Bucket List for Cappadocia

blog cover

Turkey is one of those amazing countries where tourism runs the show (and the economy) by and large. While it is fair to say, that the more you see this culturally and historically rich country, the more you’ll want to explore it deeper.

Today, I will talk about Cappadocia – a natural wonder in the Central Anatolian region of Turkey covering the provinces of Aksaray, Nevsehir, Nigde, Kayseri and Kirsehir. Cappadocia means the ‘Land of Horses’ and the region is best known for its quiet, serene and soothing aura. You can call it either Cappadocia (cap-a-doshia) or Kapadokya, both are correct.

After a lot of thinking, I decided that the best way to share my experience would be to put down a bucket list for Cappadocia for all travel buddies, highlighting what all can you expect from this unique region of underground cities, cave churches, cave houses and natural rock formations. So here goes:

1. Take a Balloon Flight

Balloon Flight

One of the many clicks capturing the moment

You can’t be in Cappadocia and miss taking a balloon flight. Cappadocia is one of the very few tourist spots in the world where balloon flights are carried out. Being a rare adventure, it is a bit pricey, but it’s absolutely worth the once in a life time experience. Basically, each balloon is divided into four  compartments and can carry about 5-6 (adult) passengers. The fun is in the view seriously; fly amidst the clouds with so many colorful balloons in the air and look at the beautiful valleys on the ground.

The balloon goes really high in the air…I mean seriously high (anywhere between 500 to 1,000 metres, depending on how windy a day is), so if you are afraid of heights, you’ll have to scrap this adventure, sadly. It is a 45 min to 1 hour ride and a photographer’s dream come true kind of activity. It might get a bit boring though for some, after the initial 20 minutes. Once you get back on the ground, which is quite fun by the way too,  the pilot and passengers celebrate and all passengers receive their flight certificates.

Tips:
* Ticket per person: $105
* Universal Flight Company is 100% secured with certified pilots

2. A visit to Kaymakli Underground Cave City

Kaymakli Underground City

Walking through a tunnel in the cave city

This cave city was built in 8th or 7th century BC. History tells that the inhabitants, mostly Christians used the caves to protect themselves from their enemies to avoid persecution. The city is planned over nine floors, of which only four are open to tourists. It is best to take a guide, who can give you a detailed tour of the cave city and the way people lived in there. It is interesting to note how intelligent the people in those times must have been looking at the construction of tunnels, the ventilation and climate control put in place, their tools and equipment, considering it was all done over a thousand years ago.

Tips:
* Tall people will find it difficult to walk through the narrow tunnels.
* Not recommended for those who suffer from claustrophobia or arthritis.
* Not suitable for senior lot or people with special needs.
*Don’t forget to take a look at the shops outside the cave city to buy some memorable souvenirs. Oh and you must learn to bargain like crazy.

3. Goreme Open Air Museum

Goreme Open Air Museum

The cave churches are well preserved with impressive frescos inside

The museum exhibits a number of cave churches from the 10th and 11th centuries. Some of the churches still have their original frescos well preserved. You will come across a few cemeteries in some rooms with real skeletons of the inhabitants. Photography is not allowed inside the caves to avoid flash light that harms the original structure. For the same reason, guides are also not allowed to go in any of the churches and rooms to avoid noise pollution.There is a Dark Church, which has an additional entry ticket, and it is in a far better condition compared to all the other churches. If you’re interested in history, do visit this museum along with the gift shops.

Tips:
*If you don’t have a guide, get an audio guide to help you through the tour of the museum.
*Not suitable for senior lot or people with special needs as the tour requires plenty of walking and climbing up and down the stairs.

4. Admire the Fairy Chimneys

Fairy Chimneys

The fairy chimneys are natural rock formations

Drop by at Pasabag to take a closer look at the fairy chimneys, which are naturally stunning rock formations shaped over a 1000 years. They are known as mushroom rocks too and the story goes on to say that the rocks on top of the natural chimneys were placed by a fairy, from where the name ‘fairy chimneys’ originates. When we went, it was too cold along with the unexpected rains that didn’t allow us to fully enjoy or climb the chimneys. So hope to visit Pasabag on a sunny day to make the most of your visit.

