Cappadocia land of fairy chimneys Swirling in front of me, against the cloudless blue sky is a group of dervishes caught amidst a frenzied performance. But they seem lifeless and their music cannot be heard anymore. It seems like a witch had come upon them while they were performing and turned them into stone. I look at them again and it feels like everything around me is a mirage and am seeing things that don’t exist.
As a child I have always wandered into the recesses of my mind, letting my wild imagination conjure up images and tell me stories. My mind has always been my muse. Sometimes it takes me into a land of fairies, sometimes into the world of witches. And now as I travel far and wide, I let the child in me see the world with wide gaping eyes.
I am in Devrent, a valley in Cappadocia in Turkey and it is not a fabric of green but is pink and rosy. No man had apparently inhabited here before. I look around and I see, what my guide calls a sculpture zoo, made of rocks, chiselled and carved not by man, but by the forces of nature. There is a dragon waiting to breathe fire into the landscape. A camel in shades of pink looks at me. A lizard, a snake, an alligator – they all seem to sprout out of nowhere. It is undoubtedly one of the most surreal places in the world and here is why Cappadocia is one of the most magical place on earth.
The earth here is not flat as am surrounded by a sea of rocky cones and giant pillars chiselled by nature into various shapes, formed due to erosions and eruptions. And they are called fairy chimneys or hoodoos. Almost every hoodoo here looks like a creature from the wild. I wonder if a witch was here and she had used her magic wand on these rocks. Perhaps for her own amusement, she touched a rock here and there and it became a seal or a dolphin. Our eyes play tricks on us. I think I see a crocodile. My companion says it is a snake. A few rise up like mushrooms and they appear to kiss. And my guide points out to a hoodoo that looks like Virgin Mary holding infant Jesus
I am lost in this world of magical shapes, that lends a surreal touch to the lunar landscape. No wonder it is called the Valley of Imagination or The Rose Valley after the fairy chimneys tinged with shades of pink. I am mesmerised by Cappadocia. There are countless valleys here with hoodoos in different shapes reaching out to the skies. Here men lived and built underground cities, created homes and churches in these rock spires at a height of 40 feet or more.
Their troglodyte homes are set in a tableau of yawning valleys while some of these earthen pillars scale 100 feet. But it is the underground cities that fascinate me. Cappadocia has over 35 of them and I visit one of the largest in Goreme, called Kaymakli.
A narrow tunnel takes me below the surface of the earth. As I get used to the dim light, I see rooms hollowed out of rocks, with spaces for kitchens, beds and storage. I pause by chambers, churches, cellars as I crouch and crawl around. Its gets narrower and darker and I wonder how the Christian settlers of the 7th century lived here to escape the Arab invaders. We are barely ten of us here today but this underground settlement built across eight floors supported 3500 people then. Tunnels take us down to the recesses of earth and I reach out to my inner most thoughts. Does fear and desperation in people bring out the best in them? These cities may be covered in a veil of darkness but they are architectural marvels, hidden from civilisation for years. For a moment, I travel back to the era when these cities were breathing with life while oxygen and light seeped through the ventilation shaft. In Cappadocia, wonder and awe accompany me everywhere. Here I am dwarfed by nature’s hand and stunned by man’s creation. Imagine standing in front of a giant earth pyramid with gaping holes in it that look like windows and doors to a nether world. I am in front of these rock hewn pinnacles, feeling humbled. In Cappadocia, fear did not drive men to live underground alone but also atop 50 feet tall fairy chimneys. Standing there for what feels like eternity, I realize that Cappadocia defies all adjectives. This is where for instance chimneys are not man made and they look like mushrooms or dragons. The valleys are not green, but are filled with pink ,ochre or beige tinted hoodoos. This is where you find people living in both underground cities and in towering pyramids and pillars of rocks. You can find a winery underground and a nunnery inside a mountain. And this is probably what both Rajinikanth and Nicolas Cage have in common, as one waltzes a romantic song while the other rides a bike in frenzy in this magical landscape. Mushroom headed hoodoos surround me in a landscape tinged with ochre in Pasabag or the Monks Valley, located amidst a vineyard and hence the name Pacha’s vineyard. As I crane my neck to look higher, I see small homes carved at the pinnacle of the cones as it splits into multiple cones where hermits hid. Some of them even hollowed out rooms in the middle of these earth pillars. I feel like a small microcosm lost in the world with the tall knobbled peaks crowding over me. But the story of St Simeon touches me. When news of his miracles started reaching people, he distanced from them by carving a home for himself at a height of 50 feet, coming down to ground only for food and water. The landscape around me is so breathtaking and yet, it is tinged with melancholy and tells you stories of survival and fear. But art flourished in these troubled times as well. I am surrounded by the hoodoos and caves and they call it the open air museum in Goreme, a World UNESCO site which actually refers to a vast monastic complex with eleven churches, carved in these rocks filled with some of the most beautiful frescos of the Byzantine period. Dated between the 10th-12th centuries , these cave chapels were sites of religious refuge of monks who had settled here and they were probably the artists as well or had worked with them. The names of these churches are intriguing. There is the Apple Church, the Snake Church, the Sandles Church , the Dark Church among others. The churches here have highly figurative paintings drawn from the life of Christ and stories from Bible. However the most spectacular of all churches is the Dark Church which takes you inside through a narrow tunnel. There are paintings everywhere, on the walls, on the dome depicting scenes from the New Testament, Nativity, Last Supper, Betrayal of Judas, Crucifixion among others. My guide tells me that after the Turks invaded the region, it became a pigeon house and it was restored rather recently after cleaning out all the pigeon droppings. However I am a little surprised that the eyes of all the Biblical characters seem to have been scratched out deliberately. As we leave, we stop at the Tokali or Buckle Church that lies a bit outside the museum complex and is the largest church in Goreme. The church has four chambers, the old church built in 10th century, the New Church added in the next century, the Paracclesion and the Lower Church. The church also has a crypt underneath the nave. Stunning paintings in rich indigo decorate the walls of the four main chambers , depicting in detail in vivid hues the Life of Christ and the twelve apostles. Outside is a nunnery which rises up to the six storeys high, although tourists are not allowed beyond the second storey.
Driving around, I realize that Cappadocia intrigues me. It is full of mysteries and surprises. I don’t know what is most fascinating. Nature’s work of art or the man-made architecture in nature’s creation? The paintings inside the rock cut caves or the dragons and mushrooms shaped fairy chimneys ? The desperation with which monks lived high up in fairy chimneys or the life of the people hiding in underground cities built layers below the ground ? In this dreamy and surreal landscape, I stand and stare for hours until it is time to leave. Travel they say expands the mind. My little tryst with Cappadocia leaves me in a mix of emotions – awe, wonder, breathless but above all, humbled. More stories on Cappadocia and Turkey An open air museum in Goreme, Cappadocia Monks Valley, Cappadocia Photofeature – Cappadocia 48 hours in Istanbul At the Blue Mosque in Istanbul Hagia Sophia in Istanbul Belly dancer in Cappadocia – a video