Monday, June 13, 2005

Istanbul : confluence of cultures

How interesting would be to reside on one continent and go to work on another. One can so easily do that in Istanbul with bridge over Sea of Marmara connecting Asia to Europe. With almost 65% out of 12 million population inhabit on the Asian side But European side is the nerve point of Istanbul's cultural heritage.

Turkey may have just applied for EU membership but country has already set a tone to be EU country. The best example of this change over is Istanbul airport. This is modern, spacious and more functional airport than most I have come across. Despite being governed by traditional Islamic party, Turkey remains secular in character. Mosques- symbols of Istanbul are as much tourist monuments as prayer halls with open access to both sexes and all religion. Guards outside mosque however provide plastic bag to carry your footwear and even provide wrap for those who are scantily dressed. Islam is major religion but weekend is Saturday/Sunday. During Ramadan no special concession with less working hours are offered as in Middle East.

But in terms of tourist security, it still has some work to do.Visitors to Istanbul need to be agile so as not get duped by smart operators. Unfamiliar language, some crooked people and currency complication can make visitors easy victims. Lira has so many zeros on her currency that it takes few days to get used to. By then, you may have accepted 10 cents as a dollar. Beware of touts who tempt you to go to pubs only to leave in the clutches of Mafia rogues. Tourist police are at service and I am told they are not corrupt.

Most of hotel rooms are small like in Western Europe but not that expensive. One can get better deals over internet than booking it locally. Restaurants are plenty and night life is abundant. Sultana is one such joint which have belle dancing, Turkish folk dances over dinner. Direct booking would cost 60Euro, going through hotel be 40Euro inclusive of transport. I also had an opportunity to have dinner at Cirgan Palace Kempinsiki Hotel – on the banks of Bosphorous by far the most luxurious palace I have ever been.

My work kept me locked in convention center located next to Hotel Hilton overlooking Black Sea. With just a half day at my disposal, I visited Sultan Ahmet - Blue Mosque, the most celebrated site of Istanbul. It is believed to have been built by some of the same stone masons who helped construct the Taj Mahal. Interior walls of the mosque have 20,000 blue ceramic tiles and 260 stained glass windows. This and other mosques have unique architecture of central spherical dome along with semi spherical domes placed in cascading fashion. Minarets too are slender with top end similar to Cathedral. Near by Turkish Islamic museum houses the relics of different period of history, they also have carpet section forming the richest collection of carpet art in the world.

There is so much to see, observe and enjoy not just in Istanbul but all over Turkey that only package tour of minimum 7 days would do justice to immense natural, historical, cultural legacy provided that Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires of the past.

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