For a Westerner raised on tales of desert khans throwing foreigners off towers of death into pits full of vipers, it is hard to credit the level of hospitality one can meet in Central Asia. It reminded me of the anecdote of Hungarian traveler Armin Vambery about his caravan's arrival in Turkmenistan in 1862. Thou sands of men, women, and children rushed out with extended arms to greet die pilgrims with hugs. When he arrived at the tent of the local ishan (priest) to begin arrangements for housing the foreign guests, disputes broke out for the honor of harboring them. Indeed, the native women became so passionate in claiming guests for their own tents that the local ruler finally had to intervene to restore order by assigning them to households. Vambery said the effusive reception emanated from the divine command to Muslims to respect travelers, especially those return ing from pilgrimage to Mecca with the holy dust of Islam still clinging to their traveling clothes. The ruler claimed Vambery as his own personal guest, and installed him in a separate tent on the outskirts of Gomush tepe. Vambery was so worn out from the reception that he only wanted to go to sleep. He was sadly disappointed. No sooner had they per formed the customary Turkmen ceremonial for taking possession of a new dwelling—circling the tent twice and peeping into the four coiners—than the tent filled with visitors who stayed to the next morning asking thousands of questions. Vambery had heard of the hospitality of the nomads, but had never dreamed it could reach such a point.
Sacred Horses: The Memoirs of a Turkmen Cowboy by Jonathan Maslow