Silk roads are actually network of roads about 4000 miles long stretching from China/India to Europe (Vienna, Italy to be precise), there wasn’t just one Silk Road linking Asia to Europe, there were many tributaries of it and I always wanted to travel on one of those roads. While planning my vacation in Turkey, I found two reasons to go to Nevsehir in Central Anatolia, the first being – Cappadocia and the other – an opportunity of a lifetime to drive on one of these Silk-Roads, where almost 1000 years ago, caravans loaded with goods and people traveled along these roads; empires were built, destroyed, discussed and conquered using these roads. There is something absolutely historic & romantic about these routes – the first wave of globalization, the beginning of the spread of culture, disease and food.
Landed in Nevsehir in middle of July morning in central Turkey, after about 2 hours plane ride from Istanbul, the air was dry and dusty, the airport I could tell while landing, was far away from the towns, a nightmare to navigate, hidden among the central Anatolia. Picked up the rental car…I was with my family…4 of us…with a GPS that was annoying, as it was only in Turkish language (which is a beautiful language if heard not from a GPS device in a foreign country’s remoteness). The rental-car guy was nice enough to set the destination to our hotel in Cappadocia in the GPS…(more about Goreme & Cappadocia in a different blog)…surprisingly the roads were awesome and very well marked, we stopped at few places to confirm our direction. Finally, after about 2 hours of driving, we reached our hotel and settled in. The very next thing I did was picked up the local map from the hotel desk and asked the attendant to show me how to get on to Route D302 and eventually get on Route D300.
During the 10th and 11th centuries, the kingdom of Seljuk Sultan II, built these outposts called Kervansarays (now called – Caravanserias) to fortify and secure locals and travelers across Asia Minor. There are few of these Caravanserias (small caravan fortress) on modern day D300 highway, fully restored. It provided adobe to the tired – Men, Horses and Camels, there were various services available from shoe repair to hamam (bath houses) and from underground ovens for cooking to caravan repair services during these medieval times…pre Ottoman empire.
The place we were going was called Sarihan (Saruhan)…now it is an archaeological site. Preserved to it’s best. The landscape that leads to these monuments make you feel the vastness of these routes and a feeling of ‘being-ignored’. When you enter the compound, you feel like you are thrown back 1000 years…the architect, carvings and the rancid smell.
Being there mesmerizes you into imagining the resting travelers – napping, eating earthen cooked meat or taking hot Hamam baths and scrubbing their bodies of the dirt accumulated after a lengthy and dusty travel with aching backs from caravan rides, loads of goods in the colorful caravan bags stashed in the corner, a group of travelers praying facing south-east in a corner after a long day on handmade Turkish carpets, few never-before-met travelers playing a game of chess completely made from camel bones, helpers mending the wooden wheels of caravan, etc. Imagining the historic beginning of Globalization! This is one of those places where it all incubated, rather started!
After spending about an hour or two (max) here, visit some of the villages in the area. There are also other Caravanserias along the route D300 which are equally significant and worth visiting but a bit far, you will need an extra day to cover others Caravanserias like Sultanhani, Agzikarahan, Tepesidelik, etc. They are all around Nevsehir.
Rather, we spent the remaining day at the following villages along the way which are worth visiting for culture, food and shopping – Uchisar, Avanos and Ozkonak (Yeraltisehri) that are around Goreme touristy town. Before you head to these towns from Sarihan Caravanseria, find a great place to enjoy your early lunch, for which you may endup back in Goreme town, which is on the way (almost), the foods that are famous around this region are – Adana Style Grilled Meat and Testi Kebab (Testi Kebap). Adana style is from a region close to the Syrian border, but the style of cooking is practiced all around central Anatolia. Testi Kebab is a local central Anatolia style cooking, specific to this region, where meat is placed inside the earthen pottery, sealed and cooked on a slow fire. Due to reuse of the same pottery over the years, the taste is preserved inside these earthen wears and it is delicious with a freshly made lavash bread. You will taste the aroma of meat, charcoal and earth with light regional spice flavors.
Uchisar provides great view of the central Anatolia valley and the vastness of semi-arid landscape that once belonged to the famous Silk-Road, the drive is also amazing and safe, very user friendly and very well marked. The famous Uchisar Castle is also located in the upper reaches of the town. There is a market at the top of this town which is a great place to get some handmade locally produced souvenirs for friends back home.
Avanos has centuries old potteries with techniques that are 2000 years old, another great place to know the art and culture of ancient Turkey. We took some pottery making lessons at Omurlu Ceramics, they also have great showroom filled with miniature paintings (an art famous in this region of the world) on pottery from local artists inheriting from generations. There are many other potteries as well, I would recommend to get some names from your hotel desk.
Ozkonak (Yeraltisehri) is a great place to visit, it is an underground village on the slopes of Mt. Idis built during the Byzantine times.
Finally we came back again to Sarihan Caravanseria around 7PM to see the dervish show, which I would’nt recommend, it was completely different from my expectations, as it had too much of monotony to it, in music and dance. I was more hoping to see a live Sufi based dance and a show that was more entertaining.
But at the end, I was delighted to enjoy a freshest cup of Turkish coffee with delight (pun intended!) in the cave-room of my hotel as the atmosphere was chilling with jet clear sky, satisfied to have marked myself on Silk Road, saw the culture along these great roads and met people who’s ancestors may have served or been served by people on Silk Road.