Sunday, 22 September 2019

Pakistan's Kashmir obsession: unhealthy and unrealistic?


As the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan arrives in New York for the latest session of the United Nations General Assembly it's necessary for Pakistanis to ask exactly what the country can do about Indian Kashmir.

Muzaffarabad is the largest city and capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. It is located near the confluence of the Jhelum and Neelum Rivers and is a four hour drive from Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. (Source: Wikipedia: Obaid 747) 
The country's economic managers are walking around with a begging bowl because the country cannot pay its bills leave alone spend money on national development. The Pakistan Banao (Bachao?) Certificates launched with great fanfare early in Khan's term and designed to raise Pakistan's foreign currency reserves have done little to strengthen reserves.

The economy is in the midst of a serious downturn with no recovery in sight for at least the coming 18-24 months. Large scale manufacturing is shrinking while small and medium sized enterprises labor under the effects of increased taxation, a sharp drop in the value of the Rupee and an emasculated consumer struggling to make ends meet while losing more discretionary income with each passing day given an official inflation rate above thirteen percent.

The country is running out of water but has no money to build dams. Despite arm twisting and 'forced donations' (e.g. via each Pakistan Railways ticket sold) the Supreme Court's Dam Fund is nowhere near numbers required to seriously assist with the urgent building of dams across the country. Indeed, the much hyped Dam Fund has become a hazy memory for most and an embarrassing one for those promoting crowdfunding as an alternate means to pay for massive national infrastructural projects. 

The electricity situation is no better. Despite suffering shortages and brownouts for the last several decades, Pakistan has been unable to fix its electricity load shedding problem until today. Much of the country suffers hours without electricity daily in both Winter and Summer months. Even when electricity is available it is not stable with voltage fluctuations playing havoc with machinery; a disincentive for manufacturing concerns requiring stable, uninterrupted electricity for normal operations.

The country has no proper waste management systems. Without a drastic betterment in urban sanitation levels improvements in preventive healthcare will remain wanting. (Picking up litter from urban areas and dumping it on the outskirts of cities so it is out of sight does not constitute proper waste management.) It's not surprising Pakistan is one of the only countries where polio still afflicts children. 

The air quality in Pakistan's cities is rapidly deteriorating due to pollution. Indeed, Lahore is blanketed by haze virtually on a daily basis with air quality moving into the healthy range an exception to the daily norm. Islamabad and Karachi are not far behind. This is the air Pakistan's infants breathe daily – and there is no shortage of infants given the country's fertility rate.

Pakistan cannot provide adequate food, housing, education or medical care to the majority of Pakistanis. In many households, animals are more precious than women, who have few effective social or economic freedoms. 
All these problems are compounded by Pakistan's unbridled population growth with its population increasing exponentially every few decades.

So as PM Khan travels back to Pakistan in a few days on on a borrowed Saudi luxury jet he may wish to ask himself what's more important for Pakistan's two hundred million plus citizens: ratcheting up Kashmir hysteria a few more notches or implementing a national development agenda on a war footing?

Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Hong Kong: heading towards irrelevance?


A few days ago a friend in the United States asked for my opinion on recent events in Hong Kong (HK). He prefaced his question with Chinese claims about international (read ‘Western’) involvement in stoking the unrest.

Admittedly, my response is not an essay worthy of Foreign Policy magazine. Nonetheless, for interested readers I have reproduced my response below.

Surely, there are 'agent provocateurs' within the HK protest scene. Intelligence agencies directly or at least indirectly are involved with the unrest. There is also a cyber war underway and both parties are pushing their respective narrative through social media.

However, the scale, depth and duration - it's been three months now - suggest genuine underlying grievances garnering popular support from a broad segment of the Hong Kong population.

A view of the protest demonstration in Hong Kong on June 9, 2019 (source: Wikipedia)
HK has historically been a society divided between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ so perhaps the fear of being left behind among those not in the civil or business elite, especially in light of recent increases in property prices is one major factor?

However, in a general sense Hong Kongers have not mentally accepted their accession to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). That psychological transformation from a British colony to a Special Administrative Region(SAR) of the PRC has not yet been made.

The reality for Hong Kongers is there is no going back to the previous status quo.

There is virtually no possibility of HK being given significantly more autonomy leave alone independence. That parts of the international community are providing 'hope' to protesters suggests, at least to some extent, these protesters are being used by segments of the international community to further their political agendas.

