Monday, 4 April 2022

The Caribbean Isles – defy definition

A love for sports, strong rum, exotic beautiful women, the incredible deep blue sea and not a care in the world – come experience the Caribbean for a totally different lifestyle. Once the playground of the rich, it’s now more popular with cheap airfares and more hotels catering to variety of budgets.

Many islands, many peoples and many cultures from the Portugese, Spaniards, English, Irish, French, Indians, Danish, Dutch, Chinese, Kongo, Igbo, Akan, Fon, Yoruba, Creole to their many mixed off-shoots have created an environment of co-existence envied amongst the island nations forming the Caribbean Community. The region comprises over 7,000 islands, islets, reefs, and cays. The West Indies islands form island arcs that delineate the eastern and northern edges of the Caribbean Sea.

The name West Indies originates as Christopher Columbus landed there in 1492 and believed he had reached the Indies (in Asia). The Caribbean islands are classified as one of Conservation International's biodiversity hotspots because they support exceptionally diverse ecosystems, ranging from montane cloud forests to cactus scrublands. These ecosystems have been devastated by deforestation and human encroachment. The arrival of the first humans is correlated with extinction of giant owls and dwarf ground sloths. This area has many highly threatened species of birds, mammals and reptiles,  examples are the Puerto Rican Amazon, two species of Solenodon (giant shrews) in Cuba and Haiti, and the Cuban crocodile. The varied fauna here is incredibly remarkable.

Just imagine living in a city where because of the country's colonial heritage, the names of towns are derived in roughly equal proportions from English (Chatham, Brighton, Green Hill, St. Mary's, Princes Town, Freeport, New Grant), French (Blanchisseuse, Sans Souci, Pointe-à-Pierre, Basse Terre, Matelot, Petit Bourg), Spanish (San Fernando, Sangre Grande, Rio Claro, San Juan, Las Cuevas, Maracas, Manzanilla, Los Bajos) Indian (Fyzabad, Barrackpore, Indian Walk, Madras Settlement, Penal, Debe) and Amerindian languages (Chaguanas, Tunapuna, Guayaguayare, Carapichaima, Mucurapo, Chaguaramas, Arima, Arouca, Guaico, Oropouche, Aripo. A far cry from our country with a similar heritage but where today the only aim of our political parties seems to be renaming streets and cities as a means of getting more votes!!

Where does one begin and how does one choose which country to write about- each is beautiful, each with its own charm. The first time I went to the Islands was when I took a touring fashion show for my UK based company across five of the islands and fell in love with its peoples. So, let’s talk about Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad. We are all familiar with the names of cricketing legends like Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Frank Worrell, Joel Garner and Sir Clyde Walcott. Jamaica was one the venues of 2007 Cricket World Cup and West Indies cricket team is one of the only ten ICC full member teams who participate in international Test Cricket. The Jamaican national cricket team competes regionally, and also provides players for the West Indies. Sabina Park is the only test venue and Greenfield Stadium is also used for cricket. Jamaica has also produced dozens of world class sprinters, most recently Usain Bolt, world record holder in the 100m and 200m for men. Other noteworthy sprinters include Arthur Wint, the first Jamaican Olympic Gold Medalist, Donald Quarrie- Olympic Champion and former 200m world record holder, Merlene Ottey, Shelly-Ann Fraser-World and Olympic 100m Champion, George Rhoden and Deon Hemmings- both Olympic Gold Medalists and former 100m world record holder and Olympic Gold medalist Asafa Powell.

What is enticing about the Caribbean as a whole is that it still retains a lot of its charm. A typical Caribbean town always has a post office,  a supermarket, a few churches,  a bakery,  a bank, a farmers market, a basic primary and secondary school,  street vendors, a cricket pitch, a football (soccer) field. Most towns have a town square which is the main bus station and where most street vendors sell their wares. This square is always busy with activity. It also usually has a statue of a famous person who did something great in that town or for the country.

Jamaica is the third largest island and the fourth largest country in the Caribbean. The island is home to the Blue Mountains and is surrounded by a narrow coastal plain. Most major cities are located on the coast - the capital Kingston, Portmore, Spanish Town, Mandeville, Ocho Ríos, Port Antonio, Negril, and Montego Bay. Kingston Harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the world. There are several tourist attractions scattered across the country, including Dunn's River Falls in St. Ann, YS Falls in St. Elizabeth, the Blue Lagoon in Portland, and Port Royal, which was the site of an earthquake that helped form the island's Palisadoes. The climate in Jamaica is tropical, with hot and humid weather, although higher inland regions are more temperate.

