WE STOP at the caravanserai, ‘Sultan Hani’. It is just eat of Konya in Turkey. Caravanserais or ‘caravan palaces’, are camel way stations built a day’s travel apart (15 to 30km) along the Silk Road. Progressive Sultans built and maintained these buildings to facilitate trade and enrich their regions. Dozens dot the landscape. The ‘Sultan Hani’ clearly was a ‘luxury motel’!
But, we arrive and there is not a soul around. It’s big and solid and can carry many. It’s eerie and feels like a forest without birds. We wander around and disturb doves as they coo, neck and flutter. Then, caravans in the open courtyard sigh. Tough-as-nails men stride in, sweaty young boys trot behind. Crates drop, carpets roll out, chains crash. The vaulted hall, at the far side, gives shelter. What a racket! That goat that is to be the midday feast bleats. The quiet tea lady pouts a storm. Smells of silk and spice and dung and sweat mix. Voices in this ‘tower of Babel’ sound and find like-languages. ‘Merhaba!’ ‘Salam!’ ‘Gamarjobat!’ ‘Zdrastvuyte!’ ‘Nǐ hǎo!’ The banter and barter begins. The sultry guy, the clown, the pissed-off guy; you get the picture. Touch those 1000 year old walls, all dark and damp, oily and shiny and you bump into your 12th century self. We drag ourselves away and pass busy-ness in a treasury, repair shop, exchange office, store rooms and hamans. We stop to reflect at a small mosque in the centre.
Outside, a BUS STOPS and a group of tourists from China empties out. Our preparations to leave, with tank-bags and jackets and helmets, draw attention. Our bikes and boxes, with stickers and flags, disclose our journey. These travelers from Beijing stream around us. Cameras are up and snap-snap-snap and click-click-click. Cameras come down and we all dig deep into our little language boxes, test words, get responses, exclaim delight and giggle with glee. Cameras are up for group photos and individual photos. I witness, 24 times over, the beautiful wonder that hides behind these cameras. It really, really is a gasp of surprise, a salute to achievement, a desire to remember. It really, really is an expression of interest, and an honest reaction, free of airs and graces.
Today west and east meets cheerfully again at the ‘Sultan Hani’.
The Sultan Hani is built in 1229 when trade along the Silk Road is already relatively established. We read that trade in the early days makes use of the ancient ‘dumb barter’ system. Here, one party of traders waits until another party turns up. The first party then arranges goods they want to trade in a clearing and retires to their camp. The next day the second party takes a look at the goods on offer and lays down as many of their goods as they feel to be of equal value. The first party returns and adjusts their pile in terms of their desire for the other party’s wares. This continues until there are no adjustments by either party. Both parties then gather their booty and return home.