Konya, Turkey - Today we finally bade goodbye to amazing Capadoccia and rode across the vast plains of central Turkey towards the very old-fashioned city of Konya. I've been to Turkey several times and had always wanted to see Konya -- ever since I first saw a photo of Konya's enigmatic whirling dervishes, actually -- but each time, it had not been possible for some reason.
This time around, I was initially again resigned to not visiting Konya since we were only spending 10 days in Turkey and it seemed too much trouble to be taking a plane back and forth between Istanbul, Capadoccia and then to Istanbul again to take a plane to Konya. I was explaining all this over dinner to my Turkish friend Beliz back in Manila, prior to my trip to Turkey, and relaying my disappointment, when she suddenly said: "I think you can drive from Capadoccia to Konya. It's not very far."
And, indeed, when I returned home and studied my Turkey map carefully, I realized we could go over land instead. Well, today, after a leisurely breakfast in my favorite hotel garden in the town of Urgup, in Capadoccia, we set off for Konya. The trip took about three and a half hours through mostly flat lands and occassionally some dramatic plains, with nothing much to see except a few caravanserai, which were the old lodging houses of the Silk Road. I counted three caravanserai in between Capadoccia and Konya: two accepted visitors and one was completely abandoned. We stopped at the most famous caravan serai along the way -- it cost us 4 euros each and inside, it was basically an empty fortress-like structure with an inner garden and prayer area, and enclosed spaces for horses, sleeping, eating and bathing.
"This must have been the Peninsula or the Park Hyatt of that time," I said, as we poked through dark and musty rooms. "I'll bet it was the best place to stay along this part of the Silk Road." We'd passed the other caravan serai already and they were smaller and less impressive.
One of the rooms was completely dark save for some light from a sliver of a window at the top. My managing editor started to take a photograph of this room, so I teased him: "There must be so many spirits haunting this place. If you take this photo, you're probably going to see one of them." We didn't really take this seriously then, but just earlier, we looked at the photographs he had taken and there was indeed an unexplainable light in the photo of that very dark room, which he photographed without a flash.
"OMG, what is that?" I asked him. He shrugged, and I continued: "I remember how you took this photo because I was behind you. There was absolutely no light in that room."
We quickly changed the conversation as it was starting to give me the shivers. Thank goodness we were booked in a very modern hotel in Konya! Back to Konya. I was quite excited to finally see this city although Ahmed, our guide, was frankly not very enthusiastic. "It's just flat land over there," he told us in the van, on the way over. "Apart from the mevlana, there's nothing much else to see."
I'd never been to a region of Turkey that had nothing much to see, actually. In fact, the entire country is one big museum and every neighborhood is -- at the very least -- a bit of culture. So it was hard to imagine Konya as boring. "There must be some other things to see," I persisted. "And outside of Konya, I'm sure there are places for daytrips."
"Nothing," he said, in this listless manner which got me worried. "Nothing else to see."
"In fact, you're the only people I know who are actually staying two nights in Konya," he added. "Most people only visit Konya for a half-day." This type of exchange continued for quite a while until we finally reached the outskirts of the city. Here, we stopped for lunch at a highway joint with a Turkish buffet that catered to dozens of tourist buses plying the Capadoccia-Konya-Pamukkale route. When we entered the dining hall, it was like a mini conference at the United Nations with all kinds of faces and languages. Meanwhile, as this was just one big tourist bus stop catering to people who would never eat there again, the food at this highway joint could only be described as edible enough but we were just so hungry by then that we heaped all kinds of things on our plates: green peppers stuffed with ground meat and rice, a lamb and eggplant stew, and the usual assortment of cold appetizers. In the lobby, a World Cup football match was playing and many of the tourists were gathered around the TV set.
Our first stop in Konya was the Mevlana Museum itself -- basically the reason why Konya has so many tourists. The Mevlana Museum is the former monastery of the group of mystics who followed the teachings of the 13th century prophet Rumi, and who became famous through the centuries for their practice of whirling around and around in semi-trance as a form of prayer and devotion. I'd seen an excellent whirling dervish show some nights back and had read up on the prophet Rumi and his philosophies of tolerance and patience -- I like to describe him as the New Age mystic of the medieval ages; so I had a pretty good idea of what to see in the Mevlana. There are only two main rooms to see here, along with the kitchen area, but it was much more interesting and mystical than I expected. The monastery has now been turned into one large museum/mausoleum for the prophet and his family and friends.
I was quite moved to see the tombstones of the prophet Rumi and his original whirling dervish disciples, and then to see the large and beautiful room in which they whirled and whirled in trance. I could imagine how amazing a sight it must have been in the old days, with the dervishes in the center, the sufi chanting and songs, and the room ablaze with carpets and oil lamps. It was extremely interesting, and that alone was worth a trip to Konya in itself.
Meanwhile, in the olden times, the mysterious whirling dervishes were disciples dressed all in white with brown caps who would twirl around and around a room as a form of prayer, meditation and acceptance of their religion. Nowadays, whirling dervishes have disappeared and anyone you'll see dressed in a dervish costume and turning around and around like a spool is probably being paid to do so -- such as in a cultural show for tourists. Nevertheless, it's still an amazing sight to see. We'd been to a performance a few nights back and it was truly fascinating to see them whirling around with their eyes closed to the beat of equally mysterious music.
All in all, I was very happy to have included a trip to see the birthplace of the whirling dervishes, which have captured my imagination for so long, in my Turkey itinerary this time around. And, as far as I can tell, there are enough sights to keep us happy tourists over the next two days, although Konya does pale in comparison to major tourist destinations like Istanbul, Capadoccia and Izmir. Nevertheless, if you're a traveler with an insatiable apetite for culture and new adventures, like us at TRAVELIFE Magazine (the Philippines' leading travel & lifestyle publication), life is never boring and I'm sure Konya -- or anywhere else in this part of the world, for that matter -- will never disappoint!
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