The Isha Prayer was just done. There was Azan playing in the background. My friend grabbed a Shawarma from a street-side stall, Tandoors were set up in front of the cafe & people were savouring the kebabs. I got a good bargain from the street shopping and walked shoulder in the shoulder with so many others in the narrow busy shopping street. There was a festive charm all around.
Faisal who runs a handcrafted jewellery store in grand bazar has a story to tell about each piece he sells. His family hailed from Peshawar and addressed us as Purana Rishtedar while he introduced us to two other female travellers from Karachi. We all sipped Chaya together discussing the food we love in our respective citiesWe were in the grand bazaar but it felt like I’m wandering in the streets of Charminar during Ramzan.
Hailing from Hyderabad I am in love with the Archiatic charm of Istanbul. It felt like home.
The country still holds a secular approach. Nowhere in the country will you ever be asked or questioned about your religion-to each his own. The respect towards one’s choice of religion is something that the world should make a note of!
Hyderabad and the Ottoman Empire:
he lovely Princesses Durru shehvar and Niloufer are won the hearts of Hyderabadis for the reforms they brought to this city. They set up so many colleges and hospitals which till date runs on their names. They laid stones for modern amenities, worked on women empowerment and changed the Hyderabad’s social circuit. They were amongst the first Female royals who were very outgoing. The lovely ladies spoke multiple languages, were part of elite clubs, rode horses, cars and played outdoor games.
Ottoman Princess Durru shehvar was married to the Nizam Prince Azam Jah and Niloufer to Prince Mauzam after the Royal family moved to France when Turkey was declared as a republic. They moved to Hyderabad soon after the simple wedding.
Along with the social reforms, they also bought in some Ottoman culture, great fashion and new cuisines to the Royal city. They live in the hearts of the Hyderabad people.
I always say experiences are more important than Ticking off things to do and see. In a cultural hub like Istanbul visiting the historical sites is the ticket to time travel and know about the Complicated long history of the city. The sites of the historic quarters are recognised by Unesco for the unique architecture.
The blue mosque, Hagia sofia, Basilica cistern, Topkapi palace, are all near Sultanahmet square and are top attractions of Istanbul. There is a train stop near this. Luckily for us sultanahmet was just a block away from where we stayed.
The Galata tower is a medieval cone capped stone tower and gives amazing panoramic view of the city (keep in mind the long queues. It is one of the best things to do in Istanbul.
Rumeli castle is a medieval fortress on the banks of bosphorus river. It dates back to 14th century. Today, its open to the public as museum. It also hosts open air concerts and events. I found this to be one of the offbeat things to do in Istanbul as there were almost no tourists when we went.
Everybody here is a fan of three Khan’s. However, my host Dev was a huge fan of Mithun Da. He said I was not a true Indian when I said I don’t know of the Mithun Chakraborty starrer movie Mard. I did my best to convince him of my Bollywood Patriotism by singing “I am a Disco Dancer”. On one of the evenings where we went on a casual stroll, we even danced for Why this Kolaveri di in one of the local’s Art studio. So keep your Bollywood Patriotism high when you go there. It’s a common topic to start a conversation with locals.
Walking from Europe to Asia:
My room opened to a view of the Bosphorus river with the cityscape flanking it. It was like any river view for me, till, I came to know the marvel of the water body. You know how we’ve drawn imaginary geopolitical borders crisscrossing our globe, this was a dark blue line drawn by Nature on the face of the earth which divided the 2 greatest continents – Asia & Europe.
I stayed on the European side, very close to the Sultanahmet square, and was always intruded to check what it’s like on the other side.
As I walk from Sultanahmet square to the Galata tower on the cobblestone roads takes you through narrow streets, Cozy local run tea shops, Tram stops, the spice markets on the main road are of a great deal and of a great variety, range and majorly these are the products of the nation itself. You get to see the display of spices in an unusual way. The spices in their whole form are strewn together like a garland and hung from the ceilings of the shops.
As I went to the top level of the Galata bridge to cross over to the Asian side, I see Men in a row fishing over the edge. There is also a fish market on the lower level of the bridge.
I asked a Man how many fish he caught for the day. He said that sometimes he catches enough for the entire week and none on a few days and that day was one such.
