Author Archives: Urvashi Rathee

Turkey 3 – Alexandria Troas, Babakale, Assos

Next morning, we bade our gracious host farewell and set off along the Troad Coast road.
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Approximately 30km south of Troy and 2km south of Dalyan village lie the remains of Alexandria Troas, an ancient city which in Roman times was a significant port for travelling between Asia Minor and Europe.
This site was first called Sigeia; around 306 BC one of the Commanders of Alexander the Great, Antigonus Monophthalmos(Antigonus One Eye), refounded the city as the much-expanded Antigonia Troas by settling the people of five other towns in Sigeia. When Antigonus died in battle, its name was changed by Lysimachus to Alexandria Troas. As the chief port of north-west Asia Minor, the place prospered greatly in Roman times, becoming a “free and autonomous city”. In its heyday the city may have had a population of about 100,000. It covered an area of approximately 990 hectares and was surrounded by boundary walls running 8-10km.
Alexandria Troas is an important site for the history of Christianity; it was mentioned several times in the Bible. Saint Paul spent some time here before sailing to Europe. Timothy, Silas, Luke, and perhaps others, were with Paul at Troas.
The modern road roughly bisects the city; just west of this are ruins still undergoing excavation and restoration. On this side, an old road has been uncovered which lead down to the harbour. The Aegean Sea is visible in the distance.

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During the latest excavations they discovered an old temple which was built by the Roman emperor Augustus.

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Several large ruins are also visible across the road.

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Just a short distance further along and to the left of the road, this ruin serves as marker for parking your car to visit the bath and gymnasium complex, the largest in Anatolia.

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Herodes Atticus, who later built the theatre in Athens, built the baths here in 135 AD. The bath complex is now overgrown with vegetation.
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These are the remains of the quadruple-arched entrance to the baths. Two of the arches are fully intact, one has collapsed, and one is supported by a timber frame.

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We proceeded further along the road and reached the village of Gulpinar, the site of the Sanctuary of Apollo Smintheus, or the ‘Smintheion.’ The structures identified within the complex include the temple, baths, reservoirs and sacred roads.
Apollo Smintheus, ‘Lord of the Mice,’ a powerful inflictor and averter of the plague, was first mentioned by Homer in Iliad, his epic on the Trojan War. During the war, Agamemnon captured Chryseis, the daughter of Chryses, a priest of Apollo. The Trojan Priest implored Apollo, “O,Sminthian”, to send a plague against the Greeks. Apollo intervened, and the beginning of the Iliad mentions a plague caused by Apollo’s arrows, which forced the Greek commander to give back the girl to her father.
The word Smintheus was probably derived from ‘Sminthos’, a mouse. The temple was the third largest in the world when it was built, and once housed a statue of the God Apollo with a mouse at his feet. Mice were kept in the sanctuary and nested beneath the altar. The temple is unique because scenes from the Iliad are depicted in its ornamentation.
It had 8X14 columns and measured 22.4 X 40.3 meters. It is in the process of reconstruction, and the south staircase has been newly rebuilt.

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Behind the main temple lie scattered columns and remains of the baths and reservoirs.

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Pomegranate trees grow in abundance at the site. I wondered why no one had plucked the ripe pomegranates, until I tasted the seeds – very sour!

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Help! I’m stuck!

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Ancient Hellinistic road, with uncovered clay pipes. The Apollo Oracle required water, and the Sanctuary was built in an area with plentiful water, with clay pipes supplying water to the Baths from the reservoirs.

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We left Gulpinar and encountered a traffic jam on the way to Babakale. Just like India!
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We reached Babakale and headed for the Citadel or Fortress. This is the last Ottoman Castle built in present day Turkey. Note the massive rusting anchor behind Amit.
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Babakale sits on a cape that is exactly the westernmost point of mainland Asia, the Cape Baba (Baba Burnu).

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According to the locals, the village was founded by prisoners who were pardoned in return for working at the construction of the citadel of the village, and later joined in by seamen, and their families.
We wandered around for a while, admiring the fantastic views on all sides.

