Esoteric Istanbul [Travel Exclusive]

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Istanbul has caught my imagination since long. It is the city of contrasts, the city where East meets West. The only city in the world which lies in two continents – Europe and Asia. And finally, I did get to visit the city of my childhood dreams last summer.

There is a certain esoteric feel to the entire city, the history, the culture just adds to that mystery. The city is dotted with beautiful mosques and at dawn, one is woken by the call of the muezzin. The Bosphorus river runs across the city and it seems to greet you at every corner. The waterway connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, and divides Istanbul into two continents. The best way to experience the Bosphorus is a cruise.

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Istanbul is fraught with tourists, all year long and it disappoints none. The city is home to the famous and beautiful architectural marvel, the Blue Mosque which is so called because of the lovely blue tiles with intricate work which adorn the walls of the mosque. Just opposite the Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sophia which was originally a church and then turned into a mosque and recently converted into a museum. 500 feet away from the Hagia is my most favorite and must-see places, the Basilica Cistern. The moment you step into Basilica, the temperature drops drastically and it is freezing cold inside. The pillars that dot the cistern are a treat to the eyes and the spectacular lighting that forms part of the backdrop adds to its mesmerising beauty. And to think of it, it was built to be used as a cistern for storing rainwater!

Apart from the innumerable mosques and museums, Istanbul is a shopper’s paradise. My personal favourite is the Istikal Street which is one of the most happening avenues in Istanbul and is 1.4 kms long. The street starts near the famous Galata Tower and leads up to the Taksim Square. A red tram runs through the street and one can just hop on to the tram for a merry joy ride. Another famous and one of the oldest markets in the city is the Grand Bazaar.

A trip to Istanbul would be incomplete without experiencing  the Whirling Dervishes and the Sema ritual which is a customary dance performed as part of a worship ceremony, through which dervishes aim to reach the source of all perfection This is sought through abandonment of one’s egos or personal desires, by listening to music, focusing on God, and spinning one’s body in repetitive circles from right to left, which purportedly is a symbolic imitation of planets in the solar system orbiting the sun.

We left Istanbul with lingering memories and the famous Sufi mystic and poet Rumi’s words kept echoing in my ears, “What you seek is seeking you.” Istanbul did embrace me in more ways than one.

Fun Facts

  • Istanbul, which used to be known as Constantinople thanks to the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, is built on seven hills to match the Seven Hills of Rome
  • Under the Ottoman Empire, the city was renowned for having more than 1,400 public toilets
  • Tulips, the symbol of Holland, originated in Istanbul and were sent from Istanbul to Netherlands
  • Originally named the Tower of Christ, the Galata Tower was built in 1348 at the apex of fortified walls and was used to house prisoners of war, later became an observatory, but now offers a 360-degree viewing gallery of the city

Author: Anjana Rajguru

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