5. Use your Imagination

Imagination Valley

What can you spot there? Unfortunately, I didn’t take too many pics here

While exploring Cappadocia, do take a 15 minute stopover at Devrent Valley, also known as the ‘Imagination Valley’ to spot rocks with a range of shapes (again formed solely by nature). You will see rocks that resemble the swirling dervish, a huge camel or dinosaur, bird, rabbit, frog, dolphin, ducks and much more. No matter what your guide tells you, the game is to use your own imagination here. Don’t forget to take pictures.

Tips:
* Keep a close eye on the kids here as these are, at the end of the day simply rocks and you don’t want any unforeseen accidents due to carelessness.

6. Walk with the Pigeons

Pigeon Valley

The pigeons were too far off at the time, but what an amazing place to sit and relax

Do take a walk in the beautiful Pigeon Valley, with pigeon roosts built in the rock formations and a zillion pigeons flying here and there. It is quite a sight really. Look for the tiny holes where the pigeons have built their homes. You will also come across the Evil Eye Tree here, another specialty of this amazing place. This is also a 15-30 minute stop over max.

7. Meet the original Pottery Makers

Sultan Ceramics

One, out of a million brilliant pieces!

Cappadocia is the place where pottery making has been a flourishing industry. It is an intricate work of art from handcrafting to designing each piece. We visited Sultan Ceramics, which is owned by a family of pottery craftsmen. They have been in this business for over 250 years now. Yes, there are me too, cheaper versions of pottery too readily available, but the high quality of pottery exhibited by the experts here is fantastic and unique, to say the least. You will get so confused what to buy and why not, the endless variety of items will kill you.

8. And the Carpet Makers

Cappadocia is home to the carpet making business. We visited a carpet factory where we learnt how significant this craft was since the good old days. It is said that a long time ago, it was especially important for girls to make carpets, so much so, that only if a girl could handcraft a particular type of carpet on her own, she was eligible for marriage. Of course, with time the craft is only done by a limited number of women. However, the state is preserving the craft and the tradition by funding the industry and ensuring that young women get trained in this craft. We witnessed how intricate and interesting carpet making is. You will get amazed to see how much effort goes into making a single carpet. In two words, it’s all about getting the ‘knots right’. A cursory look at the carpets exhibited was simply breath taking. These carpets are quite expensive by the way, but those who understand and appreciate the craft, pay any price to purchase them.

8. Try the Turkish Food and Tea

Turkish food

I ate a lot on that day

This is of course a given; you can’t possibly not dig into some Turkish food. Although, I am quite bipolar when it comes to food, but surprisingly I enjoyed the Turkish food (well, mostly chicken, cheese, pasta and bread). It is not spicy at all (and that is a bit challenging for Pakistanis and Indians), but I loved the way they served their salads and meals followed by bakhlavas or fruits. Turkish tea is a vital part of their cuisine and while the original Turkish tea is great, do give a shot at the flavored tea as well…the apple tea in Cappadocia was particularly mind blowing.

9. Hog onto some Turkish Delight

Turkish dessert

Dwell in the sweetness

Turkish Dessert

Simple but sweet

If you miss out on having the Turkish Delight (with endless variety) and the other desserts, that would be a cardinal sin. So DON’T! Also, you will find some of the most finest quality of nuts, peanuts, cashews etc. here. Try these out. They are so good!

10 Say ‘Hello’ to the strays

Cappadocia

A walking tour on our own – no guides, no time limits, no worries at all

Turkish Dogs

They mind their business

Turkish Dogs

And they love to take naps

Exploring Cappadocia on your own is necessary. Do step out and take a walking tour on your own. Watch the scenery, the rocks, the simple life of the locals, the barber shops, the tea shops, terrace restaurants and most importantly, say hello to all the stray dogs and cats that cross your path. Be prepared to meet a LOT of furkids. They are harmless, mostly neutered and busy taking naps. But they are huge and can scare those who are not animal lovers. I loved watching them, never disturbed them and just took a few clicks from a distance.