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Back on the road, we proceeded towards the town of Behramkale, or Assos. The Ancient city of Assos was where the philosopher Aristotle lived for some time. He married the niece of King Hermias and opened the Academy of Assos, where he became chief to a group of philosophers. When the Persians ransacked Assos, Aristotle fled to Macedonia and became tutor to Alexander the Great.
The ancient Temple of Athens crowning the Acropolis is the only Archaic Temple in the Doric order known so far in Asia Minor. ‘Doric order’ refers to a style of Greek Architecture, where relatively squat columns fluted with concave grooves are placed without any base on the floor of a temple, topped by a capital. This model at the site shows what the temple would have looked like, with 6X13 columns, measuring 30.31 X 14.30 meters.

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A few reconstructed columns are all that remain today.

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At this and all other historical sites in Turkey, we noted an impressive level of cleanliness with every effort being made to eliminate trash. Garbage bins had been placed at frequent intervals, blending into the surroundings, only the bright blue plastic lining drawing one’s attention to the bin.

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While the ruins may not be much to look at, the view across the Gulf of Edremit to the Greek Island of Lesbos is truly spectacular.
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In the late Byzantine phase, the fortifications around the Acropolis were strengthened by adding four rectangular and four circular towers to the city walls.

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There are also cisterns at the site for storage of water.
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As we were leaving, I had to take this photo – the first Turkey we saw in Turkey!

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Next to the Entrance to the Temple of Athena, is the 14th Century Hudavendigar Mosque.
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It has a simple structure – a dome set over a square room. It is one of only 2 such Ottoman mosques surviving in Turkey, the other one being in Bursa.

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We started down the hill, and asked for directions to the Necropolis, which was famous in it’s time for the ‘flesh-eating’ sarcophagi. However, our enquiries were met with questioning looks and shrugs – no one seemed to understand the word ‘Necropolis’, and we did not know what else to call it. We finally gave up, and started walking back downhill, when we spotted this charming roadside café and decided to stop for lunch.

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We enjoyed a delicious meal while admiring the view, while this cat sat and watched.
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We had not planned on any other stops, the highway was smooth and appeared deserted, Amit had become more confident driving on the right hand side, so I’m sure you can guess what happened next – we received a speeding ticket
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We finally reached Bergama (driving carefully under the speed limit the rest of the way), and checked into our Pension. The pomegranates on this tree in the garden looked very tempting, and a number of them had fallen from the tree and lay strewn on the ground, but the owner explained that the fruits were so sour that they didn’t eat them – the tree was purely decorative

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From the garden, we caught a glimpse of the ruins of Pergamon – we would explore them the next day.

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For now, we were content to stroll around town. We saw this sign outside a local pharmacy – I’m sure Indians of my generation have heard the saying: “Is marz ki dawa toh Hakim Lokman ke pass bhi nahin.” It was interesting to see the sign on a shop in this day and age.
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As we returned, we saw this jolly chef holding a placard which roughly translated means “Welcome” – it was a good sign!

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Turkey 2 – Canakkale, Troy

We had discussed our itinerary and reluctantly concluded that we would not have any time to explore Bursa, as we needed to make an early start. However, I decided to slip out for a morning walk before breakfast to get a feel of the town.

When I reached the main road, I realised that the night before, the GPS had lead us to the road in front of the hotel, but it was our bad luck that the sign of the hotel (outlined in a blue oval in this photo) was not easily visible, and we wasted more than an hour wandering in the general vicinity of the hotel when the distance to be covered was barely a few yards.

1DSC06163I set off on my walk, enjoying the pleasant weather and the peace and quiet.

