We had made it into Konya in the Central Anatolia region of Turkey just in time to grab a taxi from Jan and Jack’s (our friends and fellow yachties) hotel to go to the Mevlana Cultural Centre for the weekly “whirling dervish” ceremony.
The whirling dervishes belong to the Mevlevi Sufi order of Islam established by the followers of Rumi, the 13th Century Persian poet, Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic whose final resting place was Konya.
The Sufi dervishes aim to reach “the source of all perfection” by performing a meditative swirling dance to enchanting music.
We arrived at the cultural centre in plenty of time and were immediately impressed with the size and grandeur of the domed building.
Inside the auditorium, there was a large raked orchestra pit, on each side of which were row upon row of seats fanning out in a gigantic circle leaving a large space in the centre for the Sufi to perform their meditative dance.
The auditorium was almost empty – probably due to Covid and maybe also because of the extremely cold weather. We had prime seats!
Bang on the start time the ceremony began with the sheikh (the sacred leader of the Sufi order) walking into the auditorium ceremoniously carrying a red sheepskin.
A single ethereal voice was singing a poetic prayer written by Sumi while the sheik knelt in front of us and bowed deeply. He then walked across to greet the troop of Sufi practitioners as they filed in one by one.
The Sufi were dressed in black cloaks and wore tall felted camel hair hats on their heads.
When all the “dancers” had filed in (there were more than twenty of them) the sheik moved into the middle while the dervishes walked slowly around the perimeter of the performance area three times, each time bowing deeply to the person in front and then pivoting to walk backwards and bowing to the the dervish behind. It was quite mesmerising to watch.
After this the sheik went back to his red lambs-wool which sat in the centre of a beautiful oriental rug placed right in front of us. The sufi dancers took their cloaks off revealing a long white circular skirt with a stiff white bodice tucked in and a black sash holding the two parts together. Underneath all this they wore long white pants (trousers).
The music and singing intensified and soon the signature circling movement of the whirling dervishes began.
Each dervish launched into slow circling movements, rotating on the ball of their left foot and performing an exact 360 degree turn using their right foot. Once they had starting turning they joined the line of dancers circling around the “stage”, moving in unison like cogs in a machine.
The dervishes started their circling with their hands crossed over their body and as the rotations gained momentum their right hand slowly travelled upwards eventually rising up to the sky, ready to receive Allah’s blessings. Meanwhile their left hand, where their gaze was directed, pointed to the earth to send out to the world the grace and light they had received.
The music was mystical and unearthly – and very beautiful. The turning of the Sufi dancers became hypnotic and we felt drawn into their meditation as they whirled round gracefully like planets circling the sun.
As they twirled, a second elder watched and guided the dancers where needed, stepping in front of anyone going too fast or too close to another dervish.
The whirling meditation lasted about an hour and was absolutely captivating – even the most cynical of us agreed that it was a remarkable and haunting ceremony. We all felt a deep appreciation for the devotion of the participants and their determination to spread more peace and love in the world.
We walked back to the hotel and the nearby car park where we would stay the night in our camper van.
The night was crisp and cold and as we walked past the famous 16th Century Selimiye Mosque and the next door funerary shrine complex dedicated to Rumi, the white marble sparkled and shone in the icy air.
The following morning after a cosy sleep in Frieda, our diesel heated van we woke to a distinct hush in the air. I looked out of the window only to find that the world was covered in a deep blanket of snow!
It must have snowed heavily most of the night as it was at least six inches (15.24 cm) deep.
Jack had to go out (in boots borrowed from Jonathan) and buy boots for Jan and himself as their sneakers just weren’t going to hack it in that kind of weather!
While Jack was out boot shopping he was also on a side mission to find a spade (perhaps we would have to dig ourselves out?!) After several attempts he at last found a hardware store with a spade. Unfortunately it had no handle! Shop assistants were dispatched to look for a handle in other hardware stores and eventually one was located and he returned triumphant with boots in one hand and an excellent shovel in the other!
Fortunately we didn’t need to shovel snow to get out of the car park – leaving after midday, we just drove very gingerly out on to the small lane on which Jack and Jan’s hotel sat.
Very slowly we edged along the lane to the main road. Despite the dangerous conditions, all we could think of was the beauty of the freshly fallen snow.
Everywhere we looked was blindingly white – the trees were laden with thick bright white powder and glistened in the frosty air.
Slowly, slowly we drove out of town and all went well until we hit the main highway to Cappadocia.
We had only been driving a few minutes when we came to a stationary traffic queue. We sat going nowhere for half an hour until the traffic started to crawl along at snail’s pace.
We couldn’t work out if there had been an accident or if the police were trying to turn people round. Maybe they were waiting for the snow ploughs to go through?
Eventually we were on our way although the conditions were pretty bleak.
For a while we followed in the tracks of a snow plough but we caught up with it and found it pulling out a car that had skidded off the highway.
We were then driving on fresh snow in very windy conditions which made visibility even worse. Thanking our lucky stars that we’d put new all-weather tyres on Frieda recently, we ploughed on to Aksaray – the nearest town to the amazing region of Cappadocia.
We were hoping to reach Göreme that day but decided that as it was at a greater altitude than Aksaray, there was a good chance that conditions on the way could be worse.
After dropping Jan and Jack off at their hotel we looked for somewhere to stay the night. The hotel car park was completed snowed-in and, it turned out, so was everywhere else. Even the entry to the local sports centre – usually a useful standby parking place – was totally impassable.
We ended up asking the workers in the local petrol (gas) station if we could camp on their forecourt as that was just about the only space cleared of snow that we could find.
Fortunately, the Turkish people are as a race, the most hospitable and generous people you could wish to meet. They said “of course“, offered us their rest room to sleep in (which while sweet was of course unnecessary) and even brought us steaming cups of delicious çay (tea) to welcome us.