Peace, love and solitude in Stepanavan

I travel to get far away from glitzy city lights. So, unsurprisingly, I often find myself in places that offer more than a quiet moment or two. And whenever I find my way to such a place, I try to capture one moment through my lens. A moment that sums up its essence. A couple of years ago, I was in Stepanavan, an unpretentious Armenian town with the air of a kind relative. The uncle who quietly slips you some money without making a big fuss about it. The aunt who makes your favourite dish after a long day at work. Basically, a small town with a big heart.

Stepanavan is located in the Lori district, a region known for its pine-forested mountains and a climate that injects vital doses of life into sick and tired souls. Especially souls sullied by the world of deadlines, mortgages and smarter-than-the-smartest smartphones. It was popular for its restorative powers during the Soviet era. Influential leaders apparently headed to the town to wrap their heads around concepts such as glasnost and perestroika; and indulge in a bit of R&R while at it. Stepanavan has been cleverly designed not to offer anything much in terms of activities. You can walk the length and breadth of it in about 45 minutes. That is, if you are walking really, really slowly. Everything happens around the Stepanavan town centre, named after its favourite son, Stepan Shahumian, a dashing Bolshevik revolutionary.

Wizened retirees occupy the main square, which is basically a rectangle, during the day. They soak in the mild sun, munching on sunflower seeds, while reminiscing about the Soviet days. Opinion is sharply divided though whether those memories are good or bad. Come afternoon, the older generation gently disappear into the dusky lanes leaving the benches vacant for teenagers in faux leather jackets eager to strike up conversations while, surprise, surprise, munching on sunflower seeds. In between, young couples with or without little ones running in all directions attempt to spend some quiet moments with one another. Yes. Packets of Sunflower seeds make an appearance here too. You can pause to savor this gentle pace of life before heading to spend some quality time in Stepanavan's only restaurant. The time factor comes in for two reasons. 1. It takes time to decipher the Armenian menu. 2. In case, deciphering was unsuccessful, you'll need to wait for other people to be served. That way you can just point to the plate and make motions of eating. A gesture guaranteed to cut through all language barriers.

Stepanavan also acts as a base from which one can explore the countryside.
One day, we ended up training our sights on the Lori Fort, located on the  plateau of the Dzoraget river canyon - a good 5km walk away. What started out as a gentle walk turned into a full-blown trek. All because we decided to trek down a steep canyon to the Dzoraget river and splash around in a pool of icy water. Another day, we went to a botanical park nearby, Dendropark, full of trees big and small. And flowers plenty. While roaming around the park, we came across a painter duo, quietly painting away while some feathered beauties chirped enthusiastically around them. Without much ado, I then captured the essence of Stepanavan.