Let me start by saying that if you are looking for details on the hot air balloon rides, you won’t find much on this blog. A mix of weather issues and some laziness meant we never ended up on those beauties. However, there is still enough to see around Cappadocia and many things that will still blow your mind with your feet firmly on the ground and at times even below it.
Getting in wasn’t the easiest considering that most don’t believe Turkey to be a massive country. It’s a nearly 2-hour flight from Istanbul followed by another 2 on the road to get to the main Cappadocia area. Add in the airport transit times, it’s more than half a day of travel. We checked into our cave room by late evening and it was wonderful. While there are a lot of artificial caves in many hotels built to explore the unique topography of the place, this one was a real cave, and hence windowless. Other than that, it was quite luxurious and pleasant. It is a small town, easily walkable, and still boasts of the same amazing local food. While the Fairy Chimneys are everywhere, you can go a little outside the city to see them in amazing valleys and beautiful backdrops. Just to put this in perspective, while the locals and visitors alike call them chimney’s, most pictures show a greater resemblance to a phallic symbol.
The next morning started with a tour of the neighboring landmarks. Some beautiful vistas, towns, rock formations, and the most amazing underground caves. There were markets, lovely breakfast places, and small hikes up to climb to some of the chimneys and caves on hillsides. There are three color-coded trips commonly available – Green, Red, and Blue. The Green included a lot of distant places and most importantly Derinkuyu, the underground city that I was very keen to see. There were hikes on hills with beautiful views and caves as well as a trek along a river to see ancient cave paintings. The tour also would take us to the pigeon valley which offered some of the most amazing views of the strange topography. So this was the tour I chose.
The underground city was definitely the most standout experience. The city extends to 16 underground levels going as far as 60 meters below the surface. It is large enough to have accommodated 20,000 people (who obviously didn’t have claustrophobia issues) at a time and also their food supplies and livestock as they hid away from invaders. There were first used in the 8th century to escape from the Arabs and then again in the 14th century to give the Mongols a slip. The thought of the complex underground tunnel and structures being engineered and built so long ago without any machinery is crazy. I was surprised that I managed to walk down the narrow stairways to the 8th level, the deepest level open to visitors, and even took up an offer to walk down solo to the 9th level. Some levels are tiny and claustrophobic and others are wide and spacious. Its still hard to fathom how 20,000 people would stay there for days, but then I didn’t see the bottom 7 levels and many side chambers. There are apparently many such cities connected by kilometers of tunnels. They pre-date the Cu-chi tunnels by over a thousand year and that does blow my mind.
Some of the other stops offered a great view of historic villages, some souvenir shopping, and great hikes on hills with caves and many chimney-like features. The food on the way was simple but delicious and almost all shops were decorated with the Turkish evil eye. There was a long trek next to a beautiful stream that passed many historic caves with some ancient paintings and art. The cave art had taken the hit of time but was still in a condition that one could appreciate both its age and beauty. A number of these paintings date back to the 4th century though many were added through the 11th century. There are many such cave churches though we had time to only visit one. Not all of these caves are easily accessible, though the paintings are spectacular and also historically relevant.
The last part of the tour was a drive to some amazing view points of the Pigeon valley. There is less to be said about this valley, more to be seen. The name comes from numerous pigeon houses that have been carved into the hills, caves and other structures through the years.
In the evening we chose to watch the Whirling Dervishes ceremony at Sarihan Caravanserai. The beautiful historic building is a 30-minute drive from Goreme. It was built around the 12th century as one of the many ‘kervanserays’ (sarai or night-stay for the Caravans) built along the silk route for the convenience of the traders. The structure was beautiful and they projected some beautiful stories on their walls just as the skies overhead got to the blue hour. A delicious welcome drink was followed by a spectacular show of spinning guys and some soulful Sufi music. The performance was religious, cultural, and touristy at the same time but still highly enjoyable. I was really to crash by the time it ended. The morning plan did not involve an early balloon ride but it did include an ATV ride to the Love and Rose valleys.
Driving an ATV on the alien-looking landscape of Goreme all the way to the Love valley and the Rose Valley was exhilarating. The starting point was a lovely local snack shop in the middle of nowhere and then the ride went from one stunning landscape view to the next. The ride ended in a small town where you could grab a bite before riding back. The ATV was quite powerful and the tour guide led us on a moped. He was surprisingly good and would go up and down steep slopes that I was often apprehensive about taking the ATV.
Time was short, but every minute in Goreme and Cappadocia can be an experience like nowhere else. I will miss not having done the balloon ride, but there were still so many memories to take away – a truly out of the World experience.