During its first 200 years of British rule, Jamaica became a leading sugar-exporting, slave-dependent nation. Strong economic growth, averaging approximately 6% per annum, marked the first ten years of independence. But like all small states, there was a decline as optimism of the first decade plus a growing sense of inequality and a belief that poor were not equally benefitting led to economic decline into the mid-1980s, exacerbated by closure of the two of the largest alumina producers and a significant reduction in production by Alcan, another large producer. In addition, tourism decreased substantially.

Kingston can be intimidating and in places dangerous but use your street smarts and an open mind, you will be rewarded with a city as unique to the island as it is to the Caribbean. Kingston divides neatly into downtown and uptown;  it has a scenic waterfront, a great art museum and most of Kingston’s historic buildings, complemented by an active street-life – most notably on King St or the Parade around William Grant Park, where street preachers and hawkers vie for your attention. Just a few kilometres away, Uptown has the city’s hotels, restaurants and nightlife. In addition, a must see are the Bob Marley Museum and Devon House. The latter is the architectural dream of Jamaica’s first black millionaire George Stiebel who was among three wealthy Jamaicans who constructed elaborate homes during the late 19th century at the corner of Trafalgar Road and Hope Road, which fittingly became known as the Millionaires Corner. The capital’s diplomatic and commercial status ensures uptown a definite cosmopolitan suaveness. The historic city center, where you’ll see the Caribbean’s most extensive variety of Georgian ­architecture and its great cathedral, (currently in a sad state of repair). Few other places in Jamaica bring to life the historic sweep of centuries like Spanish Town.

Though a small nation, Jamaica is rich in culture and has a strong global presence. The musical genres which evolved here are reggae, ska, mento, rocksteady, dub, and, more recently, dancehall and ragga all from  the island's vibrant, popular urban recording industry. Jamaica also played a critical role in the development of punk rock, reggae and ska. Reggae without doubt influenced American rap music as both have African styles of rhythmic music. Rappers such as The Notorious B.I.G. and Heavy D are of Jamaican descent. Internationally known reggae musician Bob Marley was Jamaican.

The Rastafarian movement with over a million Rastafarians, famous for their dreadlock hairstyle, was founded here. They believe Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was God Incarnate, the returned Black Messiah who had come to take the lost Twelve Tribes of Israel. Bob Marley, a believer, spread the message of Rastafari to the world.

Ian Fleming living in Jamaica repeatedly used the island as a setting in his famous James Bond novels - in Live and Let Die, Doctor No, For Your Eyes Only, The Man with the Golden Gun and Octopussy. James Bond uses a Jamaica-based cover in Casino Royale. The only James Bond film adaption to have been set in Jamaica is Doctor No. Filming for the fictional island of San Monique in Live and Let Die. The ‘James Bond Hotel’ is not officially the ‘007,’ but Jamaica’s Goldeneye Resort – easily one of the Caribbean’s most glamorous destinations - is the former estate of Ian Fleming. It’s run by Island Records’ owner Chris Blackwell, but the stars keep coming - Johnny Depp, Bono, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson. It’s worth a visit!

We leave after visiting the Blue Mountain range.  Shrouded perpetually by mists which give them their bluish color, they sprawl across the eastern part for 28 miles. They rise steeply and it is possible to drive from the coastal plains to an elevation of over 7,000 feet in less than an hour! Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is amongst the best gourmet coffees in the world with 90% production exported to Japan. These diverse mountain forests have over 800 plants species, the world’s second largest butterfly, Papilo homerus, 200 species of resident and migrant birds and is one of the largest migratory bird habitats in the Caribbean. It has over 500 species of flowering plants (almost 45% is native to Jamaica) - the most interesting is the Jamaican bamboo Chusquea abietifolia that flowers only once every 33 years. The next flowering will take place in 2017.

The best way to reach Barbados is on a cruise ship. There has never been a better time for cruise deals and discounted cruise packages as the recession is still on in this part of the world. Top cruise lines - Princess, Holland America, Royal Caribbean etc - offer Caribbean cruise packages designed for first timers, seasoned travelers, singles or families. Why should you take a cruise over a vacation at a Caribbean resort or hotel? Well, the value of a vacation on a floating hideaway like a cruise liner is giganormous. Then, more important, the advantage of visiting multiple exciting locations without the need to pack and repack again!   

