Europe to Asia, twice
Pros: nice place, wonderful views
Saturday, Feb 28, 2004 09:51
... in which the author crosses Asia from west to east...
After a couple of hectic days of packing my belongings into boxes
and moving them into storage, visiting family in the Netherlands
and saying goodbye to friends both there and in Prague, my trip
started properly at Prague airport, with my flight to Istanbul.
The Turkish Airlines flight to Delhi does not connect, so they put
travellers up in a hotel just to keep the business - and a day in
Istanbul before heading off to the real Asia sounded just fine to
me. The in-flight meal, of course, included turkey.
Hotel Color, just east of the city centre and appropriately decked
out in various shades of brown, was my four star hotel of the night,
and I decided on an early evening, taking some time to rearrange
the ridiculous amount of medicines I am carrying, from maybe 15
boxes to a more reasonable 4 boxes. Apart from the injections I
had against hepatitis (both kinds), typhoid and something very scary
starting with an M, I am equipped to triumph over any attack of
acute diarrhea, vomiting, headache and malaria. There are still
plenty of other things that can do damage (including loneliness
and Indian bus drivers), but that is well covered by my credit card
and travel health insurance.
At breakfast in the Color's top-floor restaurant, I was welcomed
by abundant sunshine and fabulous views over the city, and across
the Bosphorus to the Asian chunk of Turkey. The ATM coughed up 20,000,000
lira (at about 1,6 million for a euro that's not as much as you'd
like) and I hopped on the sleek tram to Sultanahmet. It was Monday,
with all museums closed, a perfect sunny day for strolling around.
The huge park beneath the former Sultan's Topkapi palace was something
I somehow skipped on my two earlier visits to Istanbul, and I was
surprised by the sight of herons building nests in the tops of the
trees along the main path.
To symbolically start my trip, I took the ferry across the Bosphorus
to the Asian suburb of Uskudar, where fishermen were roasting their
catch on the quayside. After removing a mouthful of bones the fish
sandwich tasted great. Back in Europe, I wandered around and shopped
to pick up the last items I needed.
At 16:30, the transfer bus picked me and a few other Delhi-bound
passengers up, and two hours later we were airborne and heading
east. I was seated next to a friendly Tibetan doctor, specialised
in Tibetan healing (which is more about balancing your soul than
swallowing lots of chemicals). He was from Dharamsala in the mountains
of northern India, where the exiled Tibetan government resides.
He had also lived in Berlin and used the Turkish Airlines map to
show me his favourite place on the planet (a mountain in Canada).
He let me read last month's (German) Stern magazine that had an
interview with the jovial Dalai Lama, who seems to be conquering
the Western world with his Bhuddist message of peace, but who is
not very good at getting back Tibet from the Chinese. Later on,
I spotted the doctor correcting the map, by drawing in the borders
of Tibet. Seeing the huge chunk it would take out of China, I can
imagine the Chinese' hard stance.
Apart from some rowdy Turks that made the stewardess nervous, a
man who shouted in his sleep, an Indian family with three intermittently
wailing kids and some turbulence above the mountains of Afghanistan,
nothing interesting happened until an hour before landing, when
from cruising altitude we saw an endless line of lights far below.
Indian roads are notoriously unlit, so it can only have been the
Pakistan-Indian border, apparently well-lit along its entire length
through the Thar desert. Cool... visible borders, us geographers
love that! I passed from Europe to Asia for the second time that
day, and set watches 4,5 hours forwards, and mentality quite a bit