Visiting Istanbul Turkey was an exciting & emotional experience for me. The reasons are obvious:
- Istanbul is approximately the 20th biggest city in the world housing 20 million people. It was the capital of Turkey then Ankara replaced it
- This is the only big city spread across two continents. Old part is in Asia, the new part is in Europe, and Bosphorus strait (aabna-e- Bosphorus) runs in the middle.
- Bosphorus is about 31 KM long stretch of waterway linking Black sea & Marmara sea, and naturally separating Europe & Asia. Istnabul city is built on both sides of its shores.
- Istanbul is mentioned in ahadeeth with the name of Qustan-tunia
- It was the centre of one the most powerful empires on the earth called Ottomans Empire ( Khilafat-e-Usmania),
- Usmaani Khilafat was the biggest Islamic state ever, and unfortunately was the one in which Khilafat came to end also. Its era was from 1299 to 1924.
- This city is filled with lots of history including local, Romans as well Muslims
- Majority of Turks are sunni Muslims. 20% minority belongs to Alavi’s.
Constantinople becomes Istanbul & Ships Run on Land
Istanbul was called Constantinople and was the capital of Christian Byzantine Empire. It was conquered in 1453 by Fatih Sultan Muhammad known as Muhammed II, the conqueror of Constantinople. He was 21 years old when he conquered. Besides Turkish, he spoke French, Latin, Greek, Serbian, Persian, Arabic and Hebrew.
Faatih Sultan Muhammad famously ran his ships across land to avoid a chain barrier across the harbour. Next morning he surprised the enemy and then conquered them ending an 1100 years old Byzantine empire. He named the city Islam-bul (house of Islam) which is now transformed into Istanbul.
I came here 14 years ago. There are many differences in now & then. Traffic has increased many folds. Istanbul was not so expensive then but it is now, especially food. TL (Turkish Lira) lost its Six zeros in 2003 (old 1,000,000 TL = new 1 TL). It was very confusing then to do business; it took a lot of time counting zeros. One cup of tea used to be 1, 25,000 TL.
Many people carried tasbeeh in their hands then but it is very rare now. Alcohol was common then and it still is now. Many girls wore hijab then but it is almost invisible now. Many girls wore jeans then but it is skirt now and often too short too tight.
Khilafat becomes Republic
Current day Turkey was formed in 1924 from the remains of Ottamani state after Mustafa Kamal demised it. He, in the name of modernisation, abolished Khilafa system, Arabic language, Arabic alphabets (Turkish language is written in English alphabets now), and adopted western culture as well as systems.
In my opinion, this was the day Turkish nation lost its identity. Turkey is trying become Europe-like. Government is begging to EU to be included in European Union but to no avail. On the other hand look at China’s example, they kept their language & culture but worked hard technologically. Today they are the richest & most powerful state on earth. China has more Dollars than USA or anyone else. Many western nationals are learning Chinese to be able to do business with Chinese . Only if Turkey stops following other nations and start doing what its forefathers (Usmani’s) did, they will rule the world once again.
Turks are a well dressed and beautiful nation. Men wear trouser and jackets (2 piece suits). Girls wear skirts or jeans in cities, many times dressing is far ahead of even Sweden. When I visited 14 years ago, head scarf was quite common but it is rarely worn now, at least in cities. It was banned in 1997(ish) from universities and government offices. As a result many girls had to leave their education. Some of them went to Austria and Sweden etc to complete their studies. It is sad that they were allowed to cover their head in countries where nudity is considered an art, but banned in country where it is considered a symbol of purity & piety. I wonder how it helped Turkey to progress. After a long debate, the ban has been relaxed recently, a step in the right direction.
Modern Istanbul City
Istnabul is a good developed tourist city and is quite expensive. All types of transport is available here including taxis, busses (regular, small, & double deckers), tram, metro, ship (connecting old & new Istanbul). Roads are hugely congested all days all time. The bus driver is sometimes called Kaptan (Captain) and many behave accordingly too.
There are many astray dogs in the city. They don’t bother usually, just bark.
Turkey is a food heaven. Its cuisine is a mixture of Turks, Romans, Greeks & Persians so naturally there is a big variety. Turks are the inventors of world-popular Donnor Kebab (Shawarma). Other foods include many types of grilled meat, breads (naan, roti, etc) salads, cheese, curries (salan), thin bread pizza, stuffed jacket potatoes, the list is endless.
Fish is fresh & tasty. I & my colleague ended up in a fish market while strolling in the city. There were restaurants offering fresh fish cooked on the spot. We chose Kalamari (a kind of octopus) and Sea bass. Both were just delicious.
I had donor kebab at a shop near Blue Mosque. Meat contents were negligible, most of the filling came from salad & potatoes.
Yoghurt drink Ayran (salty Lassi) is commonly drunk with food. Alcohol is allowed, so it is available in ordinary shops .Turks drink very strong tea & coffee. I remember when I came here first time 14 years ago with my friend. Tea addicts, we tried Turkish one, oh GOD it was really bitter. No matter how much sugar or milk we added it remained equally bitter, and still is to date.
Bitterly Bitter or Extremely Sweet
Turkey is sweet-lovers Mecca. In-line with other things there sweets are extremely sweet. Many types of Halwa, Gulab jamman, Kheer/ Firnee (rice pudding) and other pudding-like desserts are normal part of the food. We would add a spoon or two to a dessert, they add equal amount of sugar if no more. Talking about Baklava (pastry with honey/sugar and nuts), there are shops on every corner. Awfully delicious but notoriously sweet, I took full advantage. It was a must every night. My colleague shared this sweet passion with me. We would go to a local small shop and order a plateful of Baklava with Turkish tea without milk or sugar. And we both skipped lunch every day, just a bowl of dessert and glass of Ayran.
Saudia Loving Serb
Talking about this colleague, he is a one strange fellow, Christian, originally from Serbia, now living and working in Saudi for 4 years (family is in Serbia) and he is happy. He says it is much more fun working in Middle East than in Europe. He doesn’t drink, well only on funerals as it is customary. He is almost half Muslim i.e. doesn’t pray & doesn’t cheat or lie. Only if he starts both would accomplish him Full Muslim. But he loves seeing us pray, especially together in Mosque. We came out of the mosque and he asked how many young people prayed today? Sadly there were almost none.
To be Continued..
Read 2nd part, my fight on the flight, Fat Lady (Part2, Click HERE),
and Mosques & Palaces in Istanbul (Part 3, Click HERE).