What is the best month to take a Caribbean cruise? The answer depends upon what one considers the most important factors.

·   Peak Season: mid-December to April; warm weather time for travelers escaping from the cold Northern American winter. These are the driest months in the islands when one has peak prices and crowds. Book a few months in advance.

·   Off Season: July to November; the low season; it varies greatly in the Caribbean depending on where islands fall within the hurricane belt. You may get great hotel bargains but businesses in storm affected locations often close during these months.

·   Sweet Spot: the shoulder season - May and June come just before the storm season. This is a good time to take advantage of low prices, fewer passengers on the ships. But be warned, occasional showers are a possibility - depends upon where you are.

 Barbados originally known as Ichirouganaim is the easternmost island of Lesser Antilles. “Barbados” means "bearded" but what this refers to is questionable – does it refer to the long, hanging roots of the bearded fig-tree (Ficus citrifolia), indigenous to the island; to the bearded Caribs once inhabiting the island; or to the foam spraying over the outlying reefs giving the impression of a beard ? Citizens are officially called Barbadians; often shortened to Bajans (pronounced: "bay" "jan") which at times sounds like "Bar-bajan".

The capital and largest city of Barbados is Bridgetown, founded 1628, by Charles Wolverstone who named it ‘Indian-Bridge Town’ for the bridge remaining from the island's native inhabitants who left after Spanish rule ended. Walking along Cats Castle and Cheapside leads you to Broad Street, the main street of Bridgetown consisting of banks, department stores and duty free shops. Other shopping areas are in Tudor Street and Swan Street which cross Broad Street or you can go straight towards the Parliament and Cathedral sightseeing the traditional architecture which at times reminded me of the old Portugese style buildings in Fontenas, Panjim (Goa) or a British village square.  

Due to its higher levels of development and its favourable location, Barbados has become one of the prime Caribbean tourist destinations. Well known hotel chains offer world-class accommodation. Time-shares, smaller local hotels and private villas have space available if booked in advance. The southern and western coasts of Barbados are popular, with the calm light blue Caribbean Sea and their fine white and pinkish sandy beaches. Along the island's east coast, which faces the Atlantic Ocean, there are tumbling waves which are perfect for light surfing.

Just outside of Bridgetown is the Bayshore Complex, worth a stop for its shopping and historic value. Barbados is now home to two boardwalks. The South Coast 1.2 km boardwalk opened in 2008 runs from Accra Beach to Hastings. Running right alongside the beach this boardwalk is set in concrete fortified by Canadian Nova Scotia granite rocks and planked with Brazilian hardwood. It's very popular with locals and visitors alike. The West Coast boardwalk opened in 2009 is shorter and made entirely of concrete. It runs along Holetown beach.

Finally we end up in the land of Carnival and the birthplace of steelpan, calypso, soca, and limbo – Trinidad - part of the Trinidad and Tobago islands. Be prepared to experience mesmerizing music, super beaches and first-class diving through coral landscapes; a Carnival to end all Carnivals and for the sports inclined, luxuriant rainforests prime for bird-watching, hiking, and cycling. Trinidad (and Tobago) is excluded from many Caribbean birding books, essentially due to the number of species here – about 430. Non-birders will be consider a new hobby after visiting Trinidad’s Asa Wright Nature Center, one of the world’s great birding outposts, with all-inclusive lodges in the Northern Range rainforest. It’s a 90-minute drive from Port of Spain.

Trinidad’s Queens Park, St Clair and New Town cover the main tourist area but take a walk southwards down towards Independence Square and Woodford Square to see another interesting section of the city.

The ethnic composition of Trinidad and Tobago reflects a history of conquest and immigration. Two major ethnic groups, Indo-Trinidadian and Tobagonians and Afro-Trinidadian and Tobagonians, account for almost 80% of the population, while people of mixed race, European, Chinese and SyrianLebanese descent make up most of the rest of the population. Trinidadian English, however, is also influenced by French, French Creole, Spanish, and by Bhojpuri/Hindi. There are three major municipalities in Trinidad: Port of Spain, the capital, San Fernando, and Chaguanas.

The most famous recent local persona known to all of us in India and one of the most famous sporting icons in the country is legendary West Indian batsman Brian Lara, world record holder for the most runs scored both in a Test and in a First Class innings. Born in Santa Cruz, he is referred to simply as the Prince.

