It was with a heavy heart that I pulled away from winning the Nobel Prize for Economics and woke up. It was with a different heavy heart that we got ready that day as we were leaving the first leg of our trip from the beaches and venturing out. My wife had prudently enquired the day before as to the timings of trains departing from Selçuk and we had planned accordingly as outlined in the VIP brief below,
09:30 AM: Depart from Selçuk bound for Denizli
12:30 AM: Catch a bus from Denizli to the North Entrance
01:00 PM: Walk down to Pamukkale
05:00 PM: Catch a bus back to Denizli
05:30 PM: Stare at Turkish chicks
05:33 PM: Get beaten up by wife
05:35 PM: Nurse wounds
10:00 PM: Overnight trip to Cappadocia
Now, even though I would like to attribute this brilliant one-day plan to our highly sharpened travelling acumen, it is with deep disdain that I have to force myself to acknowledge this link. It gives absolutely full details on how to do it. And we followed it word by word, like the time my friend Manhar from engineering copied the answer to describing a 3-phase Synchronous Motor and promptly forgot to return my sheet, ensuring I had to rewrite the answer from scratch.
After a rather heavy, dispassionate and slightly redundant breakfast with the same menu, we bade a cheery farewell to our host and left for the railway station. En route, we exchanged some currency at a jewelry store as advised by the hotelier.
TIP 1: Exchange at jewelry stores only, across Turkey. They give the best rates. The first time we did, that was the best rate we got and we rued for the rest of the trip, wishing we had done more.
At the railway station, we spent a good 20 minutes figuring out where the platform was. There were two railway tracks, but only one platform – the one that we had got off on. Logic suggested that the same train cannot go in two directions and the one going to Denizli must be on the second track. But there was no other platform. A daily commuter on the Mumbai local who would have started with a full crop of hair would have ended up resembling Agassi by the end of deconstructing this conundrum.
We eventually located a small raised concrete thingummy, 1 ft in height 2 ft in width, snugly built between the two tracks. We quickly crossed the tracks and stood on, made to understand that this was it. It was, as they say, it, when soon enough around 50 odd people crowded around the narrow concrete pathway. The train came, we boarded and off we were.
The train journey
The train journey was uneventful. Apart from the fact that I forgot my book – Bartimaeus The Golem’s Eye, while getting off. It was a sad thing to happen. Very sad. Very very sad. Very very very sad.
Denizli was a stale breath of fresh air, with its skyscrapers and huge buildings. It took us back to our European travails where the stark contrast between country and city had often befuddled and unsettled us. We followed the instructions as given in the link above, deposited our luggage, booked the night bus tickets from one of the several service providers (all of them are the same) and then waited for the minibus to the Northern Entrance of the necropolis at Hierapolis.
The Hierapolis cemetery is one of the most thrilling and scariest places I have seen in my life. The minibus took us through Pamukkale town and up a small hill, winding through a vast expanse of what looked like the shooting spots of Mad Max Fury Road (it was not) ejecting us out at the even more desolate Northern Entrance to the Hierapolis.
TIP 2: Since the shuttle goes through the town and has a stop there, there will be travel agents who will urge you to get down so that they can accommodate their folks in the van. They will tell you that it is the same thing and that the travertines can be accessed. All hogwash. The same logic as applied at Ephesus applies here - easy coming down than going up.
Walking between the sarcophagi, the tumulus graves, and other scary looking ruins gave us the heebie-jeebies. The darkly clouded weather made it look even spookier, we were almost expecting some ghost to jump up out of a grave and offer us HDFC credit cards. Speaking of depressing, funny things, did I mention the Gujarati couple whom we met in the van along with their two children? We did not make conversation, obviously. But they thought we were from another country and went on fighting unabashedly; the wife doing most of the talking, as in most marriages, blasting the husband to kingdom come for making them walk so much. The husband was mute – what else can the poor chap do? It was a forbearance that I missed and later paid the price.
We made quick time reaching the colossal colosseum within 40 minutes; the walk was peppered with glimpses of the calcified landscape that we were to see later.
