I’m currently up to my neck in sorting and packing to move house in Wales. In the process, as you do, I found myself sifting through mountains of old photos…
(and reading all the newspapers I’m using to pack breakables) In other words getting nowhere fast, going instead for little meanders down memory lane… Photos of more than twenty years ago at Huzur Vadisi, the crumbling old house, rooms knee deep in goat poo, big holes in the roof, beehives stacked on the balcony – no terrace, no bathrooms, no swimming pool, no yurts, no yoga shala…just photos of us standing around looking baffled about where on earth to begin. Shall we move this rock to over there? Or that rock to over here? And we all look so young!
It was 1992 when we first set foot in the valley at Huzur Vadisi and I was recalling the very first impression it had made on me when we arrived all bright eyed and bushy tailed, with dreams of creating a retreat. We had driven up from Gocek, Ian, Tanfer and me. In those days it was dirt road all the way for ten kilometres, now it is asphalt right to the end of our track. Leaving a billowing trail of dust behind us, we also left behind some of the June heat as we drove up and up, straight from sea level at Gocek, to more than six hundred metres in altitude in just fifteen minutes. As we climbed through the verdant pine forest, the road lined with the Schiaparelli pink of flowering oleander bushes, we could see the little village of Gocek behind and below us, and beyond in the blue distance were the famous twelve islands, dotted around the sweeping bay, like so many green jewels scattered on a piece of turquoise silk. I distinctly remember being bowled over by the sheer beauty of the environment.
I think in the past, people perhaps had an image of Turkey from the Fry’s Turkish Delight advert, all desert sands (and dashing men on horseback – there are not so many of those, regretfully!) Of course we realized that Turkey was a vast and physically beautiful country, as Ian and I had been brought up in Istanbul and had travelled widely with our parents to different parts of Turkey. But back in the 60’s and 70’s the area around Gocek was only accessible from the sea, so we hadn’t been here before. Our first guests, and many since, have said ‘I didn’t expect it to be so beautiful and so green!’ and neither did we….
As we drove on past the little village of Gokceovacik, with its mosque and its minaret pointing skyward above the poplar trees, I felt a sense of anticipation rising. The un-named valley we would come to call Huzur Vadisi (Peaceful Valley) lay a little further ahead of us, ringed by stately virgin pine forest, a mountain rising steeply behind the little homestead on the far side of the valley. The house and land belonged to Tanfer’s family, but had been abandoned for twenty years. In the fields to the front of the house were olive groves and fig trees. (In years to come, when the area was finally surveyed and mapped, they took our name, Huzur Vadisi, to denote the whole area. So we are firmly on the map and feel proud of it!) However, to come back to my very first and over-riding impression on that first day – it was the sense of utter peace that most impressed itself on me. It was actually the sound of silence, or perhaps more accurately the presence of silence, which was a force in itself, a vibrant something as well as a lack of something. We sat in the cool shade of a large and spreading fig tree, listening to the soft sound of a little breeze stirring the surrounding forest, gazing out over the tranquil and deserted valley, and felt strangely, as if we had come home.
My daughter, Rowan, is at Huzur Vadisi now with Tanfer, just prior to us opening for our 23rd season of yoga holidays. I was talking to her yesterday and she said to me ‘ I’d forgotten about that lovely thing at Huzur Vadisi, the incredible feeling of peace… it’s really blissful’.
I replied, ‘I know, I was just remembering, looking at the old photos.’
There have been a lot of changes over the years, the accommodation, the house restored, the pool, the shala, the yurts, but essentially the valley has remained the same, with that deep peace resounding – almost ringing – from every tree and the very earth itself. And at night the dark, dark skies, littered with stars and not a light anywhere to pollute it. I will be there at the end of this month and I can’t wait…