalya’s suitable soil has sprouted a wholesale food market meeting 65% of Turkey’s wet fruit and vegetable demand, much as the magnificent mountains from its Taurus range plowing sharply into the lucent blue Mediterranean Sea have created ideal vacation bays with diverse beaches like the Lara, Topcam and Konyaalti, prolific National Parks like the Olympus and towering incandescent waterfalls like Upper Duden, Manavgat and Kursunlu. “Approximately 99% of (secular) Turkey’s population is Muslim,” Nazli continues to inform. The race that was long ago pagan though, has lots to thank Mother Nature for.
“In the early 1970s there was just one hotel in the city,” Nuzli harks back. Since then tourism initiatives by both the government and private sectors have made this region Turkey’s tourism hub. So in the age of competition, ‘theme hotels’ thrive. While giant hotel chains like the Dedeman shun such distinction, the Gloria is a swank golf resort with 45 holes. Then comes hotels built to replicate historical structures, Turkish and otherwise: the Topkapi Palace Hotel; the Venezia Palace Hotel; the Kremlin Palace hotel etc. “Advertisement which certain foreigners would connect to” and “Making foreigners feel at home” are reasons given for hotels designed on foreign monuments. So with India being a new tourism focus we may hope in some time to alternate between visiting the ancient ruins of Perge and Aspendos and reclining with a Turkish hookah in the courtyard of what looks like the Red Fort. History: across cultures.
Halis Cakmak, who leads a company appropriately named Hello Tourism directs us onto these ruins. Perge, which records date as far back as 1000 BC, bears monuments which are more recent: a Hellenistic gate (built post Alexander the Great’s invasion) from the 3 rd century BC; a Roman gate from 4th century BC; the remains of baths and shopping centres from such eras; a hippodrome (stadium) remains; statues of gods and goddesses; the town’s trading area… The city ruins, like so many Turkish locations catalogues history from the Hitite civilization through Alexander’s arrival to the Roman times. But while the ruins where mathematical genius Apollonius once resided only bear trace to it’s past via perhaps the astute geometry of it’s remains, Aspendos – with the best preserved amphitheatre of antiquity – re-roots itself in current context. The 7000-seater, with a diameter of 315 feet still hosts concerts, grease wrestling events, festivals and the Turkish State Opera and Ballet. “But after a rock music concert resulted in possible destruction to the structure, only classical music programmes are held here,” Halis mentions. The burden of heritage is not easy to bear.
The Antalya city centre is a mix of the charming and the commercial. The seafront defines an ideal idyllic evening: Walking the winded hilly road past the numerous stalls, to descend to one of the cafés and sip Turkish coffee by the sea and embark on a boat ride for a closer look at a mountain on the other side of the ocean. Besides shops offering the latest in high end and mediocre designer wear and brands, lies what is perhaps Antalya’s consolation prize for those missing Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Mimicking the renowned market in form rather than in structure or actual product supply, the ‘bazaar’ near the city centre is where a bystander directs a shopper to. It supplies a mix of traditional junkets like daggers, clothing scarves and bags and modern brand fakes at prices to be wrung only by a master bargainer.
While the most popular night spots here are Club Ally, Club Arma and Club Ceila, Antalya’s nightlife sifts various cultures to present flavours to suit each palette. So in between Turkish hits are popular western numbers, Punjabi hip-hop, or even English classics rendered in Turkish. Bars, discos or nightclubs with belly dancing shows abound. While every tourist is warned to be careful with being cheated, sometimes the bartender (as in our case) supplies an on-the house drink that is a special. Telling him that he’s your guest whenever he comes to your city and exchanging numbers helps.

When King AttalosII of Pergamum asked his men to find ‘heaven on earth’ in the 1st century BC they settled after a winded search on the region now dubbed Antalya, filtered from ‘Attaleia’ a name Attalos had (rather pompously) coined from his own. Approaching the Antalya airport by a Turkish Airlines flight, however, what greets our gaze towards this ‘gateway to the Turkish Riviera’ is lots of greenhouses. “Those greenhouses nurture agricultural produce – citrus fruits, cotton, cut flowers, bananas etc,” answers Nazli, our sprightly tourist guide. Antalya’s suitable soil has sprouted a wholesale food market meeting 65% of Turkey’s wet fruit and vegetable demand, much as the magnificent mountains from its Taurus range plowing sharply into the lucent blue Mediterranean Sea have created ideal vacation bays with diverse beaches like the Lara, Topcam and Konyaalti, prolific National Parks like the Olympus and towering incandescent waterfalls like Upper Duden, Manavgat and Kursunlu. “Approximately 99% of (secular) Turkey’s

Konya

KONYA

“Come come again… whoever you may be… a pagan or fire worshipper, our hearth is not the threshold of despair, even if you may have violated your vows a hundred times. Come again,” is the saying the stands embossed outside Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi’s tomb. The same saying is most precious to the head of a group of whirling dervishes who perform before us that night. While the great Persian poet, philosopher, theologian and jurist who continues to draw followers from all over the world for his liberal preachings, is referred to often as simply ‘Rumi’, in Konya and Turkey at large, he is only addressed as ‘Mevlana’. 2007 being declared the International Year Of Rumi by UNESCO due to the 800th birth anniversary of the

mystic, has further encouraged crowds from various continents to seek their solace in the Mevlana’s preachings. And so both orthodox Muslims and unorthodox Americans bow next to each other in the Mevlana Turbesi – the main room of the former whirling dervishe’s monastery, which holds the saint’s tomb. Covered with a velvet gold embroidered cloth, the tomb like that of his father and other Sufi sheikhs is capped with a huge turban – the spiritual authority of Sufi masters. But for those who can read the Persian inscriptions engraved above the tomb, it does more than create spiritual aura.
As do the dervishes. A show of the whirling dervishes is held not as a performance, but as an invitation to partake of the union with God which they rejoice in. Hence audience members are warned not to applaud such a sight. The head of the group, after the show, patiently answers questions pertaining to the order of the dervishes. He also informs us smilingly that being a member of the order does not require one to leave their daily profession. Hence the dervish who whirls in front of you for an hour on end, not for once losing his balance, could be anything from a restaurateur to a clerk. The youngest member of this group is 13 and the oldest in his 40s. What challenges does such a faith present? The head answers calmly: “None. For God is with us.”
Konya is a religious orthodox city, different from any other part of Turkey. Everything, even a restaurant or coffee shop, will shut at 10 pm. What then does a stranger to such norms do when on asking at the hotel reception at two o’ clock whether any disco is open, he is glanced at as if he’s mad. He goes back to his room and reads… Rumi’s poetry: “The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don’t go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the door sill, where two worlds touch. And the door is round and open. Don’t go back to sleep.”

whirling dervishes

This article appeared originally in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/shh5

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