HK had lost its privileged position as a gateway financial hub for the PRC some years ago. PRC 2019 is not the PRC which (re)acquired HK in 1997. 

In the larger context, these protests are accelerating HK’s irrelevance. Within a decade or so HK will simply be another Chinese regional city, like Nanjing, Tianjin, Xian, etc. Surely, like all these smaller Chinese cities, HK will maintain a unique identity based on its own history.

But will HK remain a global, regional or international financial powerhouse and privileged gateway to mainland China? No. HK will become merely another wealthy, entrepreneurial Chinese coastal city.

Ideally, Hong Kongers should embrace their fate (some might even suggest good fortune?) as an SAR within the largest - and still growing - economy in the world. Subsequently, HK can consolidate its competitive strengths within the PRC context to secure a brighter future. 

However, time is fast running out for Hong Kongers to change the current trajectory.


Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his past career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imran_traveller) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com

Monday, 20 May 2019

Of Mardin's monasteries, wine and stone houses


From Gaziantep it was onwards to Mardin. Mardin was high on my visit list as it is at the confluence of several religious and cultural inflection points. Among others, Mardin is a cocktail of Arab, Armenian, Syrian Orthodox Christian and Turkish influences.

The narrow stone streets and houses
of Mardin's old city (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Mardin is so close to the Iraqi and Syrian borders that kite flying may easily turn into a crossborder activity if one is not careful! Arabic is widely spoken in the city. Historic Armenian, Greek and Syrian Orthodox monasteries and churches dot the region.

Inside one of the many historic
churches found across Mardin (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Like many cities in Turkey, Mardin has an old and a new section. 

For travelers the stone houses and narrow lanes of the old city hold more charm than the new, high rise buildings and supermarkets of Yenisehir or New City. Walking around the old city there is always a chance of running into an ancient place of worship or monument, e.g. Mor Behnam Kırklar Kilisesi, Zinciriye Medresesi or the Mardin Museum. Not to mention the Protestant Church, Ulu Cami (Grand Mosque) or the Mardin Evleri.

The courtyard of the historic
Syrian Orthodox Church in Mardin (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
While in Mardin, there are some worthwhile day trips to consider, e.g. to nearby monasteries – functioning monasteries with entrance fees and guided tours! 

There is also the historic town of Hassankeyf - which may be underwater by the time you read this post. Hassankeyf is expected to be submerged by June 2019 as a large dam has been built close by. Once the dam's reservoir is filled then the existing town will be underwater. It's worth noting some historic monuments and the town's entire population have been moved to the 'New' Hassankeyf located not far from the 'original' town.

The 'new' Hassankeyf town on the
Tigris River in the Batman province near Mardin (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Wine is another attraction in Mardin. Remember the monasteries mentioned above? Well, these monks and their friends ferment wine from local grapes in large quantities. It's reasonably priced (or cheap if you're buying wine in a highly taxed environment like Singapore) and easy drinking. The wine is readily available in shops dotted on the main street of the old city.

Grapes from the Midyat valley produces decent
wine which is easily available across Mardin city (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Mardin is about architecture and history. It's about soap (yes, there's a lot of good locally produced soap around) and wine. It's about narrow lanes and stone houses. It's about keeping alive Christian monuments and practices in a country which is 99.8% Muslim (according to Turkish government sources). For travelers heading to Turkey's east, Mardin is a necessary stop.
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Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. Presently, Imran is spending ten weeks (March – May 2019) in Turkey exploring the country. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Gaziantep or Antep: it's still mosaics, castles, pistachios and coffee


It's a short bus journey from Adana to Gaziantep. Antep, as the city is informally known, is almost 200 kilometers east of Adana and not far from the Syrian border - Aleppo is less than 100 kilometers drive south.


Antep Castle (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Antep's history stretches back to the Stone Age - remember the Stone Age from your history classes?!. That means the city has been continuously inhabited for over a million years with various powers, i.e. the Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines and finally the Turks (Seljuk and Ottoman) in control of the area.

Though it is Ataturk and the later Ottoman period which drives me to Turkey, the country also houses some amazing historical artefacts. A taste of this history is available at the Zeugma Mosaic Museum in Antep. The museum houses a diverse and breathtaking collection of mosaics. 