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Bursa, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014, was once the capital of the Ottoman Empire. It was a major production centre for royal silk products.
In modern times, it is the fourth most populous city in Turkey, and a major industrial centre.
One of the main sights in Bursa is the Ulu Cami, or Grand Mosque. Ordered by the Sultan Bayezid I, it has 20 domes and 2 minarets. It is believed that the Sultan had promised to build 20 mosques for winning the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396. Instead, he ordered one large mosque with 20 domes to be built in Bursa. It is a large rather impressive rectangular building.
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I noticed these three cats sunning themselves near the boundary wall of Ulu Cami. Cats are found everywhere in Turkey, and are treated with respect and affection.
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I returned to our hotel in time for breakfast.
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We set off towards Canakkale. En route, we saw a row of windmills. There is a lot of emphasis on conserving electricity (the hotel in Bursa had motion sensor lights which switched on only when required) and on utilising clean energy sources.
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On reaching Canakkale, our first stop was at the waterfront, to see the Trojan horse – the same one that was used in the 2004 Hollywood film, and presented to the city in September, 2004.
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Beside it is a model of the ruins of Troy which is located about 30km south-west of Canakkale.
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It was pleasant walking along the waterfront next to the Dardanelles Strait, with the Horse and the Troy model increasing our anticipation of visiting the fabled city the same afternoon. There was also a transparent pyramidal sculpture, quite beautiful and delicate but dwarfed by the huge horse.

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Further on we saw Kilitbahir Castle across the Dardanelles on the European side. The castle has been constructed in an interesting clover shape, which is apparent when it is viewed from above.

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We were fascinated by the use of the car and motorcycle as decorations for shop fronts.

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We saw a Mentor Palmastro for the first time, which I assume is some sort of palm reading machine…..
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Time for lunch – Amit enjoyed the sizzler, while I ordered a Pizza, at the Assos Café.
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As we drove on, there were reminders by the roadside that we were nearing the site of the ancient city betrayed by a wooden horse…
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We reached Troy and entered the excavation site. Before proceeding to the ruins, we had fun climbing into the horse replica near the site. There were people dressed as gladiators trying to entice tourists to pose atop a chariot in a toga (for a price, of course) – I was tempted, but Amit flatly refused to “dress up.”

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Though the horse is sturdy enough, it sways alarmingly when a stiff breeze blows, which it frequently does in the open windy plains around this area. Unlike Amit, I was reluctant to lean out too much and was content to sit on the bench just beneath the window (inside the horse).

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Chal mere ghode………. 🙂

The story of Troy has two main aspects – the legend of Tory, and the history of the city of Troy
Legend: Homer, in his epic poem Iliad, recounts events that occurred in the tenth year of the siege of Troy by a coalition of Greek States. In the epic, the reason for the war is the abduction of Helen, the wife of Menelaus, by Paris, a Trojan Prince. Agamemnon, the brother of Menelaus, gathers together former suitors of Helen, and a few fearless warriors including Achilles, and embarks on a journey across the sea to reclaim Helen.
After 10 years, the Trojan War reaches a stalemate, with the Greeks unable to return to Sea and the Trojans confined to the city, protected by the strong fortifications.
The wily Greeks pretend to retreat, leaving a wooden horse outside the city gates, ostensibly as a peace offering. In fact, the horse is hollow, with Greek Soldiers hidden in its belly. The unsuspecting Trojans transport the horse through the gates and proceed to celebrate their victory. However, at night, the Greek Soldiers sneak out of the horse and open the gates to let in their comrades, thus leading to the defeat of Troy.
History: Troy was a strategically important harbour city which was destroyed and built over at least nine times. The first city on the site of Troy was Wilusa, founded in the 3rd millenium BC by the Hittites. There was a Trojan War, which possibly took place in the 12th century BC, and it was around this time Hittite Wilusa was converted to Hellenic Illion, and later Troia. The true reason for the war, however, was probably related to trade and control of the trade route.
Later invaders preferred to focus on the Bosphorus rather than the Dardanelles, and after the Emperor Constantine made Constantinople the capital, Troy declined in significance.
From the time of the Byzantine Empire, Troy was thought to be fiction, a product of Homer’s imagination.
Rediscovery: Heinrich Schliemann was a German Businessman and self-proclaimed Archaeologist, who had been fascinated by Troy ever since he read the Iliad as a child. After meeting Frank Calvert, a British Archaeologist, he decided to follow his advice and search for the remains of Troy on Hisarlik Hill, which was a part of Calvert’s property.
At the time that Schliemann began his excavation in 1871, Archaeology was in its infancy and modern techniques of careful digging and documentation had not been adopted. Believing Homeric Troy to be among the lowest levels, he blasted his way down using dynamite, and regrettably destroying valuable material in the process. At the level of Troy II, he found a stash of gold and precious jewels, erroneously labelled “Priam’s Treasure.” This treasure would actually have been from a time centuries before Priam (father of Paris) ruled Troy. The treasure was smuggled out of Turkey, taken to Berlin, looted from there in 1945, and is now in Russia. Authorities in both countries (Germany and Russia) are still contesting the ownership of the treasure.
While Schliemann designated Troy II as Homeric Troy, recent excavations have suggested that it was actually Troy VIIa that was destroyed during a war, possibly the Trojan War Homer wrote about.
We finally proceeded towards the ruins – though we both found the story and the legend of Troy fascinating, the few stone walls and structures visible at the site would probably only be of interest to serious Archaeologists, or people with vivid imaginations.
The first structure as one begins the tour is the boundary wall from Troy VI.

