Gunter and I embrace the concept of “slow travel.” Our preference for this method of land travel is probably a byproduct of our slow sail around the world (it took us eight years). We like to decide on a destination, dream, research and read about it, plan an itinerary with plenty of spare time built in, and then go. And when we’re there, we like to take our time, surround ourselves with the power of place, understand the culture, and break bread with the locals if we can. Walking a Village is part and parcel of this experience.

On the way to Mt. Popa and Table Mountain in Myanmar (Burma), a popular tourist site southeast of Bagan, our guide parked his car and led us into a small village where we walked among thatched huts, met villagers, and visited a school. We also walked a village outside of Varanasi, India.

During our recent trip to Uzbekistan, we drove off the beaten path into Nurata, located in the foothills of Nuratau Mountains which stretch out hundreds of kilometers from Barren Steppe to Navoi and Kyzylkum Desert. This village is almost 200 kilometers from Samarkand. It was founded as ancient Nur in 327 BC by Alexander the Great, and the remains of his military fortress can be seen on a high hill to the south of town. The fortress was a strategic center for gathering an army before attacking neighboring lands.

Nurata is known for its famous mineral springs.

Nurata is known for its famous mineral springs.

The elaborate water system Alexander had installed is partially used today. But the locals don’t care about which western conquerors were here; instead, they host Eastern visitors who come as Muslim pilgrims to visit the holy places and mosques. A settlement called Nur—at the foot of the mountain—contains the graves of many “who have seen” the Prophet Mohammed. This site was chosen as a settlement for its mineral spring, known as Chasma, which always stays at 19.5°C. According to legend, a fire rock (probably a meteor) fell from the sky and a spring of healing water rose where it hit the ground. Now, thousands of believers—most from neighboring towns—come to visit every year to view the strange radiance that sometimes appears over the spring. The complex contains a Friday mosque, qubba (Arabic for shrine or tomb) and a bathhouse.

A group of tourists in Nurata.

A group of tourists in Nurata.

Far from industrial and tourist centers, this town of 25,000 leads an unhurried, idyllic life. The innocence and genuine hospitality of the residents is a primary reason that pilgrims and tourists like to visit Nurata. While our driver parked the car on the outskirts, our guide Fakhriddin, Gunter and I walked into town.

Eager to witness this hospitality for ourselves, we were not disappointed. We felt as if the town had been swept clean for guests: bushes and flowers had been carefully manicured, there was no trash on or along sidewalks, and smiling faces greeted us everywhere. While Fak tried to explain the inner workings of the unique system of underground pipe channels running from the spring, onlookers kept asking questions about us. We were their newest attraction!

“Why are you here? Where are you from? Do you like Uzbekistan? Why? What do you like best?” Of course, we couldn’t understand a word of Tajik or Russian, so Fak was bombarded with questions. He turned to us, “Are they bothering you?”

“Quite the opposite,” Gunter explained. “We want to talk with them. You can fill us in on the history later.”

“America! California!” a student from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, yelled to his friends. Soon his friends surrounded us and the questioning resumed.

An English teacher from Tashkent visits Nurata.

An English teacher from Tashkent visits Nurata.

A teacher approached to ask Fak whether her International Language university students could come over to interview us. They were taking a cultural field trip. “How fortunate for us to find American English speakers,” she said. “That is unusual; few Europeans come here and almost no Americans.” We sat on a bench while a parade of students passed by. “Only one question each,” she instructed.

As we walk along the town’s main plaza, a withered man approached with a young boy, about 5 or 6 years old. “Photo of my grandson with you?” he asked.

“Okay,” Gunter said. “Come and stand here in front.” The grandfather releases the shy boy’s hand and gently pushes him forward. After he snapped his photo, his gnarled face broke into a wide grin. “My grandson will remember this photo for the rest of his life.”

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The center of attention all afternoon, we continued to walk and talk around the village. Those inquisitive-but-friendly people of Nurata will always hold a special place in my heart.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale.

Lois Joy Hofmann updating her travel journal.

Lois Joy Hofmann updating her travel journal.

 

 

When we can view a photo and immediately recognize where it was taken, that’s the Power of Place. We know that this place is different from all the other places on this planet. It is uniqueiconic. Examples of such correlations are:

  • Taj Mahal=India
  • Eiffel Tower=France
  • Pyramids=Egypt
  • Parthenon=Greece
  • Golden Gate Bridge=California, USA

Did you notice that all these icons are man-made? “Oh, what a wonderful monument…statue…structure…bridge…memorial,” you say as you snap the obligatory photo to bring home.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India, taken during Lois’s India Tour, 2011 www.LoisJoyHofmann.com

Taj Mahal, Agra, India, taken during Lois’s India Tour, 2011

Author Lois Joy Hofmann at the Great Pyramid of Cheops, Egypt. From The Long Way Back

Author Lois Joy Hofmann at the Great Pyramid of Cheops, Egypt. From The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann

Sense of Place: Sensory Memories of Places Visited

Feeling usually involves connection. You get involved with that place. You bring yourself into the picture. You experience it. And when you bring that photo home and view it again, you’re transported back to that place, that frame of mind, that experience. Did you feel the spray from that waterfall as you stood on that bridge? Did you touch and smell those flowers as they rustled with the wind? Do you hear the chatter of those monkeys before they tried to steal your banana? Do you re-live the fear you felt when you saw that approaching storm?

waterfall in Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia

We swam in back of this waterfall in Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia. From Sailing the South Pacific

Elephant Kandy Sri Lanka

I’ll never forget this elephant in Kandy, Sri Lanka, who came right up to me on shore! From The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann

We endured 7 days of rain and squalls during our passage from the Similans to Sri Lanka From The Long Way Back.

We endured 7 days of rain and squalls during our passage from the Similans to Sri Lanka From The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann

Bring home the Passion of People instead of the Power of Things

Portraits of people inevitably bring back the connection you felt to that place. As I look through the photos of our eight years circumnavigating the world on a catamaran, and our travels around the world in recent years, it is those photos of people that create the memories all over again. I laugh, I cry, I remember, and sometimes, I even dream of going back to that special place in the world.

Petal Girl. Riung, Malaysia. From The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann

Petal Girl. Riung, Malaysia. From The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann

Mother, baby, and puppy. Mamitupu, San Blas Archipelago, Panama

Mother, baby, and puppy. Mamitupu, San Blas Archipelago, Panama from Maiden Voyage by Lois Joy Hofmann 

Lois and Gunter Hofmann: Still traveling the world, embarking on one adventure after another

Their next adventure, Uzbekistan, touring the Silk Road, is coming up soon. She’ll be writing travelogues about their new adventures. Visit Lois’s author page at Amazon.