Walk down any street in any of the islands and what strikes about the Caribbean is the rich, strong and vibrant diversity of its population and cultures. The political heritage and guidelines laid through centuries of rule by Britain, France, Portugal and Spain has ensured that most of these islands remain democratic, economically independent and linked to the rest of the world through tourism, sports, and industry in recent years. What about its cuisine if the society is so multi racial? In Barbados, I entertained a charming Chinese-Negress having Amerindian blood with a tad of European thrown in! I can’t recall what I ate but I had a divine evening. That’s another story ……………..

This article appeared in Citibank Citigold 24K magazine in Sept 2010. Unfortunately I dont have the other images anymore. 

Text and photographs copyright of the author. No part of this article or photographs maybe transmitted or reproduced by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without written permission. Do contact the author on email --

Scottish Castles - History morphing into the 22nd Century – how to promote one’s heritage

Both India and Great Britain have their share of historic castles; the only difference being that in India, they are generally in ruins as politics and poverty have made them so - but attitudes are changing; whereas in Great Britain, castles, like most ancient monuments, are not only protected but aggressively marketed to be self maintained entities actively broadcasting their heritage and welcoming visitors who cherish forever their visit. I have chosen two castles, one in Scotland and one in Wales; each unique in its own right and both outstanding examples of their ilk.

Caernarfon Castle (Welsh: Castell Caernarfon; Anglicised: Caernarvon) at Caernarfon, N.W. Wales. Built in 1283 by King Edward I of England, a World Heritage site and is definitely the most famous of Welsh castles. Its sheer scale and commanding presence sets it apart and even today, boldly states the intentions of Edward I. The castle's imposing style is not an architectural accident. It was designed to echo the walls of Constantinople and the imperial power of Rome; to be a dream castle - 'the fairest that ever man saw' of Welsh myth and legend – the Welsh being big on both! Caernarfon's immense strength remains unchanged – one cannot avoid the dominance of this fortress with its unique polygonal towers, intimidating battlements and colour banded masonry.

History comes alive in many ways - along the lofty wall walks, beneath the twin towered gatehouse and imaginative exhibitions located within the towers. These exhibitions are brilliantly crafted and change regularly. When I went, they showed through multiple media, a brillaint presentation on the Investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969. The castle also houses the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, Wales's oldest regiment.  The tradition of investing the heir of the British monarch with the title "Prince of Wales" began in 1301, when King Edward I having completed the conquest of Wales gave the title to his heir, Prince Edward (later King Edward II of England). According to a famous legend, the king had promised the Welsh that he would name "a prince born in Wales, who did not speak a word of English" and then produced his infant son. The story is questionable as it can only be traced to the 16th century. 

In 1911, the castle was used for the investiture of the then Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII. This set a precedent, repeated again in 1969 with the investiture of Charles, the current Prince of Wales, a fellow undergrad faculty colleague. 

Caernarfon was constructed not only as a military stronghold but also as a seat of government and royal palace. It was never completed. Even today, one sees several places where further walls were never built. Contemporary records state the castle's construction cost as £22,000 – an enormous sum at the time, equivalent to a year's income for the royal treasury. The castle is unique due to its arrow loop design – a feature of medieval fortresses allowing maximum field of fire…. the embrasures were designed to allow upto three crossbowmen to discharge their bolts through a single external loop creating a deadly crossfire.

During Edward I's invasions of Wales, this was strategically an excellent place to build a castle; Anglesey was referred as the garden of Wales, providing very rich agricultural land close to the poorer land in north Wales. The castle dominates the Menai Straits which allowed speedy access between the north Welsh coast and the western coast; and was therefore important for Edward to control for supplying Harlech and Aberystwyth

As one enters and walks through the castle and climb its ramparts, you immediately notice its total dominance over the town and these Straits. The Eagle Tower, Queen's Tower, Chamberlain Tower and Black Tower were all accommodation towers built on several storeys. Each had self contained chapels on each storey which showed the high rank of the occupant. The Eagle Tower is ten sided and stands 128 ft high with walls over 15 ft thick. There are 4 floors, each with a great chamber surrounded by smaller rooms and passages in the thickness of the walls. This tower is traditionally the birthplace of Edward of Caernarvon. The eagle on the west Turret is the only one of the original three left standing. There were two halls - the Great Hall and King's Tower hall. The castle accommodated the household of Prince of Wales with his council, family and guests also in attendance. 