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In this photo one can see the infamous Schliemann Trench, where he literally blasted his way through layers of history. In the background one can see the current coastline, which is approximately 5km from the city ruins, as a result of silting up of the harbour earlier formed by waters of the river Scamander.

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Archaeologists are still marking out the various levels, the markers for Troy III, IV and IX can be seen in this photo.

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There is a partially restored ramp from Troy II, on which the Trojan horse was claimed to have been transported into the city. This is now known to be factually incorrect, but if there actually was a Trojan horse, it would probably have been taken along a similar ramp…….

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Further ahead lies the reconstructed Odeon or Theatre. Imagine musical performances here……

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We left Troy and drove towards Geyikli, our aim being to take the ferry to Bozcaada Island. Unfortunately, the last ferry had just left by the time we reached the terminal, so we decided to head to our hotel. We spoke to the owner, who told us to wait near the ferry boat terminal and said he would come to pick us up. We went to a café nearby, and after trying and failing to explain what cold coffee was, ordered hot coffee and sat down to wait.
In a short while, an affable gentleman turned up, introduced himself as Mr Taci, the owner of Geyikli Herrara, and asked us to follow his vehicle. When we tried to pay the bill for our coffee, we were informed that Taci Bey had already settled the amount. He waved aside our thanks and offers to pay him back, and got into his vehicle to lead the way.
As we began to follow, we realised why he had not given us directions over the phone – although the hotel was only a short distance away, there were several unmarked turns through small streets on the way.
We parked near the gate, and were immediately greeted by excited barking – the two dogs at the hotel were by the gate, excited to see Taci Bey. He offered to have them moved away before we entered, but we love dogs and spent some time playing with them.
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After depositing our bags in our very comfortable room, we went for a walk on the beach and spotted the Island of Bozcaada in the distance.
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We watched the sun setting over the Aegean Sea, then headed back to our hotel.
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At the hotel, we were lucky to be the only guests for the night, and spent a wonderful evening with Taci Bey, an excellent host who had spent several years in Europe, and regaled us with stories of his travels.
He prepared a special tea for my sore throat, which was very soothing.
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We then had a delicious dinner prepared by the cook and bade our host a good night.
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Turkey 14 – Kaklik Cave, Hierapolis, Laodicaea, Karahayit

Kaklik Cave – entry is through a sink hole formed when the roof of the cave collapsed
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A mini – Pammukale inside a cave, formed approximately 2.5 million years ago
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There is a distinct smell of rotten eggs, indicating a high level of hydrogen sulphide
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Public access is limited to a small area of the cave, due to dangerously high levels of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide as one goes deeper
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It was a short walk so we retraced our steps while videotaping the cave interior..
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Laodicaea – the main street
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Reconstructed pillars in Temple A
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Pammukale can be seen in the distance, on the right side
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Ruins of the stadium
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Karahayit – site of Iron rich thermal springs, resulting in more colourful travertines
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Necropolis at Hierapolis – one of the best preserved and largest in Anatolia, with approx. 1,200 graves
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Several different types of tombs are seen, e.g. tumuli
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Tomb of the Curses – an inscription on the façade invokes all sorts of diseases, misfortunes and punishments on anyone who dares enter..
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Guess who had to take up the challenge??
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Left the tombs behind and reached the city – Frontinus Gate, Hierapolis
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Just outside the gates, saw an olive oil press
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The theatre
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Pluto’s Gate, Temple of Apollo (Gateway to the Underworld) – This was a small cave in which noxious gases were present in high concentrations, resulting in the instant death of small animals and birds thrown in as sacrifices. The priests, who probably held their breath, were the only ones who could enter the cave and emerge unharmed, leading people to believe they had special powers. – Amit listening to the hissing/bubbling sound of the gases inside
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Sunset at Pammukale
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Turkey19 – Antalya