The theatre was very similar to what we had seen in Ephesus, only bigger. If the two theatres in Ephesus had a baby and that baby had another baby with the colosseum in Rome, then it would be this baby theatre. The climb is slightly steep and the topmost point is definite to give vertigo. But the view is stupendous, the valley towards the west, the ruins that we had just passed to the north, the town a bit beyond, on the south west.
Suffice to say, we spent a lot of time taking photos.
The Antique Pool and Lunch
After around two hours of walking and taking snaps, we entered the Antique pool. The pool was a complete fraud. It was nothing more than that-blight-of-water-theme-parks, the lazy river. But I wanted to take a dip and so I did. My wife was comfortable sitting it out and taking James Bond-level photos of my rock-solid abs, wading into the pool, wading awkwardly amongst octogenarians in bikinis, wading over half-sunk ruins and wading generally while clutching a toe that I had just scraped painfully against a pretty sharp stone. The water was evenly warm, not hot, and there was this nagging feeling that somebody had just peed in it. With the multitude of kids around, I was really skeptical. But having grudgingly shelled out 40 TL for this, I was not going to waste even one minute. I had a leisurely swim.
After I was done, I was ravenous. We ordered a döner kebab that was exorbitantly priced and tasted like sandpaper wrapped around a brick. Disappointment notwithstanding, lunch was redeemed by the ever-awesome Efes pilsner. We then strode to the final highlight of our day – the travertines.
My brother had long nurtured an ambition of driving all the way to Ooty from Coimbatore on a two-wheeler. The foolhardiness of this goal was obviously lost on him even though highly mature adults (read me and my mother) advised him. But all thanks to an ever-understanding father, he surprised him with a Royal Enfield on his birthday. I can vividly picture that day, when he came home from office to see this brand new RE standing in front of the house with dad holding out the bike keys, mom frothing at the mouth and me eating paniyaraams with coconut chutney. Even after 40 minutes, his jaws were still in take-off mode.
We had a similar reaction.
The travertines is awe-inspiring to say the least and to believe that nature could be so brutal in creating something so increasingly beautiful with every passing second of seeing, was too tough to take in one go. Like kashayam. We were numbed for some time, around 5 seconds after which I took out my camera and started taking pictures.
The next 1 hour or so, we spent descending ever so slowly evading the numerous selfie sticks, a gang of boisterous Telugu people with whom my wife wanted to quickly have a chat and I gave her a look that would have shriveled a tortoise, and other locals who wanted to take pictures with me for some reason. All the way down to the town, we squelched our way through pools and pools of water-filled calcium deposits. We reached the bus stop and ruminated what we had just experienced, while slowly munching authentic Turkish Kwality Walls ice cream.
We reached Denizli as the evening shadows lengthened. It had started drizzling.
The Best Baklava
We did not mind the pitter-patter and strolled around the city, taking in the smells of baklava and meat sizzling at corner stores, the colorful streamers waving across the roads, trucks emptying electronic goods, cars and bikes waiting at signals and the women with neatly embroidered scarves, girls with tattoos and piercings, men who were selling cheap imitations of mobile phones and jewelry, and kids just returning from school. Out of sheer boredom, we stepped into a bakery at a corner that was run by a small lady who spoke very bad English.
She was just taking out steaming baklava from the oven and ladling them out to trays. Wife suggested that we taste one. We did. And that was the best, softest, wettest and sweetest baklava I had tasted in my entire trip in Turkey. It was highly regrettable that I did not buy there and wasted a lot of money in Istanbul buying the same sweet for a steep price. It was criminal.
And also stupid.
We reached the bus station with an hour to eat dinner and have tea. We walked into one of those many outlets at the station and had another one of those İskender kebabs that tasted quite awful compared to what we had throughout our trip so far. But it was one of those days when the food was not so good but we had already eaten our fill of beauty.
TIP 3: Do not eat anything at any bus station. There are better restaurants outside with better menus at cheaper prices. Always.
The bus was nothing more than a normal KSRTC Volvo bus and was actually slightly worse off. Nevertheless, we were too tired to complain and dozed off.