Picturesque Pammukale

Our second day in Turkey began early- at 6 am, as we had a long two and half hour drive to Pamukkale in Denizili province of Turkey. Our driver, hotel owner Asis’s nephew- Schemuz and the only English speaking man in the vicinity was already waiting for us. He was a History teacher in a small town close to the Turkish Syrian border. I assumed the journey would be eventful and it did. Pammukale was our first choice and my friend from Istanbul had highly recommended this place. From the pictures on the internet the mountains looked like soft white snow covered gems, but in reality they were something different.

The missed breakfast was made up for, as Asis’s wife had packed a huge mountain sized sandwich for us to eat in the car. All the sandwich had was meat and some pickled cucumbers, but was tasty. As we drove out of Antalya, Schemuz educated us about the traffic, Antalya’s main income- tourism, the EXPO preparations and many more things. He explained the Ottoman history and it was fascinating. Conversing with him was a little difficult as he did not understand most of our questions. I am fascinated with History and when he said in his broken English that he was a teacher of one of my favorite subjects, I was excited, but as I said earlier, conversing with him was proving to be a nightmare and after a while, I decided to give up and enjoy the gorgeous views of the Turkish country side.

Lined up on roadsides were acres and acres of farm land. As it was September, we could see orange farms, melon or what Schemuz called Melone farms, plums, peaches. Verina enquired about the farms and crop cultivations and Schemuz told her that summers are even more beautiful with cherries growing everywhere. He even told us that he would take us to an orchard to pluck fruits on our way back. That got Verina excited.

As we were nearing Pamukkale, Schemuz pointed a distant white mountain amidst several other usual colored mountains. This one stood out. “That is Pamukkale” he exclaimed. It looked completely different from what it looked in pictures. It looked like a snow capped mountain, but only the cap was long enough to cover the whole body. He dropped us at the entrance and told us to call him at around 3 pm, once we finish our sightseeing. We had a good four hours to spend.

Milky pools collecting the nice warm water running from natural springs

Pammukale or the Cotton Castles in Turkish are natural thermal spring in mountains with left over calcium which flows down and collects in beautifully and naturally carved pools. I don’t know how to describe it and one has to visit to experience.

The first thing which struck us was that we hadn’t packed our swimming costumes with us and everyone else was dipping in the calcium rich water in their swim suits. We weren’t aware that we would get an opportunity to dip in these calcium rich pools. Our meticulous planning had bit us on the bum. Now we know why it important to carry essentials in backpacks. Verina had made up her mind that come what may, she will dip in water even if her dress gets ruined. The floor of the mountain is hard and not soft as we feel while seeing the pictures. There are small water puddles everywhere and the base of these puddles are gooey mixture of calcium. People believe that a dip in these waters can enhance ones beauty. The legend says there was an ugly maid in Denizili who thought no one would marry her because of her physical looks. She decided to commit suicide and jumped off the cliff into one of these puddles. Abracadabra she emerges out of the pool as a beautiful maiden and the prince marries her. The calcium washed down the cliff for thousand of centuries has given this mountain a cotton white look.

“Shoes off” a guard at the entrance shouted. We both were carrying back packs and promptly tucked our shoes into the bag. As any tourist, we began clicking pictures forgetting to enjoy this beautiful, one of its kind geography. The guard volunteered to take a snap of both of us in one frame.We began dipping our legs in the mushy soft puddles, soaking in our feet only as we both knew we had valuables like camera and some cash in our bag packs and spare clothes just in case. As we moved up the cliff, we could see the amazing natural famous pools and tourists bathing in them. It was irresistible. In Spite of all my discouragement about tanning and salt Verina got into the pool entrusting her back pack to me.

I promised myself to take a dip on our return trip. There is a waterway which runs through the length of the cliff. As we reached the top, the density of tourists was high as there are a couple of huge pools. The other side of the mountain is an old ruin called Hierapolis. The place is excavated and ruins are neatly kept.

The ruins consisted of many pillars, some gates from where the Ottomans entered Turkey, some streets which used to be bustling, and an old church. We walked all the way till the end and on our way back went to the most famous sites of the ruins- the amphi theatre. One has to enter this site to understand the magnanimity of this structure. The sheer depth from top got me dizzy. A phobic toward heights: I let myself sit in the shade outside sipping some bottled lemonade, whereas Verina explored the theatre all by herself. She somehow managed to get me to the second last step of the theatre for a photograph.