Karain Cave, Antalya
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Excavations carried out in the cave have revealed evidence of continuous human habitation for approx. 25,000 years
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It was first inhabited in the Palaeolithic Age(150,000-200,000yrs ago)
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There were a few large chambers…
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…with smaller caves leading off from them
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Lara Beach Sand Sculptures – the theme for this year was ‘Empires’. This particular sculpture depicted the Mayan Civilization
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A Spanish King with one foot resting on a cushion, his crown kept on the side and his faithful dog looking adoringly at him
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Alexander on the battlefield against an Indian king
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My personal favourite – the Battle of Kadesh (the Egyptian Army fighting the Hittites). This was probably the largest chariot battle ever fought, and has also been depicted on the temple walls at Abu Simbel
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Another sculpture related to Egypt – Queen Nefertiti. The opposite side of the pyramid shows the Emperor Akhenaten.
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A few of the sculptures had been damaged by flooding and unfortunately the information boards had been removed – we were unable to determine which building the sculpture behind and to the left of Amit was meant to depict – it looked Indian/Mughal ?
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Hadrian’s Gate, Antalya – the only surviving ancient gateway to old Antalya town and harbour, built in honour of Emperor Hadrian. The Queen of Sheba is said to have passed through this gate on her way to meet King Solomon.
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Huacachina Oasis Sandboarding

We booked a day tour of the Nazca lines from Lima, and decided to add the Huacachina dune buggy and sandboarding tour to our package.

After our flight over the Nazca lines, we were driven to the desert oasis Huacachina, located approximately an hour’s drive to the south.

Huacachina, called the “Oasis of America,” is built around a natural lake in the desert. Legend has it that the lagoon was created when a young princess was disturbed during her bath by a hunter. She fled, and the pool of water she had been bathing in became the lagoon, while the folds of her mantle became the surrounding sand dunes.

We went for a dune buggy and sandboarding tour in the evening. The weather was pleasant, and the setting sun cast a golden glow over the dunes.

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The ride in the dune buggy was hair-raising but fun, with the driver deliberately taking sharp turns that made us hold on to our seats.

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We stopped to take pictures, and watched other groups in the distance atop the dunes ready to sandboard down.

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When my turn came, being my usual cautious self, I insisted on learning the most important step – how to brake.  In theory, it was simple enough – put your  feet out on both sides of the board and press down into the sand. So, I decided to give it a try ………….

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…………. and it was so much fun that I did it again!

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With the sun setting, we took a few more pictures, and returned to the oasis.

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Amazon Cruise

We went on a 4 day cruise up the Amazon river, an unforgettable experience. We were picked up at 7AM from our hotel in Iquitos, and after a 2 hour bus journey to Nauta, boarded a skiff at the pier to reach our boat, the La Amatista.

During the bus ride, we saw houses and banana plantations, interspersed with dense trees and vegetation.

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Houses en route

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Trees and vegetation

When we reached Nauta, we saw tree-lined streets where the tops of trees had been trimmed into animal and bird shapes.

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In Nauta, there was a brief 5 minute stop at the local market while we waited for our Naturalist Guide Juan Carlos. There were plenty of food stalls and some general stores and a pharmacy.