In direct contrast we have the famous Edinburgh castle – renowned worldwide for its famous Tattoo. It dominates the city like no other castle in Scotland or even Great Britain. When you visit, you realize why it gets over a million visitors annually. 

The volcanic rock formed over 70 million years ago is the base of the Castle. Bronze-Age man lived here in 850 BC. 2,000 years ago, in the Iron Age, the rock had a hill-fort settlement on its summit. The City grew outwards from the Castle rock and the first houses were built on the area in front of the Castle, known as the Lawn market. Then came High Street and The Cannongate towards Holyrood House Palace. These streets known as ‘The Royal Mile’ acquired its name as Scottish and English kings, queens and royalty in general, travelled to and fro between Holyrood House Palace and Edinburgh Castle. 

There are magnificent panoramas in every direction. From the lowest to the highest point, the view is awesome. To the north, in the distance you see the mountains of The Kingdom of Fife. Below is the famous Princes Street Gardens. Princes Street’s uniqueness lies in that the shops along its length are only on the north side, so from them you have an uninterrupted view of the Castle. This World Heritage Site city can boast of having the most intact Georgian city in Europe.

The oldest building in Edinburgh Castle is a tiny chapel built on the summit of the castle rock in the early 12th century in memory of Queen Margaret, wife of Malcolm III. In 1296, Edward I of England invaded Scotland and besieged / captured the Castle. Everyone knows the story of Robert the Bruce and his famous attack on the castle – on the night of 14 March 1314, Sir Thomas Randolph, Bruce’s nephew, and his men climbed the precipitous north face of Edinburgh Castle rock, took the English garrison by surprise and won the castle back. Robert the Bruce ordered the castle be dismantled "lest the English ever afterwards might lord it over the land by holding the castles".

In 1449, a great siege gun made for the Duke of Burgundy was tested at Mons (Belgium). In 1457 the gun “Mons Meg” was sent as a present to the King and Queen of Scotland. Mons Meg was kept with the rest of the royal guns in the Castle. Used against the English and rebellious Scottish noblemen with devastating effect, her enormous bulk of over 6 tons made her obsolete as a siege gun but she was put to good use firing ceremonial salutes. In 1681, during James II, the last Stewart King’s, birthday salute, the barrel burst open. The restored Mons Meg is viewed on the upper levels of the Castle making an imposing sight. 

After the siege in March 1689, William and Mary accepted the Scottish Crown – this was the last real action at the castle. During the Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1745, Edinburgh Castle was picketed by the supporters of the "Old Pretender" and "Bonnie Prince Charlie" but was never threatened. Peace has reigned ever since. March 1707 saw the Crown, Sword and Sceptre brought back to Edinburgh Castle and locked away. February 1818, Sir Walter Scott opened the room and found these items – they were immediately put on display in the room where they were discovered. Thus began the Castle's new role as Scotland's premier visitor attraction. 

But many visitors come to see the famed Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The first Military Tattoo took place in 1950 with only 8 items on the programme. It has now evolved to an international event seen by over 100 million people each year on TV and viewed in person by over 200,000 visitors annually. In its 59 year history, over 30 countries have participated. The Tattoo is proud that not a single performance has ever been cancelled - a tribute to the hardiness of both performers and audience given the unpredictable Scottish weather! 

When I saw the Tattoo, what struck me was the ‘internationalness‘ of the event – the audience was from all over the world. The MC asked the members of the audience to identify with the countries announced!! The bands and the music were from a whole range of countries – not just British army bands. The Tattoo has the finest military bands, bagpipers and drummers and brass bands in the world performing nightly every August on Castle Esplanade against the spectacular and historic Castle backdrop. The Tattoo is also the centre piece of a month-long arts festival which includes The Fringe Festival, The Starbucks Jazz & Blues Festival, The International Festival, The Book Festival and The Film Festival. The whole city throbs with superb theatrical performances, ballets, concerts, jazz, stand-up comedians, street performers etc.


But very few know the origin of the word “Tattoo”. It originated in 17th / 18th C from the closing cry in the inns of the Low Countries (Netherlands) - Doe den tap toe ('turn off the taps'). The local military band with drums would parade announcing curfew time in garrison towns - beer taps had to be switched off and soldiers returned to barracks. Over centuries, it evolved in a dazzling display of military band precision, bagpipe glory and emotion, and drum.

