Istanbul – Trains and Whirling Dervishes

12/4 – We have only a few more days in Istanbul. Friday we will pick up our passports from the Chinese Consulate, and Saturday we head south to see other parts of Türkiye. We walked north today to get our train tickets to Izmir, which will get us close to Selçuk and the ruins at Ephesus. On the way, we passed a restaurant advertising a Whirling Dervish demonstration, not too far from our pension. Jim said, “I think this is something you would like to see.” So, we are going tonight!

When we arrived at the train station, the ticket seller had no English, and seemed to be telling us there was no train to where we wanted to go. I had spent a lot of time researching on line, and knew we had to take a ferry to a Metro to a bus to catch the train 20 miles east of Istanbul (there are no trains running directly into or out of Istanbul until their rail upgrade is completed sometime next year). We had one more travel day on our EuRail pass, and this would be our last chance to use it.

We went next door to Tourist Information, and asked again. No, the man said firmly, we would have to take a bus. Remembering our nightmare entry into the country, we allowed that this might be true. He directed us to a travel agency two blocks away. This didn’t feel right… We’ve always dealt directly with the train company, not a private agency. The travel agent said we could take a 10 hour bus ride, but why not fly and get there in an hour? And why not hire a shuttle to and from the airport? And better also arrange a tour, as people can’t get from Selçuk to the ruins of Ephesus on their own. Jim thanked the man for the information, and marched us out of there. It was too slick, and smelled fishy.

Back we went to the train station. This time we got another agent, and determined that there WAS a train after all, just like I had researched. Whew! 20 minutes later we had our tickets for the train from Pendik to Eskisehir, and the overnight sleeper to Izmir. We walked next door to the ferry terminal to make sure that wasn’t going to be any sort of a problem. Looks like our Metro Card will get us across the Bosphorus for 2 lira. Yay! We’re back in business.

While we were in the city, I wanted to see if I could get a refill on my allergy prescription. Unlike other countries we’ve visited, it is not clear what a pharmacy looks like here. We went into a likely looking shop that had a vitamin display in the window, and found a guy in a white coat behind the counter – a good sign. I showed the package to the pharmacist, and he brought out the exact same name brand med, no prescription needed, and charged $7 for a bottle that costs $120 back in the US of A. Don’t know what to say about that, except I’m glad to have my medicine. Maybe I should stock up?

After supper we walked to the restaurant to see the Mevlevi, or Whirling Dervishes. The restaurant folks were disappointed that we were not eating in their establishment, but we figured the $40 cover charge was all they were going to get from us tonight. Lighting was provided by a very-80s disco ball, which gave the whole place a colorful, pulsating and surreal quality.

Followers of the poet Rumi, the Sufi whirl in ecstatic joy. First came three musicians – one playing a stringed instrument that sounded like a viola, one playing mandolin, and the third playing a bamboo flute, who was also the vocalist. image

After a while the three dervishes came out in black robes, bowed and knelt for a period of meditation while the music played.IMG_5011.JPGIMG_5012.JPG

Then the three cast off their black robes to reveal white costumes with wide skirts. One by one, they bowed, then started to whirl, arms raised, eyes closed, skirts creating a breeze like room full of ceiling fans. They rotated, and also revolved around the room. They were graceful and looked serene, never faltering, losing step or appearing dizzy. They whirled for a long time.

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Jim introduced me to the poetry of Rumi years ago, and I can understand that whirling is another way that he and his followers expressed their joy. Here is a Rumi poem:

The Secret Turning

A secret turning in us
makes the universe turn.
Head unaware of feet,
and feet head. Neither cares.
They keep turning.

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