Thursday, 18 July 2024
Travels of a solo Pakistani girl: Discovering Rumi’s Konya

Travels of a solo Pakistani girl: Discovering Rumi’s Konya

‘You were born with wings. Why prefer to crawl through life?’ - Rumi

The next morning, having decided to leave Bursa a day early, I headed to the bus station and got a ticket for Konya. True to what I had read, intercity bus travel in Turkey is both safe and comfortable. The journey to Konya took about seven hours, but the gorgeous landscape throughout made time fly by. From rolling green mountains and hills, we descended into expansive pastures and golden wheat fields, as clouds scudded across a seemingly endless horizon.

By the time I reached my hotel in Konya, it was already sunset and I had just enough time before curfew to go outside for a quick dinner. This turned out to be a delicious bean stew, perfectly spiced, with plenty of warm bread. Happily fed, I hurried back to my room and locked in my plans for the following day.

Of Sufis, saints and sultans

When you think of Konya, you think of Jalaladdin Mohammad Balkhi, more popularly known as Mevlana Jalaladdin Rumi. A 13th-century Islamic scholar and jurist of great regional renown, he was the son of Bahauddin Walad, a distinguished theologian and jurist in his own right. The Rumi that is revered the world over today as a Sufi mystic and poet, evolved from his encounter with Shams Tabrizi, a wandering dervish.

The relationship between the two men was a collision of two intellects engaged in a common quest for higher meaning, seeking beauty in the divine. The intensity of their spiritual connection, however, scandalized Rumi’s family and repulsed his entourage. When Shams disappeared without a trace one night (the circumstances of his fate would not be established until the 20th century) Rumi was beside himself. This loss and the longing that grew from it would create his most prolific and beautiful works of poetry.

I reflected on this as I took the 10-minute walk the next morning to Rumi’s mausoleum, housed within the Mevlana Museum complex. The entryway leads to an L-shaped hall, and at its center lies the enormous sanduka, a type of cenotaph placed over Rumi’s burial chamber. The green brocade covering it is embroidered in gold with verses from the Quran, and it lies directly beneath the distinctive green dome of the mausoleum. Standing close to it is the sanduka of Rumi’s father, an exquisitely carved structure of Seljuk skill, twice the height of Rumi’s own. On either side lie the coffins of family members and distinguished members of the Mevlevi order.

The atmosphere inside the mausoleum is at once alive and hushed. You hear reverent whispers of Rumi’s admirers interspersed with the soft sobs of a fierce devotee, while the tourist angling for a selfie stands shoulder to shoulder with those offering Fatiha, the first surah of Quran, for the long-deceased. It is a short visit, but one that makes quite an impression. You get a sense of what the Mevlana means to different individuals and the depth of feeling each of them carries for him.

Mevlana again and lunch with a view

The following day was Friday. I checked out from the hotel at noon, stored my luggage at the reception and headed once again to Mevlana Museum. This time around, I stood in a corner opposite the tomb, reading Rumi’s poetry on my phone and wondering what had brought each of the people around me on this pilgrimage to the great mystic’s abode.

When the call for Friday prayers issued forth, I headed to Selimiye Mosque. Despite its size, the mosque was overcrowded, at least the women’s section. Once prayers had concluded, and with time on my hands, I decided to take a leisurely lunch at Mevlevi Sofrası. To reach it, you walk to the end of the square opposite the main entrance of the mosque and turn right. A colorful sign on a boundary wall advertises the restaurant, which is located on the terrace and has a panoramic view of the Mevlana Museum and Selimiye Mosque. As I climbed the stairs, I had no inkling I would be having one of my most cherished meals in Turkey.