Cleopatra swam here, Katrina cavorted, and the Romans, well, ruled. We find out what the fuss in Pamukkale is all about

I first saw this beautiful place a couple of years ago in a song which had Katrina Kaif and Ranbir Kapoor cooing and canoodling. The song was lovely and the setting beautiful. After much online searching, I discovered that it was the hot springs in Pamukkale and promptly put it on my must-visit list. So, when we find ourselves in Kusadasi and discover that Pamukkale is a three-hour drive away, of course we decide to dedicate an entire day there and at Hierapolis, both World Heritage Sites.

After a session of Turkish massage last night, waking up at 6 a.m. seems a Herculean task, but we finally drag ourselves out, eyes still shut. With no time for breakfast, we rush out with handfuls of Turkish delight and figs. The road meanders through countryside dotted with vineyards, olive gardens, cotton plantations and small towns… at one point it even feels like we could be driving through a village in Kerala.

An hour later, our stomachs are grumbling and so are we. It’s a good thing that while learning some important Turkish words, we learnt acıktım, which means hungry and that’s a word we repeat a lot to the driver, who finally pulls up in front of an unassuming little eatery.

Traditional breakfast

The chef and his wife welcome us and recommend a traditional Turkish breakfast, and soon my plate holds a simit, round bread with sesame seeds, cheese and olive paste; yumurtalı ekmek (French toast); menemen (something like scrambled eggs but with generous servings of butter); sucuk (sausage); pancakes; salad; figs, apricots and dates; meat and cheese; pastries, tea cakes and breads and, to end it all, a piping hot glass of apple tea.

After the python-esque breakfast, we snore our way to Pamukkale, waking up only when the driver excitedly bellows “Look, Look! Cotton Castle in front.” In the distance, huge, white travertine terraces cascade down the rock face. White limestone deposits over the years have formed these hot therapeutic pools and since it looks like a wall of cotton from the distance, it’s called Cotton Castle. In half an hour, we are there.

The Sacred City

We first stop off at Hierapolis or the Sacred City, ruins of a Greco-Roman settlement. There is the necropolis, Roman baths, Temple of Apollo, the Domitian gate, an amphitheatre, gymnasium, and sacred pools. But soon we are drawn to the crowds cavorting in the Pamukkale hot springs. The water is 30 degrees and quite comforting on this chilly day. Spread across many layers, you can go wading from one pool to another. The soft, clayey beds are a tad treacherous and now and then we find ourselves staggering and landing on our bottoms.

Meanwhile, we hear someone say something about Cleopatra’s pool, where the queen apparently splashed while visiting Pamukkale. So what if we can’t soak in donkey’s milk and honey, we most certainly can go swimming in Cleopatra’s pool. Transparent green and rich with minerals, the water is said to cure ailments and work wonders for the skin. We do a great deal of underwater swimming hoping to walk out looking five years younger. After an hour, all I see is a stubborn tan. Locals assure me it takes a few days for the benefits to show. Sure, I can wait. It gives me a perfect excuse to extend my stay in this paradise.