After this encounter with heights we had lunch at the small center at the top of this mountain. There is a pool called Cleopatra’s pool, as the legend says she had a dip in this very pool. We skipped this pool and headed towards the base as we both had decided to dip in calcium rich pools. I packed all my valuables including my t shirt and camera, whereas Verina packed her phone and sandals in her bag. As soon as we found a suitable pool, we dumped our bags at a crevice in the cliff and jumped into the pool. It was fun as we dipped in the cold water and rubbed some of the calcium on our skins. Back in the day, our painters used to used calcium carbonate or Suno for white washes. The whole place was white washed and that too naturally.

There are no changing rooms anywhere and we had to change behind one of the white walls. As expected, Schemuz was already waiting at the gate. This area specifically reminded me of Udupi bus stand during my childhood days- lot of juice centers serving fresh sugarcane juice. On our way back to Antalya, as we soaked in the good memories of the day, Schemuz, as promised stopped next to a fruit vendor. While he spoke to the vendor in Turkish, we were busy looking at the abundant bounties of nature in their purest form- peaches, apples, oranges, tomatoes, plums hanging from their respective trees. I would like to mention the ethics and nature of Turkish people here. The vendor, who was selling fruits, had his farm on the opposite side of the road and when Schemuz asked him whether we can pluck fruits off the trees, he delightfully agreed and led us to the other side of the road, towards his farms. Back home, our vendors would have happily allowed us to plunder someone else’s farm.

Schemuz was a wonderful guide who not only educated us about his country, but also asked us about ours. He had friends from India. One of the other things, which we both were amazed at was the influence Bollywood has on Antalya and Turkey. Sunny Leonne’s “Desi look” topped party houses and pubs, whereas Shemuz had his own collection of Hindi numbers for us in the car. It was so nice. We Indians, when in India always complain about how bad and rotten our system is, but somehow we have managed to showcase ourselves as an amazing country. I think this is the very reason we are where we are. We don’t admit our shortcomings and when we don’t admit, how can we correct them?

We reached back at around 5 :30 and without wasting anytime, we were ready to strike off Hamam off our to do list. To be honest, I was disappointed with the Hamam. I somehow felt it is overhyped. There is nothing great about a semi naked middle aged man rubbing my body with soapy water and oil and then finally asking for “Bakshis”. As I waiting for Verina to come out of from her ladies only Hamam, she too expressed the same thoughts. It seems at one point during the Hamam, sleeping in the hot marble slab, looking at the broken high dome shaped ceiling; thoughts about her being locked up there crossed her mind. Anyways we were happy that we had not postponed the Hamam to Istanbul as it would have  been a bigger waste of time.

Just as were discussing about how bad the Hamam was, our eyes lit up as we saw a vendor selling mussels. We had seen Arya selling some in Game of thrones and we tried it and they were good. Mussels in their shells topped with a ball of rice. We had dinner at the center of the old city and had the famous chicken cooked in the tagine and bread washed down with two glasses of red wine. As it was a Saturday night, there were hordes of young girls and boys all dressed up going to clubs and pubs. We were reminded of Cardiff weekends, where sometimes even we used to go clubbing and pubbing. On enquiring, we learnt there were only a couple of clubs in the old city. Most of the boys and girls love to spend their time in restaurants such as the one we had dinner, chatting, eating and sipping wine. Inspite of being a Muslim country, the country administration is very liberal, which was surprising, just like Dubai. It was so good to see young people socializing, not in pubs and clubs, but in cafes and restaurants- a lost form of socializing in today’s India. I would any day prefer to have a quiet coffee with my friends with a book in hand, than a loud night in the club, where one cannot even hear ones partner

Pammukale is a must visit if you ever visit Turkey.  Every aspect about  visiting this unique geography is memorable. There are plenty of routes  from Antalya, from Izmir  and also Bordum. Try to schedule it as a day trip as the mountain is the only attraction and make sure- pack your swimming clothes and take a spare set of clothes. The place is a photographers paradise, so make sure you get all that professional stuff one needs to take good photos, if you are one, otherwise, just enjoy the dip

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