So basically, I had a great time here and loved the simplicity of life displayed in this wonderful part of Turkey with such hospitable and sweet people. Well, here was my recommended ‘Bucket List’ for Cappadocia and I hope you’ll find it useful. Don’t forget to share your experiences too!

 

 

 

 

Travel Diaries: Bhurban and the enchanted snow

20160211_134736 - Copy (2)

Snowfall in Bhurban (photo credit: scribbleomaniac)

Last year I took a quick trip to Bhurban with my family. Bhurban is a small town and hill station in the Punjab province located at a height of about 6,000 feet. We didn’t have time to go for a grand tour, but we desperately needed a little expedition for a breather. I was about to begin my new job soon and it had been a nerve wrecking recruitment process really. After all that emotional drainage, I needed to step out of Karachi – my home city, which I dearly love because it is so happening and loud (except that it lacks greenery and beautification in abundance) and partly because I am way too loyal to it.

Anyway, so we took an early morning flight to Islamabad – the capital city of Pakistan. It just so happens that Islamabad serves the purpose of a stop-over for most of our local trips up north. We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant there and it totally sucked. So, we rushed to Bhurban , (which is only a 45 minute drive from Islamabad) without wasting any more time. Despite our many visits to Islamabad and up north, this was the first time that I was going to Bhurban.

20160210_165234 (2)

PC Bhurban – our abode for two days (photo credit: scribbleomaniac)

We lodged at Pearl Continental – (PC) Bhurban for the next two days that we spent in Bhurban. Being quite well-traveled by now (touchwood), I must add PC Bhurban was quite not up to my expectations. I am sure it must be rather lavish and quite the place when it opened up some zillion years ago, but I have a feeling they are a bit caught somewhere in time. To start off, they didn’t have clean pillows and bed sheets and the room floors were not properly cleaned/mopped daily. I never expected this from a 4 star PC chain of hotels honestly. Secondly, their staff in general was quite snobbish with an unacceptable attitude for being in the service industry. Oh and one more thing, they play this lousy music outside PC all day and all night. It’s not even soothing to the ears and it NEVER stops.

20160210_165300 (2)

Another click of PC Bhurban (photo credit: scribbleomaniac)

Anyway, we were kind of stuck and so we simply decided to ignore a lot of things while we were there.  We took a stroll outside and you can see some of the shots that I clicked during our walks. Bhurban is like a recreational, coffee hang-out place for people in general. People from Islamabad and near-by areas such as Murree take a little drive and drop by over the weekend only to have fun, sip some tea or coffee, click selfies and off they go by night time to their homes. PC Bhurban is open to visitors for this purpose for a meager entry fees.

On the first day, we had dinner at one of the restaurants in PC only. The food was good considering how disappointing everything else was. We relaxed in our rooms and called it an early night.

As if God understood how sad our little outing was turning out be, He gave us a surprise. The next morning, we were welcomed by this unexpected snowfall all over Bhurban. I went into the balcony and the view had changed drastically. The same place was all white and now I figured, this is what makes Bhurban so special, although we quite accidentally happened to witness this enchanting snowfall, thanks to mother-nature.

20160211_103330 (2)

Waking up to a snow laden Bhurban (photo credit: scribbleomaniac)

We couldn’t of course be inside our rooms after God had sent us snow. We decided to take a walk outside and man was it a great stroll or what. It’s these little adventures that make life so much more wonderful. I have to admit, I make most of my life-changing decisions in such moments. They clear my brain and allow me to see things in a different perspective. I may still struggle as a course of action, but I have never regretted my decisions amidst God’s heavenly creations. They are just too powerfully blissful.