 

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On boarding the La Amatista, we were introduced to the two naturalists who would be our guides, Juan Carlos and Hulbert, and a few of the crew members whom we would be interacting with frequently during the course of the next few days, including Edgar our waiter and Bloomer the barman. Juan Carlos(JC for short) also gave some information about the boat itself. It is a wooden river boat with a Spanish Galleon design, made out of fallen, not felled, timber, with creature comforts such as air conditioning in all the cabins and the dining room and lecture room, hot showers, and a well-equipped bar.

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Our cabin

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The Bar

He also explained the procedure for evacuation in the event of an emergency, and gave us some practical tips on surviving in the jungle heat, preventing spider or snake bites and dealing with the mosquitoes (sun block, insect repellent, sunglasses, a hat, long-sleeved shirts and long trousers, hiking boots or gumboots on jungle walks). He mentioned that we should avoid white or black clothing as that attracted mosquitoes and flies. Another interesting tip was for keeping our cameras and binoculars ready for use at all times without fogging – keep them in the bathroom and have the exhaust fan running at all times.

After a delicious lunch, we retired to our rooms for a relaxing siesta.

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The Dining Room

A briefing in the lecture room was organized at 3.30PM, during which we were given an introduction to the Amazon River and the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. The Amazon is the second longest river in the world, with the maximum discharge of water. The Amazon rainforest with its abundant and diverse flora and fauna is what makes this area fascinating to explore. We were given a brief outline of our itinerary over the next few days and the kind of plants and animals we might encounter.

Amit wanted to know when we would see a Jaguar or an Anaconda, but JC explained that it was unlikely, as there are few of them in a vast area, and they are not easy to locate. He did promise to try his best!

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First jungle walk – we wore gumboots, but they were hot and uncomfortable, and since it did not rain, we subsequently wore hiking boots

A pattern was set for the days ahead – our wakeup call consisted of Edgar gently strumming his guitar down the corridors, a bell was rung for mealtimes, briefings and excursions, there were daily jungle walks, night excursions and interactions with the natives.

One of the day walks was to a lagoon, where our guides searched for an anaconda by precariously balancing on tree branches staring hard at the waters below – no luck, unfortunately.

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At the lagoon – while JC diligently hunted for signs of an Anaconda, Amit decided to test how sharp his machete was!

We met with a local healer(Shaman), who shared some of his knowledge regarding the medicinal plants in the area. He also gave us a berry to chew on and spit out – it left a tingling sensation on the tongue for the next five minutes – he uses it to reduce pain, possibly by a counter irritant mechanism of action.

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The healer demonstrating the medicinal uses of plants

Otilia, the matriarch of a local village, taught us how to prepare Patarashka – a local wrapped fish preparation. Fish pieces along with finely chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic and coriander, were wrapped in maranta leaves and cooked over wood coals. In fifteen minutes, it was ready to eat – delicious!

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Cooking lesson

A hunter from Otilia’s tribe demonstrated the use of a poison dart blowpipe(without the poison, of course)

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Blowpipe demonstration

We also had an interaction with the children of another village, there were a few songs and dances and stationary, games and clothing that the passengers had collected were distributed among the children. We learned the children’s names – one was named Darwin!

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A song and dance routine with the children

The evenings were filled with musical entertainment provided by our talented crew.

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The talented musicians

A few passengers swam near the Dolphins one afternoon. We also went fishing for Piranha. There are several varieties of these fish, most of them not a threat to humans – we caught four red-bellied Piranha, they are one of the few which are dangerous for us. Two of them literally flew off the hooks and landed in the boat, flopping all over while the guide yelled at us to watch out as they might bite our feet – don’t know if he was just joking. We all decided not to take a chance and jumped around the boat, trying to avoid the fish, thankfully it was a very steady skiff not in any danger of capsizing, or we might have managed to present a very tasty meal to the rest of the Piranha school members waiting in the water below. We also caught a few catfish. When I say ‘we’, I mean the other people on the boat, as JC insisted that it was a team effort. I personally managed to catch a very large………twig. Sadly, I was not allowed to keep it as a souvenir of my first attempt at fishing, and had to throw it back in the water. But I did feed a number of fish with the bait that just mysteriously disappeared off the hook!

