Have you ever felt your soul connect with a particular spot in some part of the world where you are a foreigner? Ever felt that connect tug so hard that you surprise yourself into saying that this is perhaps the place where my soul would like to wander long after my body has become lifeless? More importantly, have you felt that connect happening to only that certain spot – all you want is to be by that bench looking over at that particular view doing nothing else but remain in the moment?
The thoughts are a bit abstract, but there is a spot on this beautiful earth where my soul sang – where I knew if I were to be brought in an urn and scattered into the tulip bushes, I’d find my heaven – my heaven on earth, tis here tis here, tis here – to murderously paraphrase Indian poet king Jehangir.
It’s not a country that draws me nor the city in particular, though I must say both are beautiful. It’s a spot – a small little spot.. a bench, a garden of tulips and a priceless view of a blue sparkling Bosphorus till the heart can see. This is the view.. I guess I have stretched this suspense a tad long, haven’t I? This spot is in a quaint park called the Gulhane Park in Istanbul overlooking the Bosphorus.
I’d stumbled into the park.. quite literally. Though it was a trip with a very dear friend, my first evening in Istanbul was spent in exploring the Sultanahmet area by foot. I just picked up a direction that looked fun – most parts of Sultanahmet look fun, so it’s quite a choice – and began walking. In fact I followed the tram line. From near Gulhane towards the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofiya. It was April, the tulip festival was on, every little patch of earth had a tulip blooming. The sky was blue as blue can be and Istanbul wore a carnival look. I don’t remember what day it was, but I remember a parade through the Old City – when I got tired of sneaking and peeking and making notes of all the nooks and crannies I needed to explore in the days to come, I began my walk back – it was around 4.30pm, bright and sunny. As I walked with the crowds, I saw several head in through the gates into what looked like public gardens. Well, why not, the mind mumbled – it’s not like I had to meet anyone till well past 6.
That’s how I stumbled into the Gulhane Park – the Topikapi palace is on the hill under which the Gulhane Park is situated. I walked past some beautiful fountains where hundreds of people were taking hundreds of selfies and began my gentle trek uphill along a path lined on either sides by fabulous beds of the most exotic tulips I’d seen – it’s the annual tulip festival, I reminded myself, they have pulled out all stops.
As I walked on, there was a sense of childlike excitement – like there was something ahead that is just waiting to be discovered. It took a good ten minutes of liesurely ambling for me to reach that spot on the hill from where the Bosphorus shimmered before my eyes. The blue blue sea, vast and serene. And there by that wrought iron bench, my soul locked. If you have experienced a moment like that ever – in some part of the world – you will know that instant sense of recognition that zips through the body. This instant connect- that’s what travellers navigate the circumference of the earth for. Ok, let me not stretch it to other travellers, but that’s the moment I’d travel to the farthest corners for. A gentle breeze cooled the fierce heat of the sun, the noise of families picnicking nearby faded – here I was, with myself – in a state of Zen, totally awed by the beauty spread before me. That moment engraved itself deep inside the soul – I’m not sure if the colour of the tulips near that bench were red, pink or yellow. But I remember the breeze, the blue blue sea..and the smile that reached my toes – and with it came the desire to be scattered on the grass by the bench when only my soul can see the sights of this beautiful spot.
Another ten minutes through gardens that vaguely looked inspired by Japanese landscaping, and I reached a spot where I returned several times on that trip. It’s a teahouse, frequented by the locals, need I say, with a vantage view of the Bosphorus. The height makes the view memorable. In fact, I found this view far prettier than even from the balconies of Topikapi. Sipping Turkish tea served in two-storeyed copper pots, I watched the sun go down painting the skies in hues I’d never seen before.
Everytime I walked through the park to the treehouse, I renewed my promise with the spot – to come back.. time and again to stake my claim to a patch of grass. Then the other day, I read a line of Nelson Mandela’s – There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
And now I wonder – was it that April, that me, that day that gave me this strong sense of certainty? Perhaps.. Perhaps not. I will need to head back to Istanbul to figure that out, won’t I? If you know of the park and specifically know the spot I talk about, do drop me a line. I’d love to exchange notes.