20160211_135116 (2)

Whattay fun walk it was! (photo credit: scribbleomaniac)

We reached a club and walked to the local restaurant there. We literally paved our way because the snow level on the ground was almost 2 to 3 feet by then and in some places even higher. The scenery was exotic and mind boggling. We also met this sweet dog along the way who was such a lovely sight but hopefully, he reached a warmer spot to rest up as we said goodbye to him.

20160211_141021 (2)

The sweet encounter. My sister is ever so friendly with all the fur kids she meets. (photo credit: scribbleomaniac)

The food at the club was Pakistani to the core; freshly cooked and tasted so fine I couldn’t stop eating. I was freezing and I couldn’t take nice pictures to show you how good their food was, but trust me it was one of the finest lunches I have ever had in my life.

The next day we bid farewell to Bhurban and drove back to Islamabad. I have to admit, the snow did its magic and made my Bhurban trip so memorable, but I might really never visit PC Bhurban after my sorry experience (at least not on my expense). However, let me be honest, despite my negative review, it is the only decent place where most foreigners, corporate delegations, honeymooners and families prefer to stay while in Bhurban – and PC  Bhurban is quite well aware of the fact that they are the only available option in the market.

20160211_141912 (2)

The snow did its magic and made Bhurban so memorable (photo credit: scribbleomaniac)

When we came back and shared pictures of the snow-laden trees of Bhurban with our friends, they actually thought we went to Russia or some place in Europe. But, we were so proud to correct them and show-off that it is Pakistan. It is true, people have no idea how much beauty Pakistan has in store and sadly our state doesn’t do much to enhance tourism in every province. At least, through my blog I will do my bit of sharing how amazing Pakistan is.

Well that’s a wrap and I hope you enjoyed reading about my Bhurban journey as much as I loved writing about it. Please do give your feedback on how can I make things better on the blog – remember I am still a novice at this 🙂

Travel Diaries: A Thai Experience

Image0887 (2)

Clicked while taking a late night walk at Patong Beach

A visit to Thailand is a must for all travel buddies. It is by far one of the most economical and adventurous travel destinations of the world both for younglings as well as the senior lot. I have visited Thailand a few times over the course of years and I believe all my trips have been quite enjoyable. Today, I’ll share some of the highlights of my Thai trips.

A lone trip to Thailand gives the feeling that one has championed the chart of independence and absolute confidence. Though, I would always recommend going with a group of friends for a safer and more pleasant journey. As mentioned before, you don’t need a lot of money on you for this trip. If you’re a working person, saving two to three salaries or utilizing that bonus, which  you were recently awarded, will easily cover your ticketing, hotel booking, recreation as well as shopping.

Though most people would only go and explore the beautiful islands and the exotic beach resorts of Thailand and happily return with an impressive tan while diving in the sea, I would recommend that whenever you’re planning a Thai trip try to manage your itinerary in a balanced way by exploring both the islands as well as the city life.  Bangkok, Pattaya city, Phuket island, and Patong beach should be on your list for sure.

It’s always best to start with the adventurous part with a visit to the beaches and the islands. I, in particular loved the Patong beach resort in Phuket where you can’t miss out on parasailing and the jet ski ride. Pattaya city, on the other hand offers similar tourist attractions, so it’s up to you how you wish to plan the trip. Do try a day package where you can visit several islands, each with their own specialty. It depends how much of a sea lover you are to experience such boat rides and island stop overs. One island trip was more than enough for someone like me.

If you happen to visit Phuket, a walk down the Walking Street at night time is a sure shot. No one should miss it. Don’t get overwhelmed when you hear ‘How much? How much?’ all around you. Do remember, prostitution is as common as the air out there so we must not judge anyone.  The best thing to do is to walk and observe, visit a few clubs and pubs. For girls, and especially younger ones, do go in a larger group, if you could, as there can be times when strangers start following you, so it is better to avoid such encounters by being a little vigilant.

