The scintillating blue water of the Bosphorus strait and the high boundary walls of the erstwhile Byzantine civilisation strewn with royal structures in every nook and corner of Istanbul offer travellers everything they would ask for on a holiday.
Thanks to Bollywood, Indians have of late become acquainted with various parts of Istanbul and Turkey at large.
The film “Guru” (2007), apart from picturising the sizzling belly dance in the song ‘Mayya Mayya’, had also shown Istanbul’s Nuruosmaniye Mosque. Also, several scenes of “Baby” (2015), a film based on international terrorism, were shot in the Turkish capital.
Belly dancing is very popular in entire Turkey. One can visit a night club to get a glimpse of this spectacular show. Belly dancers are even hired for private parties and weddings.
The scenic beauty of the place and various historical sites spanning several civilisations have always attracted tourists from across the globe.
Istanbul, earlier known as Constantinople and Byzantium, is the most populous (around 15 million) city in Turkey with the majority of the population believing in Islam. Uniquely located in two continents — Europe and Asia — the city is home to seven hills. Thus, while travelling across the city, one experiences a lot of undulating landscapes.
Emerging from Istanbul’s Kemal Ataturk Airport and approaching the city, one can see a lot of construction work under way in this centuries-old city. But as one heads deeper into the city the high walls of Byzantine civilisation stand tall to welcome visitors.
In some parts of the city, the old houses may make Indians feel they are in Goa.
A cruise down the Bosphorus strait along the azure coloured Marmara Sea, looking at the landscape and buildings in Asia on one side and Europe on the other, makes people feel they are straddling two worlds. And when one is tired of taking selfies and clicking pictures of the sea and the beautiful palaces alongside, a host of eateries are there along the strait waiting to welcome guests. On alighting from the cruise, one can adequately satisfy gastronomical desires.
One must-visit is the Blue Mosque or the Sultan Ahmed Mosque with its five main domes, six minarets and eight secondary domes. It was built between 1609 and 1616 during the Ottoman period.
Adjacent to Blue Mosque is the Topkapi Palace. This was one of the major residencies of the Ottoman sultans for around 400 years. The sprawling palace, which overlooks the Marmara Sea, has interesting museums of armoury and clocks. The royal structures and the greenery around cast a sort of spell on every visitor.
For food connoisseurs, Istanbul is a must-visit destination. A visit to a fine Ottoman cuisine restaurant, Asitane, will surprisingly reveal an extensive vegetarian menu.
It serves dishes like Ottoman humus, which is crushed chickpeas, lightly pureed with currants and cinnamon powder; Lor cheese blend, a mix of Lor cheese with scallions, parsley, green peppers and tomatoes, seasoned with rosemary and paprika among many other preparations.
If you want to loosen your purse strings, the places to go are the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. The Spice Bazaar, as the name suggests, offers a variety of exotic spices and herbs along with other Turkish delights, while the Grand Bazaar has everything from hand-painted porcelain items and textiles to gold jewellery.
The warmth of Turkish hospitality is visibly in the hawkers’ attempt to lure Indians by singing film legend Raj Kapoor’s famous “Awara hoon…”. Even film star Aamir Khan is quite popular among the masses. Many recalled watching his hit movie “3 Idiots”.
But tourism has taken a hit after the attempted military coup in mid-July that claimed at least 90 lives in Ankara and left around 1,150 injured.
“We get a lot of Indian tourists, but they are mostly from the US or Europe. In the last few years we have seen lots of tourists coming from China as well. But, of course, after the coup attempt, the flow of tourists has slowed,” Ozlem, a tourist guide told said.
The Turkish government and Turkish Airlines are going all out to spread the word that the country is safe and tourists can visit without fear.
The best time to visit is April-May and September-October.