One of the most famous mosaics on display
at the Zeugma Mosaic Museum, Antep, Turkey (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Much of the art focuses on the ancient city of Zeugma, a city believed to have been founded by Alexander's army in 300 BC. Zeugma, which literally means “bridge” or “crossing” in ancient Greek, gets its name as it was located at a major ancient crossing point on the river Euphrates. The archaelogical site of Zeugma is on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.

Other than the Mosaic Museum, Antep is home to a Hamam Museum. The Hamam – or Turkish bath – is an integral part of Turkish culture. The museum is compact but provides a great introduction to the multifacted hamam culture found across the Ottoman Turkish empire.

The Hamam Museum is conveniently located next to the well preserved Antep Castle

So what, you say? Every Turkish city has an old castle and they all look and feel the same. Well, yes, but there is one difference in Antep. To get to the top of the castle visitors walk through a well constructed tunnel outlining the history of the Turkish War of Independence, specifically Antep's role in the War. Unfortunately the commentary is in Turkish so non-Turkish speakers can only view the visuals and guess at the commentary!

Menengic or pistachio coffee as served in one of Antep's many coffee shops (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
If history is not your thing then focus on the word 'fistik!' Fistik is the Turkish word for pistachio and there are a lot of pistachios in the region. 

The Antep fistik is famous throughout Turkey. It's plentiful and it's cheap. Try these nuts (technically pistachios arer drupes - a type of fruit – and not nuts!) straight from the shell, in baclava sweets or even in a type of pistachio coffee called menengic.

Antep has an unique place in Turkish history. No travels to Turkey's east are complete without at least a brief stopover in Gaziantep. From Alexander's general who started the Zeugma settlement, to the city's heroic defense during the War of Independence, Antep has it's own story to tell. Undoubtedly, Antep's story is incomplete without mentioning the word fistik. Taste it for yourself! 


Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. Presently, Imran is spending ten weeks (March – May 2019) in Turkey exploring the country. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Friday, 17 May 2019

The Girl on the Train: a film review


The Girl on the Train directed by Tate Taylor based on the best selling novel by Paula Hawkins was perhaps better left as a novel. For the first hour of the almost two hour long movie it was difficult to follow the plot or make a mental note of the characters. Yes, the pace improved in the second half and, at the very least, the main characters were no longer confusing.


The story revolves around an alcoholic divorcee woman, Rachel, who becomes obsessed with a couple living in a house she passes on her daily commute into Manhattan. One day during these daiy voyeuristic commutes Rachel witnesses the woman kissing a man who is not her husband. Having been through a divorce with an unfaithful husband – who lives in their jointly purchased house a few doors down from the couple she obsesses about – Rachel loses it.

Rachel, known for making unannounced visits to her ex-husband's home, subsequently tries to visit the apparently unfaithful woman (Megan) to give her a piece of her mind. Unfortunately for Rachel as she was in her usual drunken stupor she has little recollection of what transpired during that fateful visit. Unfortunate because that night Megan mysteriously disappeared. 

The story slowly unravels and the viewer pieces together the puzzle, all the while learning more about each character. (Yes, you know the old adage: don't judge a book by its cover.) 

The Girl on the Train is billed as a psychological thriller on many move sites. That's a fallacy. At best it's a mystery - albeit incuding a side role for a mysterious psychiatrist. Only the strength of the acting held it together with great performances put in by the cast. In case anyone's asking, I would say the book might be the better bet!


Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Adana: much more than a kebab


From Konya it was onward to Adana. Adana is a nice sized city of 1.75 million persons located 35 kilometers inland from the Mediterranean coast. The Seyhan River flows through the city.

It's not difficult to reach Adana. Intercity public buses ply regularly to Adana from Konya. There is also a Turkish Railways (TCDD) train – the Toros Express – which travels between the two cities daily in a six hour rail journey.

Photo: Imran Ahmed
As I always find train travel more comfortable than buses choosing the Toros Express was a no-brainer - despite knowing TCDD's old fashioned diesel electric locomotive trains are not fanous for their punctuality (arriving two hours late may be considered 'on time!').

A Turkish Railways diesel electric locomotive stands at the head
of the Toros Express train at Konya station (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
The Toros Express train reached Adana after dark and we took a taxi to the hotel. Sitting in the taxi observing the city on the drive to the hotel I felt a sense of panic and dread. The hotel seemed in the middle of nowhere surrounded only by commercial warehouses! After check-in all I could see from our hotel window were a few trees and total darkness!

