Have you ever had a travel experience that you will never forget?
The one that makes you smile and warms your heart when you remember how you felt at that moment?
I’d like to share my favourite experience from my recent travels in Tajikistan.
It happened last year as I made my way across several different countries that make up Central Asia. I travelled across this vast area independently with my partner through a part of the world that is steeped in age old traditions and culture.
I’d heard wonderful things about the small country of Tajikistan, a small country bordering Afghanistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. It’s known for its rugged mountains, which are popular for hiking and climbing and snow-capped peaks that rise above 5,000 metres.
We hired a local driver with a jeep to take us across this diverse country over 5 days. We stopped one day in a small village called Langar in the Wakhan Valley. Such a gorgeous area, surrounded by mountains and turquoise streams.
Afghanistan was only a stone’s throw across the stream and the huge mountain range that separated us from Pakistan was in the distance.
On this particular sunny day, we checked into our homestay and left with our camera and curiosity to explore this picturesque place.
We wandered toward some open fields and noticed a group of local women cutting wheat the traditional way, using a sickle. I snapped a few photos and we decided to sit down next to a stream and enjoy the incredible view of the valley before us.
As we sat there and pondered how wonderful life was at that very moment, we noticed the women had stopped working and had gathered in a small circle to take a break for lunch. Some young boys crossed the field towards the women with some pots, urns and bags of fruit.
Suddenly, I see an arm rise up from the circle and one of the women was beckoning us to come and join them. We thought for a few seconds, wondering if they meant for us to join them (which is funny, because nobody else was around). Again, her arm went up and waved us over.
We trotted over to the middle of the field, jumping bundles of wheat to reach the circle of about eight women and some young boys sitting around the outside.
It was lunchtime and the most beautiful looking feast was laid out on some simple tablecloths on the ground. There were flatbreads, a pot of potato and garlic soup and the most aromatic lamb curry with vegetables, herbs and roasted garlic.
A big plate of pilaf rice with sultanas, herbs and nuts sat in the middle next to a bag of tiny apples, obviously just picked from a tree at home.
A large urn full of beautiful fresh tea was offered around the circle to enjoy as part of the meal.
The women were all smiles as they pulled up two bundles of wheat for us to sit on. They gave us each a bowl and filled it up with their homemade food, along with a cup filled with hot tea.
We communicated in broken Russian, bits of German and a little English and lots of body language.
The women were mesmerized by the pale blue colour of my eyes and found my freckles to be very interesting. We learned that one of the women was quite the comedian. She was a big fan of ‘Mr Bean’ and entertained us with some of her best impressions.
We ate and laughed in the sun as we shared a delicious feast.
It was the most humbling experience I’ve ever encountered, one that I will never forget.
After lunch, the women were very happy to pose for a few photos in the field with us before they started back to work. We exchanged hugs and more smiles, saying thank you and goodbye in three different languages as we slowly made our departure.
Walking away from the field with a belly full of home-cooked food, obviously cooked and served with love, I couldn’t help but to simply smile.
I was so grateful that these women reached out and so kindly introduced me into their way of life, their culture and their world.
This experience reminded me of something I’ve noticed from years of travelling the world and meeting many people, and it is this.
The people that often have the least to give are usually the ones that give the most.