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Red-bellied Piranha

In the course of our regretfully short time in the Amazon rainforest, our guides showed us several interesting species of flora and fauna, some with medicinal properties, some poisonous, some breathtakingly beautiful.

Among the flora – we saw a Cat’s claw, an immune modulator, Dragon’s blood tree, with blood red resin, the iodine tree with brownish resin believed to have antiseptic properties, several varieties of Ficus including one big great grandfather tree which had parasitized and was slowly digesting three palm trees, a cannonball fruit tree with poisonous fruits, a rubber tree and many more.

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Cat’s claw

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Dragon’s blood tree

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Cannonball fruit tree

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Rubber tree

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Iodine tree

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The Big One

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We spotted three toed sloths(one with a baby),

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capybara,

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an iguana,

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speckled caiman,

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the endangered and aggressive black caiman,

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a red-tailed Boa constrictor – not very large, but quite irritated and eager to bite,

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tarantulas, poisonous frogs, a lizard who was quite comfortable on JC’s cap, toads

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and monkeys, including the smallest pygmy marmoset monkey

Our major success was with bird spotting – we saw so many that we lost count, but my favourites were the macaws – yellow and blue, red and green, so beautiful through the binoculars but perched so high in the trees that our cameras were unable to capture them in all their glory. At one stage, a whole flock whirled overhead for about half a minute, I developed a crick in my neck trying to follow their flight path. One of the ladies with us forgot she had pushed her sunglasses up over her head to get a closer look, and leaned so far back that they fell into the water. No chance of finding them unfortunately in the deep and murky waters of the Amazon.

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Red and green macaws

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Yellow and blue macaws

I was also impressed by the majestic hawks – the great black hawk, and the black-collared hawk with reddish-brown plumage. There were also many different types of kingfishers, woodpeckers, parakeets and herons.

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Great Black Hawk

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Black collared hawk in flight

A very unusual bird that we spotted was the hoatzin, a pheasant-like bird with a small blue face and a spiky crest. The chicks have claws on their wings, and the bird is considered by some to be a link with the Archaeopteryx of the dinosaur era. It is vegetarian, with a digestive system similar to a cow, and is sometimes called ‘the flying cow’.

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The Hoatzin

The atmosphere was stifling hot, humid and energy sapping, reminding us time and again that though we were here on our luxurious air-conditioned boat, this was the ultimate jungle, the great Amazon rainforest.

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We found an Indian connection – saw large lilies in a village pond. According to JC, the seeds had originally been brought from India, but these lilies have now adapted and become endemic to the Amazon.

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While we were watching all the other birds and animals, pods of pink dolphins lazily swam around us, but they surfaced for just brief periods and I was unable to get a picture.

On our last evening, we visited the confluence, where the Maranon and Ucayali rivers join to form the might Amazon. The sky was cloudy, backlit by flashes of lightning. We watched the sun setting slowly, the sky changing colours, as the guides explained the course of the river, from its source in the Andes to the ocean, and narrated the history of the first Spanish incursion. It was difficult to believe that so much bloodshed had occurred along these deceptively quiet shores.

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We returned to the ship for a farewell dinner, where there were formal introductions to all the crew, received our certificates of participation, and showed our appreciation for the efforts of the crew and the naturalists by handing in our feedback forms and envelopes. A few final songs were sung and we retired for the night, to wake up for an early breakfast and transfer to Nauta and then Iquitos.

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La Amatista at night

In Nauta, we encountered a young boy with a three-toed sloth casually clinging to his neck – his pet. We marveled at the fact that we had trudged through the jungle, struggled through muddy overgrown tracks to get excited at the glimpse of this creature up in a tree, and here he was, right in the middle of the city. This was actually the first time that I managed to get a clear look at the sloth’s face. Still, there was a certain charm to seeing the sloth in its natural habitat in the wild.

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Then it was time to get on the bus back to Iquitos, in time to check in for our flight to Cusco via Lima.

A few final glimpses of Iquitos –

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Belen market

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Iron House

Our Amazon adventure had lived up to our expectations. Our only regret – no anaconda or jaguar sighting. We might return someday…………….