Things are always clearer when the sun ishines, i.e. during daylight. So it was with Adana. It turned out the empty space across the hotel was a park and beyond the park flowed the Seyhan River. In other words, the hotel's location was perfect!

Adana was a great place to rest and destress. Sure, there are several sights worth exploring, such as the grand Sabanci Merkez Cami or Sabanci Central Mosque but at its heart, Adana is for rest and recreation not for visiting six different attractions daily over a weekend.

The Sabanci Merkezi Cami (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Nonetheless, it's hard to miss the Sabanci Mosque – nor should one miss it. The mosque is built on the banks of the Seyhan River and it is huge! It can accommodate 28,500 faithful for prayers, has six minarets with the tallest being 99 meters. Those numbers may not mean much to many but trust me the mosque is large. In fact, at the time of writing it is the largest mosque in Turkey (though soon to be surpassed by the official opening of a new mosque in Istanbul).

The banks of the Seyhan River (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Though there are sights other than the mosque, the recommended plan for Adana is walk around the bazaar, eat some Adana kebab and, most importantly, stroll along the promenade by the Seyhan River – past the Sabanci Merkez Mosque – stop for a Turkish cay (tea) and simply soak in the environment. In today's information filled, wired society the soothing sounds of Turkey's longest river flowing toward the Mediterranean Sea is enough to add Adana to any Turkey travel itinerary.


Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. Presently, Imran is spending ten weeks (March – May 2019) in Turkey exploring the country. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Why ten weeks in Turkey? Blame Ataturk and the Ottoman Turks!


Spending ten weeks in any country outside your own is a commitment. It costs money, requires energy and, most importantly, the country must tickle your fancy. And, it uses ten weeks of your life – time which can never be recovered!


Our journey starts in Istanbul and gradually moves eastwards until Kars. Along the way we take in one city on the Black Sea coast, i.e, Trabzon. Finally, from Kars we head back to Istanbul via Ankara on the Dogu Express train. 
But why Turkey?

I first visited Turkey in 2003. Following that first trip, I continued traveling to Turkey at regular intervals, including twice by train from Istanbul to London, Britain and an Istanbul to Tbilisi, Georgia by rail / road journey in 2018.

However, my relationship with Turkey started much earlier and it was due to a gentleman called Mustafa Kemal (1881 – 1938) aka Ataturk.

In my youth – and in my family (as was the case with many Pakistani families) – Ataturk was revered as a modernizing Muslim leader, on par with Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Dr Muhammad Iqbal. Here was a leader destined to pull the Islamic world towards progress following centuries of decay and stupor. He was a uniting force in a world where Muslims were (are?) torn, divided and at the mercy of Western nations.

To be sure, for millions of Muslims around the world Ataturk inherited the honorific leadership position held for centuries by the Ottoman Sultan in his capacity as Caliph of the Sunni Muslim world. Ataturk, however, not only inherited the leadership title, he earned the respect of millions through his exploits as a military officer during World War I and the ensuing Turkish War of Independence.

Postcard depicting the 'Sick Man of Europe' being devoured by other European countries (Circa: early 20th century)
When World War I ended in 1918, the defeated Ottoman Empire's carcass was being devoured by victorious European colonial powers, i.e. Britain and France. Istanbul was occupied by French and British forces. Izmir was to be handed over to the Greeks, Armenia and Russia were encroaching on eastern Anatolia with only a small rump in Anatolia allocated as living space for Muslim Turks.

Ataturk, the hero of Gallipoli and the father of modern, Republican Turkey was the military leader who - with some good fortune and masterful leadership – saved Ottoman Turkey from the devouring colonial powers. Ultimately, through the 1923 Treaty of Laussanne the Allies recognized modern Turkey and its present borders. In return, Turkey renounced all claims to former Ottoman Empire territories, including in the the Middle East.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the saviour and founder of modern Turkey (Photo: Wikipedia)
Students of history understand that history is like a cyclone. Once you get caught in the torrents of history the only way forward is by going deeper towards the center. That's what happened to me. After studying Ataturk it became obvious the man had to be placed in the broader context of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

So it went, from studying the Mogul Empire I turned to the Ottoman Empire. I've not looked back since then.