The huge crowds wait patiently in line until the gates are open. Then we all enter through the specific gates to our stands. In the glowing twilight, the floodlit Castle draws all eyes, a hush falls and darkness deepens. The great oak gates of Edinburgh Castle sweep open, and the swelling sound of hundreds of pipes and drums cracks the night sky. Emotions run high: the Military Tattoo unfailingly thrills by its military spectacle and glory of the event. To see so many massed bands and drums and bagpipes – all marching in unison warms the cockles of your heart!

For nearly 90 minutes, there is a dazzling show spread out on Castle Esplanade, a whirling kaleidoscope of music, dance and display. One may see the precision of Swiss bandsmen, the Gurkha soldiers’ breathtaking enactment of a war scene, daredevil motorcycles at speed and always the best of Scottish Highland dancers wheeling and swirling to a fiddle orchestra.

The finale never fails to raise the hairs on your scalp – a multitude of massed bands and performers on the Castle Esplanade. The Tattoo audience joins in a great chorus of singing, cheering, and applause. Cries of 'Bravo!' before a hush falls for the singing of the Evening Hymn; the sounding of the Last Post and the lowering of the flags on the Castle. Finally, all eyes are on the Castle ramparts, where a single spotlight cues the Lone Piper to play his haunting lament. The high notes echo across the still night sky as the flames of the Castle torch lights and the piper's warming brazier flickers and slowly dies. Fireworks burst out and the crowd sings Auld Lang Syne and shake their neighbour's hand. Visitors are united in international friendship, the shared love of Scotland, its music and its traditions.

These two castles, so different yet so dominant over their own landscapes, have created history over decades and even today are a very valuable financial contributor to their city’s welfare. If you get the chance, go see Caernarvon and its bleak surrounds of Snowdonia or Edinburgh and the Scottish highlands, visiting various single malt distilleries along the way. You’ll ne’er regret it.

Slainte Mhath !

The text of this article was published in Citibank's CitiGold magazine in November 2009. 

Text and photographs copyright of the author. No part of this article or photographs maybe transmitted or reproduced by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without written permission. Do contact the author on email --

Saturday, 2 April 2022

Dramatic travertines, blindingly white, at Turkey's foremost mineral-bath spa, near the ruins of Hierapolis.

After Istanbul, we had planned to drive to Denzili to see the famous travertines of Pamukkale (Cotton Castle). But the distance was too far, so we flew instead, arriving at Denzili Cardak Airport by 8.00 am. We immediately went to a car hire firm at the airport run by a wonderful middle aged couple who gave us a fantastic rate and allowed us to return the vehicle in Goreme in Cappadoccia.

I had never heard the word “Travertines” before – they are dense banded rock composed of calcite or calcium carbonate. They are formed by the evaporation of river and spring waters. Actually, it’s a variety of limestone with lighter colour and excellent polish hence it’s often used for walls and interior decorations in buildings. The stunning white calcium pools, which cling to the side of a ridge, have long been one of the most famous picture postcard views of Turkey. They formed into natural pools, shelves and ridges which tourists could plunge and splash in the warm water.

Pamukkale lies 19 km north of Denzili and is Turkey's foremost mineral-bath spa because of its natural beauty: hot calcium-laden waters spring from the earth and cascade over a cliff. As they cool, they form these dramatic travertines pools. The town has been a spa since the Romans built the spa city of Hierapolis around a sacred warm-water spring. The Sacred Pool is still there, littered with marble columns from the Roman Temple of Apollo.

We parked in the large car park and started the walk up to the plateau at the top. From down below, one saw a line of people, like ants, walking at the very top ! There are three entrances to the top and you ca pay the fee at any one of them. When you stand below and look up, the glare from the pure white rock surfaces hits your eyes harshly and you are stunned by the sheer power of the whiteness.

Somewhere deep in the earth beneath Pamukkale and the ancient Roman city of Hierapolis (Holy City) lies a vast source of water heated by volcanic lava. The water dissolves pure white calcium, becomes saturated with it, and carries it to the earth's surface, where it bursts forth and runs down a steep hillside. Cooling in the open air, the calcium precipitates from the water, adheres to the soil, and forms white calcium "cascades" frozen in stone which have now become what we call travertines

The water has been bursting forth at Hierapolis/Pamukkale for more than two millennia. The Romans built the spa city of Hierapolis so citizens could come and enjoy the health benefits of the hot mineral water. The beauty of the travertines was just a bonus.

