Istanbul – I


Barely a month after coming back from Istanbul, the news about the riots at Taksim Square, where we had walked so often while there, hit us. The riots began as a protest by the Istanbullu youth against the grazing of a park to pave the way for a replica of Ottoman-style barracks. The Gezi park protesters strongly voiced a democratic plea to veto the governmental policies and development plans of the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Looking at the pictures of people getting water-cannoned or tear-gassed out of Taksim Square – I could only think of one thing – that I had been there a month back…and walked those streets…and loved every moment of it. And now that square/street had become the site of violence against peaceful demonstrations. When we were walking down those streets on May Day, there were police vans and the police walking around with huge guns and steel barricades were put at different intersections – almost as if in anticipation of violence that could erupt any second. But, as is the case, with all democratic forms of protestations, the violence never comes first from the citizens of the state.

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We walked down to Taksim Square at night after dinner, after being greeted with a mellow drizzle on the way from the airport.

After reading and hearing so much about Istanbul, the expectations were obviously at an all-time high. There are travel reviews where people have said that they are seasoned travelers, and have traveled the length and breadth of the world, but find the beauty of Istanbul unmatched.

And I couldn’t have agreed more. Even though I have traveled more within India, than outside, the beauty of Istanbul has this elegant and delicate old world charm that even in today’s day and age, has the power to transport you to a different era.

Istanbul has the unique geographical privilege of straddling both Europe and Asia – and hence imbibes the best of both the cultures. The Bosphorus or Istanbul strait connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. A Bosphorus cruise on a balmy Sunday morning had me fighting the urge to eventually leaving this mesmerizing country. While on the cruise, on the right-hand side is the European side, whereas the left-hand side is the Asian side.

The Ottomon style architecture against the deep blue of the sea with the sea gulls flying against the rich sun – is an image that will forever stay with me.  This is an image that has the power of haunting you (in a good way) for a long, long time.

Having said this, I would also say, that Istanbul is a visual delight to be savored slowly and gradually. It is so steeped in history and cultures of many hues that perhaps the budget with which you visit the country will never be enough to explore its myriad nuances. Each nuance that you discover and explore makes you feel personally enriched and blessed.

They say, if you have to really explore and understand a city, do it on foot. And on foot, we did. We walked and walked and walked – desperately trying to soak in whatever we could with the time we had in hand.

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Back home, when we heard about the riots, we felt this immense sadness. When you read about the Arab Spring and see people protesting in far away parts of the world – you can perhaps only connect with them at a very objective level. But if given a chance to be a part of their culture, the objectiveness soon changes. Atleast for me it did. I wouldn’t shy away from saying that it could be because of a bias that formed after visiting Turkey. But whatever it was, it was there. I followed the news closely for the two months when riot violence was at its peak, and kept feeling this strange sadness within me. For the city with which I had fallen uncontrollably in love. For the city, to which I would return to without missing a heartbeat, if given a chance. For the city that I have pledged to return to, once I have forfeited all.

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