DSC03181 (2)

The leap of faith at World Bungy Jump, Patong Beach (that dude took forever to jump :P)

Also, if you are the adventurous sort, which I was till a few years back, you must try the bungy experience. I went to World Bungy Jump at Patong Beach for my first bungy experience. I was excited and it went pretty well. It was a quite a feeling…a feel free from the world, in just a matter of seconds kind of moment. Go for it, I say!

On the islands, I would seriously not recommend any shopping, because that can be covered in a substantial way from Bangkok or the main city areas, where you can go all wild on a shopping spree. Let me warn you, you might end up spending more than you planned, so be a little prepared.

Negotiation is the key in Thailand and does help immensely in how you end up shopping. The natives are not always very friendly but they mean business and want to make the most out of each sale, so a good bargain expert in the group can come handy here. A Thai trip is incomplete without the thai massages and there are a zillion massage parlors all over Thailand. Just one advice don’t go over board and be smart about your choice of spa as there are so many everywhere. Also, nail art and temporary/permanent tattoos are a Thai specialty, for those who are interested.

Some other places to visit include Ripley’s Believe It or Not, safari, the numerous temples and monuments, the Sleeping Budda being a crucial one. One thing to obviously experience is the Full Moon Party, another Thai forte that is pretty crazy and that will take you in a trance mode for so many hours.

I can never say much on the food part as I normally have issues with food. I am not such a big fan of Thai, Chinese or Japanese delicacies, so I went for Burger King and other such outlets. Starbucks never disappointed me ever and how can it.

This pretty much covers my Thai trips, but there is still so much more to be explored there with so many new tourist spots opening there. I  feel a quick Bangkok visit can be so refreshing every now and then not just to re-fill your wardrobe but just to step out of the home to take that little break, which we all need so often.

Travel Diaries: A trip to Malaysia

n512871585_725936_2268

It was in the year 2008 that I took my first international trip without my family.  I never really felt alone, because I went with a considerably large group of colleagues and business partners. As goes my story, it was yet again a psychotic working year for me with some nerve wrecking pressure on all ends. Thus, this was a rather pleasant break.

During my visit to Malaysia two things that I vividly remember about this country is the cleanliness I witnessed in every corner I visited and secondly how vital it was for the natives to be punctual at all times. We were young, stupid, of course excited and being Pakistanis time was least of our concerns, but our guide was quite harsh about it.  So strict that he would actually leave us and go on with the day’s tour plan. We, therefore, had to take his word seriously.

I want to quickly share some of the highlights of this trip today.

Needless to say that if you’re in Malaysia you have to visit the Petronas Twin Towers. I didn’t realize the big deal about them then, but they have their own charm, regardless. On our first night in Kuala Lampur (KL) we had dinner at a rooftop hotel from where we could see the beautiful view of the city’s skylines and of course Petronas right before our eyes.

During the next two days, which were no less than an army training (thanks to Mr. Guide), we visited Genting Highlands, the beautiful hill resort in Malaysia. My favorite place was of course the Genting Theme Park here. The rides, food, shops – it was all fantastic to put it mildly.

The last and third major attraction was a day trip to Sunway Lagoon Theme Park, yes the water theme park. I am not really a big fan of water parks, but I had the right company and I did have shit loads of fun here.

Shopping options are great in KL and I did most of my shopping from Suria KLCC and a few other malls. Food was not really a problem there for Muslims obviously, but my favorite spot was Burger King.

Just sharing that at that time, I didn’t carry a camera and as for my cell phone, though hard to believe, I was not too big on selfies or photography back then. Sadly, I was the fool who visited all these amazing places and didn’t take any decent picture. This was one of the reasons why I delayed my first travel post for so long, because I just wanted to kick start with my Malaysia tour (but with almost zero pictures) and then move further. So, folks spare me for not being too articulate and chronically correct here because I actually relied heavily on my memory here.

Looking back, this trip brings back awesome memories. It gave me the exposure and confidence that I couldn’t have gained otherwise. It was then that I realized how significant traveling is for one’s personal growth in life. As I was writing this post, I really had this urge to visit KL all over again and experience this beautiful country all over again.