Ancient Hierapolis was apparently founded by King Eumenes II of Pergamon and its name is derived from Hiera, the wife of King Telephos, the legendary founder of Pergamon. The city came under Roman control in 133 BC. In 17 BC. during the reign of Tiberius, a major earthquake nearly destroyed the city and it was rebuilt. Preliminary excavations at Hierapolis were undertaken by a German team towards the end of the last century. Since 1957, excavation and restoration work has been going on under the direction of an Italian group of archaeologists from the University of Lecce.

The ancient city was strung out on either side of a long colonnaded street called the Plateia. Measuring 13 meters wide, this street ran north and south from the southern gateway to the Arch of Domitian in the north. It is paved with huge blocks of limestone. The first structure one encounters on reaching the plateau is the city baths; relatively well preserved. The Roman baths are 2nd C AD. In the eastern part of the baths is a palaestra measuring around 36 x 52 meters. The palaestra essentially is a rectangular court surrounded by colonnades with adjoining rooms. These rooms might house a variety of functions: bathing, ball playing, undressing and storage of clothes, seating for socializing, observation, or instruction, and storage.

Immediately to the north and south of the palaestra are two big rooms that were reserved for the emperor and ceremonial use. A large hall stretches the length of the western side of the palaestra and this was the gymnasium used by athletes. This salon led into the frigidarium, ( a cold room in an ancient Roman bath). from which one proceeded to the barrel-vaulted rooms of the caldarium (a hot room in an ancient Roman bath).

 So, in effect they had the sauna system long before we even called it that !! 

A small room adjacent to the large hall now serves as a museum in which works discovered in the Hierapolis excavations are on display. Since Hierapolis was principally a luxury resort town it was richly adorned with magnificent sculptures and is well worth a visit.

There is a lot of walking involved. The travertines are in the front and the ruins in the rear. We walked along the main street and saw quite a few ruins. There were many Russian groups and the pool was especially full of them. 

The well preserved theater of Hierapolis commands a magnificent view of the plain below. Construction began in 62 AD by Flavius two years after a large earthquake, and completed in 206 AD. The original theater was located above the northern gate, but when the city was rebuilt during the reign of the Flavian emperors, the theater was relocated here, and the seats from the old structure were used in the work.  It once had a capacity of around 12,000, and adorned with columns and statues which were unearthed during excavations. 

On the backstage walls are marble bas-reliefs. Since the theater has been restored, it is now possible to see the friezes of mythological scenes depicting Apollo and Artemis in their original positions. Thirty rows of the seats of this theater resting against the slope have survived. Originally there were 20 rows in the lower part and 25 in the upper separated by a diazoma. The Martyrdom of St Philip is an octagonal building erected on a square measuring 20 x 20 m. It was built in the early 5th century. Even in its present state of ruin it is an impressive structure. The theatre is still the venue for the annual International Pamukkale Song Festival in June, during which 7,000 spectators can be seated. 

Apollion Temple near the Museum are the foundations of the Temple, constructed on the Plutonium spring and dedicated to Pluto, god of the underworld. It still gives off deadly poisonous gases and in front of the temple, a grate has been installed over the underground entrance to the spring to prevent inquisitive visitors. It was the site of an ancient religious cave, where Apollo met the mother goddess of Cybele, and sources suggest that she descended into the cave without being affected by the toxic fumes. The upper parts of the Temple date back to the 3rd century, and is accessible through a wide staircase. 

The travertine area is really huge – a few football fields wide. After removing one’s shoes, the water feels good on the soles of the feet. The pools are large and separated by natural ridges. 

Hotels were springing up from the 1970s to cater for the large influx of tourists, and shortly afterwards UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site. But by the 1990s, this took its toll on the state of the calcium pools and restrictions were placed on these travertine terraces. Many hotels were knocked down, visitors are only allowed on major paths around the sites, and must remove footwear to stand on the calcium deposits. This seems to have been a successful move, as the water supply is now used for preservation and some of the damaged calcium deposits have been strengthened. 

We spent nearly the whole day there exploring, walking and eventually buying a really exquisite embroidered table cloth from a small shop near the bus stop. Wonders never cease – who expected to find such a hand crafted masterpiece in such a location. We drove onto to Faraliye for a couple of days after experiencing nature’s wonderful bounty of the travertines and the hot pools. 

Text and photographs copyright of the author. No part of this article or photographs maybe transmitted or reproduced by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without written permission. Do contact the author on email --