Updated: Apr 21, 2021

I had visited Istanbul first time in the summer of 2015. It was my first solo travel anywhere outside India where I lived for 31 years. In those 31 years, I had travelled little and never alone. I was always scared to just pack my bag and head somewhere. But life was taking a different trajectory at that time. I was coming out of my shell.. rather peeping out with curiosity. Travel shows, travel magazines and the exposure to some new places that were pleasantly forced upon me ignited that curiosity to see what’s outside my own city limits. And thus I started looking for places that could possibly be my introduction to a new way of making life interesting. I am not sure what pulled me towards Turkey. I had seen travel and food shows on TV and was fascinated with the culture and cuisine but never enough that I longed to visit the place that too all on my own. I remember looking at various factors - the cost of travel, cultural richness, ease of visa and flights etc and I remember making a shortlist of places. Every day I would look through the list but get stuck at Turkey. Not having explored any other options, one night I booked the tickets and applied for my e-visa. Having bought an expensive non-refundable flight ticket, I had no way to look back. My planning started, itineraries after itineraries were made, Airbnb and hotels were booked, vacation days were applied at work and a countdown started to an adventure I had not made before.

I remember the day I had to board the flight to Istanbul, I was as nervous as excited. I was new to the whole concept of travelling for pleasure and travelling alone. I had foolishly packed two big bags and I was cursing myself on the way back when I had to buy another bag just to pack all the souvenirs and gifts I shopped. I was scared that I might be mugged or get lost in the new place, so I made my carry-on heavy too with a mini version of my heavy check-in luggage on my shoulders. Despite the pain of carrying the stuff and paying a fee for overweight luggage, I was happy. I was breaking free of a routine, although just for 12 days with no hope that this would happen again.

When I look back at that time I laugh at myself. The picture of a first-time traveller - scared, excited and confused is in such a stark contrast to what I am today. The journey of maturing as a traveller has been fascinating and probably I could write about it at length in another post.

Those 12 days in Turkey, spilt between Istanbul and Cappadocia were memorable. I narrowly escaped tourist traps and scammers without realizing it. That innocence of expecting everyone outside my country to be honest and friendly could have put me in deep trouble but it also made me view the goodness of the place that would have probably been overshadowed by over cautiousness. A few years after, I lost all pictures from that beautiful trip and also happened to make a Turkish friend, Rasit, who lived in Istanbul. It was time to make new pictures and revisit the city that introduced me to the world. In 2019, I made a second plan. This time my bags were packed lighter, the trip was shorter and the purpose was not sightseeing but meeting a good friend and reconfirming that Istanbul didn’t imprint on me just cause she was my first but because she is truly a beautiful poem that I could recite every night and not get tired. And indeed she is. The second visit tied me closer to the city. I was a little less of a tourist this time though now I wish I didn’t live in a touristy neighbourhood and planned to just stroll through the streets all three days I was there instead of visiting some of the attractions. I am sure there will be a third visit when I will do just that.

The other day, I was chatting with Rasit about life in a pandemic and how we miss travel and I instantly felt the longing to go back to the city. There’s an unexplainable peace and joy in sitting by the Bosphorus in the late afternoon. The sirens of the numerous ferries, the noisy seagulls, the pigeons fluttering around and the cacophony of the city all soothe the heart as no silence would. And in no time the sun would set and in the background the prayer calls from mosques around the city turn the city into a magical land that no one would ever want to leave.

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