Fishing is also like life you know!
Shopping in Istanbul – Local Markets:
Istanbul had always been a very important stoppage on the Silk Road. This city was the only one which connected the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and was the gateway to the two biggest continents Asia and Europe. So the markets here have so many things to offer.
Grand Bazaar is the largest covered market, it has 60+ streets and 5000+ shops including jewellery, clothes, lights, ceramics, cutlery, currency exchange kiosks and cafes.
Spice Bazaar/Spice market/Egyptian market is nearby the Grand Bazaar and the majority sells Spices. But you can also sample the famous Turkish delight, Dryfruits, a variety of nuts and a range of different tea.
Arasta bazaar near the blue mosque is a long stretch of different stores. This is my favourite market. It’s not too big, not too crowded and gives a traditional Turkish charm. The best market to buy tea, I’ve seen a very unique variety of tea including anti-ageing, diabetic cure, Skin glow, tea for a hangover, flower tea and many more.
Galata is one of the oldest quarters in Istanbul and has designer boutiques, cafes and different stores sell a little bit of everything!!
Cukurcuma and Beyoglu. Beyoglu is a stylish shopping area where you can find branded stores and stylish boutiques. Cukurcuma is a vintage area with close 200 shops where you can find artistic stuff, antiques and fashion stores. It has years of history and hence has influences of so many empires.
Book Bazaar. The old book bazaar is called Sahaflar carsisi. This is minutes away from the grand bazaar. If you are a book lover this is the place for you. I picked up some classic gems, one of the books I acquired was from 1901 and was signed by the original owner of the book. It feels destined to find a few books 🙂
If you want to shop for regular international brands there are shopping malls and Taksim square has some amazing brand stores.
Getting there: There are both direct flights and connecting flights to Istanbul. It takes about 8 hours (without considering the layovers) From the airport, private taxis taking you to the city are available for anything between 70 lira – 150 lira. The train facility is available as well.
Visa & Currency: Turkey offers e-visa to Indians if you have an existing Schengen/UK/Ireland/USA visa. Apply and get a visa in 15 min – Turkey E-Visa
If you don’t have any of the above, one can apply for a Turkish visa through VFS Turkey After submitting the application to VFS, it can take anywhere between 7-10 days to get the visa
You can exchange Indian rupees with Turkish Lira in either of the Airports but we got a better exchange price from the Grand Bazaar – Istanbul.
Getting around: Istanbul has a great transport system. The frequency of trams and buses is pretty decent. I highly recommend taking an istanbul kart (tap & go card). It works in trams, subways, boats and buses as well. You can find the kiosks near all the stations. It costs you 7 Turkish Lira (refundable on returning the card) you can add credit according to your plan.
Dress code: It’s a secular state. On a sunny day, I saw men and women wearing shorts and chirping around the streets. I also saw Women wearing burqas. So it’s pretty much upto you how you want to dress up.
Is Istanbul safe for women travellers? I visited Turkey along with 2 other lovely ladies (My best friends). We never felt Unsafe in Istanbul or even the interior parts of turkey. Sure we got some unwanted attention here and there but that is negligible. Be responsible while going to clubs and alcohol intake. Don’t encourage flirty behaviour from strangers and alway follow basic safety precautions. .
Food: It’s a paradise for Non-vegetarians. There are a wide variety of shawarmas and kebabs to treat your taste buds.
But for vegetarian food lovers like me, I can’t say that I did not find authentic food. I cannot express my love for Hummus, pita breads, Gozleme, veg lahmancun and kisir.
Here’s the link to find vegetarian and vegan friendly places to eat in Istanbul.
Istanbul weather: Summers are warm 28 degrees and falls to 3 degree during winters. The peak season is from May to August. According to me the best Months to visit are April, september and October as the crowds are manageable and weather is pleasant.
Language: In Istanbul, most of the people speak English. Do greet locals with Merhaba.
Takeaways: Turkish delight (candies made with dry fruits), Tea from Arasta bazaar, spices from Egypt market, Baklava -a famous mouth watering dessert from Taksim square or Karakoy, Carpets from grand bazaar, silver Jewellery (trust me the designs are incredible) and most importantly lots of memories.
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