horses and balloons over Cappadocia


Merhaba from Istanbul.

We have just spent a tremendous week ın Cappadocia in Central Anatolia. For me, it was a slightly nervous journey overland from the south coast to Cappadocia, where M. had booked a week-long horse ride. Nervous because I’m not a horse rider. It was against my better judgement that I had allowed myself to be persuaded into going along.

Cappadocia is another Turkish place which defies adequate description. Here the semi-arid country contains some remarkable landforms wıth an even more remarkable human settlement history. Rising from the ridges are a wide variety of desert landforms. Most startling of these are perhaps the cone-shaped rocks which stand perhaps 20 metres tall. In some of these, people have – over many centuries and in more than one successive settlement – carved out their homes. First – according to a cursory investigatıon – were the Hittites. They gouged out homes in cliff faces in what must have been intricate networks of communities, or from another point of view, great cubbyhouses. 

   The horseriding trip was a great adventure and a great way to see the land. Our party of six, including Ercihan our homegrown guide, rode in a rough 110-km circle around the area over five days. The other three were a German couple – Franz and Urmgard – and another German woman called Gitta. We traversed quite a range of landscapes during the five days. This included walking – and cantering !! – up a mesa to the top, where I expected barren rock. Instead there was productive agriculture going on there. (One was even large enough to accommodate a town!)

I felt sorry for the horses having to walk up these steep hills and down the other side but they were all very fit and unstintingly willing. On the first morning we crossed a substantial river called the Kizirilimak, which is the longest ın Turkiye. It was a surprise to find such a big watercourse in the dry country. Geographers call such rivers ‘exotic’ because of the fact that they drain humid terrains and the waters run through arid terrains. In other words, the water comes from elsewhere. These rivers allow for water troughs all over the countryside, so horses are never far from a drink. The riding was a tad scary for me at times, especially when we were cantering up or walkıng down very steep slopes, but I survived unscathed. I must admit, at tımes I was a bit nervous about the riding as these were fairly challenging conditions, even for seasoned riders. In retrospect, I’m glad I went.

    Durıng the week we got an even better insight into Turkish culture, as we passed through quite a few villages and stopped a few times for beverages. One evenıng we dined wıth the chief of the village of Karain. He and his wife accepted us into their home which is partially built into the rock of the hillside, just as the Hittites lived. Sitting on Turkish mats on the floor (Cross-legged is a bit tricky for those whose yoga exercises are a distant memory!), we learned some wisdom from the chief who is elected by his community. The chief vouchsafed that he is interested in his township benefiting from the impendıng tourism boom of the area. To be invited into their home was without any doubt a rare privilege. (The food was lovely, too.) 

   Yesterday morning the hot-air balloons were up over Cappadocia. This was certainly one of the highlights of the trip thus far. I’m a little lost for superlatives in describing this so I’ll refer to Urmgard, a taciturn non-English speaking German who was also aloft. Urmgard had been cajoled into the flight but was mightily impressed. She said, ‘Absolute phenomenal; super!!’ I have to agree. This is such a superb experience, a thriving business has sprung up and many firms compete for the trade. There were more than 40 balloons in the air simultaneously. It was a tremendous sight in itself.

One aside here: It is very pleasing to note that almost all of the balloons are colourful but bear no garish sponsorship emblems. Instead they looked resplendent without sponsorship showing. The balloon flight provided a different perspective on the amazing landscape below. Luckily for us on this particular day, a rainstorm the previous evening meant all was clear, clean and a touch greener. The sunrise over the mesa was brilliant and then we could see all of the multitude of stunning landforms from different angles.

There was almost no breeze so our pilot was able to take us up and down into the narrow gullies almost at will. At one point he announced, ‘We will be going to down quite quickly now. Don’t worry!’ It was an engrossing scene in every direction for the entire duration of the flight.

Sometimes balloon flights get a bit ho-hum after a few minutes when the novelty value wears off; most assuredly not this tıme. I have now seen Cappadocia from several modes of transport including bus, horseback, scooter, car and balloon – and of course, on foot. It was a marvelous week in the desert.

      Gule Gule from Cappadocia,


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