Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Travel: Pamukkale, Turkey

Turkish delight

I have climbed steeper hills.

And on one occasion that stays in my memory, for wince-making reasons, I have climbed a gritty hill without footwear…don’t ask.

And here I am, climbing the 2,700-metre-high calcite hill in Pamukkale, in Turkey’s Denizli region.

So why am I so tensed, teeth gritted painfully, muscles knotted hard, bare feet tentatively seeking purchase on the ridged rock, telling myself grimly to take one step after another, that I can do it?

It’s because of the water. This is a wet hill, with terraces carved out of sedimentary rock deposited by water from the hot springs in the vicinity.

The hillside is dotted with troughs holding as many as a dozen or more aquamarine-tinted water pools; the water in these basins is warm, even mildly hot.

And these pools run over, trickling down the hill in rills and runes here, in broad swaths there. There exists the very real danger of me falling on my backside on this wet surface. A danger I am all too keen to avoid.


Arduous climb

It’s a striking sight, these hills. When the water from the hot springs beneath the earth’s surface come up, carbon dioxide de-gasses from it, and calcium carbonate is deposited as a soft jelly, which eventually hardens into travertine.

Tourists climb these terraces barefoot, to protect the deposits, which is why this mass of pristine white stands as Pamukkale’s pride and joy.

Of course, when one is climbing the feature, one comes across hardened limestone that is a dirty brown in colour, but that is eclipsed by the whiteness of the landscape.

A singular whiteness, to which many thousands flock, season after tourist season. I do wish though, that I had asked Tufan, the man behind the reception counter at the hotel below, just how many people had suffered accidents that left their backsides dented, and er, painted white.

All this nervousness, this treading gingerly, does not, however, come in the way of my noticing things.

As I ascend the hill, Pamukkale’s green lands seem to fall in picturesque place below. The gardens at the base of the hill are speckled with blood-red, loose-leaved roses, which give off a heady scent.

All that red amidst patches of green manicured lawns and this white mass looming besides it, make for a picture postcard scene. As do the petrified waterfalls on the sides of the travertine.

The sun is not harsh, and after I have done three-quarters of the climb, I see people splashing about in designated water pans on the hillside.

Some sit on the calcite edges, happily dipping their toes in the light clear water of the basins, others are in swim trunks and bikinis, going about their immersion duties most happily, squealing when they find miniscule tadpoles in the water.

There is a road on the other side, leading to the top, but quite a few venerable elders have undertaken the climb up the slippery slope, more power to them.

This ran in DECCAN HERALD of 18 March 2013.

All photos by Sheila Kumar and subject to copyright.

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calcite terracesHieropolisPamukkaleTurkeywater poolswhite landscape

Sheila Kumar • March 18, 2013

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