Finally, in 2003 I became just one more number in Turkey's tourism statistics with my maiden visit to Istanbul. Since 2003, Turkey has been on the travel agenda regularly, though in fits and starts. Recently, it became apparent that if I am to deepen my relationship with Turkey I must broaden it beyond Istanbul. Moreover, I've already paid my respects at Ataturk's mausoleum in Ankara so it's time to move into the Anatolian heartlands.

That's where we are today, Turkey for ten weeks, including two long stays in Istanbul (arrival and departure) plus three to five nights in each of the following cities: Bursa, Eskisehir, Konya, Adana, Gaziantep, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Van, Agri, Erzerum, Trabzon, Kars and finally Ankara.

By the end of this trip, not only should I speak a smattering of Turkish words but also have a better understanding of Turks and Turkey. At least, that's the hope!

Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. Presently, Imran is spending ten weeks (March – May 2019) in Turkey exploring the country. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Poor entertainment, purely cerebral (Film review: Stay)



I watched the movie thinking it might be a suspenseful thriller. I was mistaken. The movie was slow to begin with but after about 30 minutes I felt committed and saw it through to the end.


Despite the big name cast - every actor was a familiar face - the movie provided little in the way of entertainment. It was purely cerebral. Maybe the writer is a shrink?

The movie may make sense to shrinks or those who wish to mentally dissect the 100 minutes of celluloid. For those just looking for entertainment the movie is a failure.

Watch it if you're in a Freudian mood otherwise move on to something else.

NB: At the time of writing this review, Stay is available on Amazon Prime in many jurisdictions.
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Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Konya: Mevlana Rumi's city



After Eskisehir, next stop was Konya. We traveled by a Turkish Railways high speed bullet train - yes, Turkish Railways have high speed trains running on several key routes connecting Ankara and Istanbul to other parts of the country. Konya, Mevlana Rumi's city, is connected via bullet trains to both Istanbul and Ankara.

Many observers suggest Konya is Turkey's most religiously conservative city – the heartbeat of Islam in Turkey.

The main square in Konya with the Selimiye Mosque in the foreground and the Mevlana Rumi shrine complex (with the green tower) in the background (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Even before arriving in Konya I got a whiff of this conservatism while looking for hotels. One of the hotels stated on its booking conditions that couples must show proof of marriage at the time of check-in! (Ticket: check; passport: check; marriage certificate: check!)

The influence of Rumi is felt everywhere – not only in the in the notable absence of stores selling alcoholic beverages. Indeed, Konya thrives on religious tourism (and it does a good job at it too). Much of this tourism revolves around followers paying homage to Rumi at his tomb.

Rumi's tomb is ensconced in a complex, including a museum devoted to his life and the beliefs of his Mawlawiyah Order. Amazingly, entry to his tomb and attached museum is free (good on you, Turkey!).

Rumi's grave inside the shrine complex (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Rumi was born in 1207 in Afghanistan – then a part of the Persian empire - and died in 1273 in Konya. Over his lifetime, Rumi developed a unique Islamic philosophy through his teachings. His philosophy was beautifully expressed through his poetry which was written mainly in Persian and Arabic, but also in Turkish and Greek. It were his teachings that ultimately led to the establishment of the Mawlawiyah Sufi order.

Though Rumi was born into a family of theologians – his father was a mystical theologian, author and teacher – it was Rumi's meeting and subsequent relationship with Shams al Din of Tabriz (1185 – 1248) which greatly affected his religious views. Shams, best known for his Forty Rules of Love, became Rumi's spiritual mentor and guide until his disappearance in 1247.

Undoubtedly, Konya is Rumi's city. It is hard to escape Rumi's influence – it permeates the entire city. Rumi's influence gives the city a unique character. To be sure, Konya has other attractions, e.g. museums and even some beautiful gardens (Alaeddin Hill), the city is one big shrine to the Great Mevlana.

Turk kahvesi or Turkish coffee served konya style (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Enjoy Konya not only for the Mevlana but, more importantly, for what he represents: tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and Love.

Come, come again, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire worshipper or idolatrous, come!
Come even if you broke your penitence a hundred times,
Ours if the door of hope, come as you are. 

- Rumi

Stay tuned for my next post on Adana – home of the famous Adana Kebab!


Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. Presently, Imran is spending ten weeks (March – May 2019) in Turkey exploring the country. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Eskisehir, Turkey: travel hub or hidden gem?



From Bursa our next destination was Konya. However, exploring Turkey at leisure meant the long direct journey to Konya was conveniently broken at Eskisehir. Eskisehir is on the main high speed train route to Konya from Istanbul so it made sense to spend a few days in Eskisehir then take the YHT bullet train to Konya.

Eskisehir did not disappoint; though it helped that our hotel was clean and had strong WiFi versus the dump of a hotel in Bursa (no names shall be mentioned). Yes, after spending several days in a run down hotel it was nice to be in a modern hotel with good infrastructure!

The Porsuk Cayi River runs through Eskisehir and is lines with bars, cafes and restaurants.
(Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Eskisehir or literally old (eski) town (sehir) is ironically mostly a new town. With two major universities in town – Anadolou University and Eskisehir Osmangazi University – Eskisehir is a university town.

But it is much more than simply a university town. It is, after all, a city of almost one million people. For a city of that population, Esiksehir is remarkably compact.

Like many ancient cities - Eskisehir's history can be traced to at least the Byzantine period - it is located on the banks of a river. The Porsuk Cayi River runs through Eskisehir's center. Both sides of the river are lined with cafes, bars and restaurants making it pleasant to stroll by the river. There were even gondolas and river cruises for tourists operating on the river!

One of the many bridges across the river. (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
The highlight of the Eskisehir trip was a walk to Odunpazari District. Odunpazari is an amalgamation of fresh produce street markets, hotels, cafes, restaurants and traditional Turkish style coffee houses. The bazaar is a place to wander, sip coffee and browse souvenirs while taking in the traditional Turkish architecture of the area's houses.

Another unexpected though pleasant surprise was coming across an Aviation Museum in the vicinity of our hotel. However, one should not be too surprised given the city's links to aviation. There is a large Turkish Air Force base on the outskirts of the city. (Fighter planes streaked through Eskisehir skies routinely.) Additionally, the city houses much of Turkey's burgeoning airplane parts manufacturing and maintenance industry.

Eskisehir's Aviation Museum is a great place to see the evolution of the Turkish Air Force and many of it has planes flown from past to present. (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Eskisehir is a pleasant town with its own subtle charm. Being a university town gives the city a particular character. Following a short stay, Eskisehir came across as a great place - perhaps providing a glimpse into modern (Kemalist) Turkish society outside of the country's main centers of Istanbul and Ankara. If you have a few days to spare and, especially if you like fighter planes, then Eskisehir's your city!


Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. Presently, Imran is spending ten weeks (March – May 2019) in Turkey exploring the country. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Mosques more beautiful than Istanbul's Blue Mosque – maybe?



Istanbul's Ottoman Turkish monuments and architecture are well known. Istanbul buildings like the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque) and the Sulemaniye Mosque, Topkapi Palace, even the Hagia Sofia are visited by millions each year. Less well known are the Seljuk styled mosques dotted across the pre-Constantinople capital city of Bursa.

Bursa's gold bazaar is located in an old han or travelers hotel complex (photo: Imran Ahmed)
Bursa can be reached in approximately two hours by car from Istanbul or by a ferry to the nearby port of Mudanya in about the same time. A note of caution about the ferry services from Istanbul's Eminonu pier to Mudanya: they are subject to weather conditions.

The day of our departure all ferry services to Bursa were canceled due to rough seas. We ended up taking the bus from Istanbul's Harem bus terminal to Bursa's Otogari Terminal. Bursa's bus terminal is out of the historic city center so be prepared for another trip before reaching your hotel. Taxis and local Metro buses are easily available at the terminal.

Let's get back to Bursa. Like many places in Turkey, Bursa traces its history back to Greek and Roman times. There are even some Roman artefacts on display at the British Museum in London, Britain. (I wonder if these pieces were gifted or simply appropriated when the treasure was located in the early 20th century?)

Bursa was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1326. Subsequently, the city became the Ottoman capital. It was during the Ottoman period that Bursa gained its nickname of 'Green Bursa.' The city was lined with gardens and parks and its importance as a fruit growing region was enhanced. Architecturally, the Ottomans also left behind several mosques and monuments which are a must see.

While traces of Bursa's ancient history are found mostly in museums, the period from the fourteenth century onward is plainly visible for any traveler moving around the city, e.g. the Ulu Cami or Grand Mosque which dominates an entire section of Bursa.

