High Flying in Cappadocia
Cappadocia is an experience that instantly promises to transport you out of this world. Situated in the region of Central Anatolia in Turkey, it can be reached by taking a two hour flight out of Istanbul or for the more relaxed or on-a-budget-traveller private buses ply from Istanbul and reach you there in approximately ten hours.
We reached Kayseri airport just as the sun was coming up and the effect of seeing the rays break across the Moon-like landscape of Cappadocia was breath-taking. In fact Cappadocia will leave you spell bound at every turn. It is where fantasy and science fiction novels are dreamt up. The entire region is a plateau dotted by volcanic mountains and the geological terrain is made up of the soft sedimentary and ignimbrite deposits from three to nine million year old volcanoes.
A short taxi ride took us to our hotel in Urgup, which is one of the more important and well connected towns in Nevshehir. Almost every hotel in Cappadocia is carved into the terrain and its pretty common to have cave- like rooms within the striated sedimentary stone. A small hike along the winding town- roads led us to a small Turkish wine factory where we took a wine tour, finishing it with a glass of the local wine. Famished after the exploits of the day, we later stopped for lunch at a small wayside restaurant, that served us glasses of chilled Ayran -a yogurt based drink – along with the Kayseri Manti – tiny meat dumplings served in a yogurt based sauce. The flavours of Anatolian cuisine, with the stuffed breads, cheeses, tomato and lentil based sauces were very friendly to the Indian palate. After another short stroll we retired early in the evening to enjoy the spoils of the hotel and in eager anticipation of the next morning.
The next morning we woke while it was still pitch dark and bundled into the taxi waiting outside. A short drive took us to the site where hundreds of hot air balloons take flight every morning. As we reach the gathering point we found ourselves in the midst of several other people waiting and sipping cups of delicious Turkish tea. Suddenly in the pitch black one could see sporadic flashes of light as if fireflies were dancing in the distance. As the silhouettes of balloons started to become apparent gradually, the excitement of the group became equally palpable. The sky changed hues and one could see hundreds of balloons start to ascend simultaneously. The whole pink and blue sky looked like it was the backdrop to a seamlessly synchronized choreography.
As we ascended in one such balloon bit by bit the entire landscape started to become really clear. The birds’ eye view is definitely the best way to take in the Anatolian landscape at one glance. All at once we had a 360 degree vantage of the arid but beautiful landscape with its the wind denuded fairy chimneys and the red, green and yellow valleys. Even the slightest colour stood out in stark relief against the unending sand coloured canvas.
Suspended up in the sky one’s sense of sight is completely overwhelmed and if you can concentrate on the other senses then the unsettling silence of being thousands of feet above ground is punctuated by the periodically deafening bursts from the gas cylinders of the balloon.
After an hours flight the balloon gradually descended and the pilot and his team celebrated by popping bottles of non alcoholic champagne.
Back at the hotel we gorged on a well deserved breakfast of cheeses, olives, stuffed breads and dried fruit and headed on to trek the valleys that we had just witnessed from many feet above. The rest of the day we trekked through the wondrous Ihlara valley, discovered the ancient wonders hidden in the completely underground city of Kaymakli and sampled more of Kayseri’s delectable cuisine.
Kaymakli underground city
Thoroughly enthralled and exhausted from the adventures of the day we got back to the hotel to thank our wonderful host, gather up our bags and get on the night bus back to Istanbul. Turkey had many more treasures for us to discover in the days to come….
All photos © Ekta Idnany