A sweltering hot day in Pamukkale

A couple weeks ago during the four day Ramadan holiday, Gürkan and I took a road trip from Istanbul all the way to Antalya in Turkey’s south. After family time in Antalya, we headed to Olympos, explored, camped and swam. By the second day, the heat had gotten the better of us and we decided we had better head north, but not without first stopping at Pamukkale. Translated to Turkish as ‘cotton castles,’ Pamukkale is not cotton-y at all, but actually a build-up of carbonate minerals.

Little did we know that there are not one, but two, entrances to Pamukkale, and when the villager pointed us in the direction of the entrance, it was slightly unsettling to find grass coming up through cracks in the sidewalk and shuttered concession stands. But the ticket booth was open and we preceded to purchase our tickets and pass through the turnstile. We found ourselves at the start of the road which passes through Hierapolis, an ancient city home to various civilizations since the 2nd century BC. The sun bore down on us and silence reigned as we walked between the ruins of countless tombs.

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Ruins of Hierapolis

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Solidified at the pool’s edge

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One of the pools meets the horizon

After a mile we thought it was strange we still hadn’t reached Pamukkale’s travertines and after more than a mile, we knew something was up. The ruins came to an end, and a manicured lawn came into view and was that throngs of people we saw in the distance? We finally reached the travertines only to realize that there was a newer, main entrance where the tour buses were dropping people off. Drenched in sweat and dust, we sighed.

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Pamukkale

And yet, we were finally at the travertines and how strange they were! The sun beat off the glaring white of the solidified minerals, forcing me to squint, and wish I had had enough foresight to put my swimming suit on. We slipped our feet into the milky white water, drudged up the silt from the bottom to take a closer look and meandered from pool to pool. Kids were splashing around and even the aunties had suited up to cool down. A pair of young men slathered the silt on themselves, letting it dry and crack in the sun, while a young woman forced the dredge into plastic water bottles she had brought along with her.

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Gurkan poses in one of the pools

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Milky white water

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A pair of men lather up

The walkways were slippery and with the steep ledges, I felt myself catch my breath a few times, fearful of the drop below. After exploring the pools open to the public, we ventured back up to the main entrance, seeking out a cool place to rest. We found ourselves in the historic swimming pool area which although beautiful wasn’t worth the pretty penny they were charging for a dip. We grabbed several rounds of ice water and lounged in the shade. Over sips of water, we lamented about how we would have to walk back to the car. It was a godsend when we noticed there was a shuttle parked outside the pool area, shuttling visitors to the other entrance. We hopped on, and this time we sped through the ancient city of Hierapolis, jumping off at the forlorn entrance. Brushing off the dust and silt, we retired to the car, rolled down the windows as the car battled the heat, and turned west, toward the village of Şirince.

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The view looking down from Pamukkale’s cotton castles

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The historic swimming pool area