Men pray inside the main prayer hall of the Ulu Cami or Grand Mosque (photo: Imran Ahmed)
The Grand Mosque was completed in 1399 with some unique features. Notably, it contains a fountain inside the mosque giving the mosque a beautiful tranquil feel. Moreover, the mosque has twenty domes. Apparently, Sultan Beyazit I (1389- 1402) pledged to build twenty mosques after winning the Battle of Nicopolis against a combined European Crusaders force. Ultimately, Sultan Beyazit I (aka the 'Thunderbolt') decided to fulfill his pledge by building one mosque with twenty domes!

Then there is the Yesil Cami or Green Mosque and its adjacent Yesil Turbe (Green Mausoleum). The Green Mosque was completed in 1422. It is named after the green-blue tiles which line its interior. The mosque has living quarters for the Sultan (and his harem) in case he decided to grace the area for an overnight stay.


A fountain in the courtyard of the Yesil Cami or Green Mosque (photo: Imran Ahmed)
Although Bursa's main sites can be seen on a day trip from Istanbul, there is much to be said for a longer stay in this city – especially if you wish to take in the nearby Mount Ulugdag, Turkey's premier ski resort. There's also the seaside town of Mudanya – 25 kilometers from Bursa and the landing point of the ferry from Istanbul – which is known for its fish restaurants and nightlife (disclosure: I have not visited Mudanya … yet). Travelers wishing to get beyond Istanbul and the Sutan Ahmet area will find Bursa worthwhile choice.


Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. Presently, Imran is spending ten weeks (March – May 2019) in Turkey exploring the country. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Istanbul not Constantinople; Kadikoy not Sultan Ahmet



There is a historic – mainly Ottoman – Istanbul in the Sultan Ahmet district. Then there is the rest of Istanbul. Within 'the rest' is a neighborhood on the Asian side called Kadikoy.

A view of Kadikoy near the Ferry Terminal (Photo: Imran Ahmed)
Kadikoy is authentic Istanbul. It's importance dates back to the Catholic Church Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. That's right, during Istanbul's Constantinople days Catholic theological beliefs were being defined in Kadikoy. The Chalcedonian Definition stating that Jesus is "perfect both in deity and in humanness; this selfsame one is also actually God and actually man" was pronounced in Kadikoy. 

Following the capture of Constantinople by Ottoman Turks Kadikoy and its surrounding areas became a part of the imperial capital. Slowly it became influenced by Ottoman architecture and lifestyle. 

The historically significant Selimiye Barracks are located in between Kadikoy and the neighboring district of Uskudar. Built originally in 1800 by Sultan Selim III, the Selimiye Barracks played a pivotal role in the modernization of the Ottoman military. The barracks were built to undermine the power of the traditionally disciplined elite fighting force otherwise known as the Janissaries (or New Soldier in Turkish). The barracks were for the 'newer' soldiers of the Nizam-i-Cedid or New Order. It were these 'newer' soldiers which would ultimately be required to battle and destroy the all powerful Janissaries in 1826.

(The Janissaries were established by Ottoman Sultan Murad I during his reign between 1362 – 1389. By the eighteenth century the Janissaries had become a law unto themselves. The Janissaries were too powerful to be simply disbanded; they could remove Sultans through palace coups virtually at will.  Ultimately, the Janissary corps had to be physically destroyed in 1826 by Nizam-i-Cedid soldiers loyal to the Sultan. The Janissaries deserve a blog post of their own given their importance to Ottoman Turkish history!)

The Haydarpasa Railway Station - Istanbaul's main station serving Asian Turkey (presently under renovation). Photo: Wikipedia  
Fast forward to 2019 and modern Kemalist, Republican Turkey. Today's Kadikoy district is where Istanbulis go to shop, dine and party. The Moda district within Kadikoy has some fine cafes and independent boutiques. Then there is Bagdat Avenue, a fourteen kilometer long shopping haven. Finally, some of Istanbul's finest nightlife is in Kadikoy!

It is impossible to generalize about any city, especially a city like Istanbul which is embedded with many layers of history and each layer packed with centuries of history. To narrow down and describe a particular district is an even more impossible task, particularly in a blog post of a few hundred words. The only way to begin to understand any city is visit yourself.


Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.