Saturday, 15 July 2017


Warning- like the last one, this blog post has many photos of Islamic architecture- we just can't help ourselves, it's all so beautiful!!

The Registan, Samarkhand, Uzbekistan

Also, it has been brought to our attention that we neglected to include a map on the last blog- an oversight by us. Here's an idea of where Central Asia actually is, and our route through Uzbekistan, starting in Tashkent:

Because we wanted to travel everywhere in Uzbekistan by train, and there is no direct train from Bukhara to Khiva, we backed tracked from Bukhara to Samarkhand by the high speed super duper Afrosoiyob bullet train. It's probably the nicest and fastest train we've ever been on and we wished it had have been longer than 1.5 hours!

The accommodation scene in Samarkhand wasn't up to Bukhara's high standards, and we ended up in a fairly average cheap place, where the staff were friendly and apologetic whenever something went wrong, which was often. The breakfast was huge and filling, there was a view of the monuments from the lovely verandah, the WIFI was crap (which we could live with), but the faulty AC was difficult with the high temperatures. The solution was to bring us two fans to blow all the hot air around. However, after a short time we could smell something burning, and got a shock when one of the fans blew up and burst into flames!

Our routine was very mixed up thanks to the above circumstances. Some mornings we would get up and explore before breakfast, then nap all day and more exploring later in the day. Other times we had slept badly, so went back to sleep after breakfast and didn't go out until later afternoon. The hot parts of the day were best for chatting with fellow travelers, continuing the Russian practice, reading up on history of the place and catching up on the world, if the WIFI signal was behaving.

The photographer at work!!

We are, literally, the worst selfie takers in the world!

A bit of Samarkhand history- one of the oldest towns in Central Asia, it was probably founded in the 5th century BC!! A long time important oasis and major Silk Road crossroads, its early history and rulers are way too long and extensive to list here. Just like the rest of the area, it was completely ruined by Genghis Khan in the 13th century, and then a century later was transformed and given a new life when Timur took it over as his capital. The ruling line continued for only one hundred years, firstly with Timur's son, Shar Rukh, and then his grandson, Ulugbek, whose interest was in science, and during this era the city became a place of learning. Samarkhand marked the halfway point of the trade routes, and became, and still is, the symbol for the Silk Road. The capital was eventually moved back to Bukhara, and Samarkhand sank into decline.

Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Samarkhand

Colourful ladies, Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand

Varied tile work, Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand

As with Bukhara, the amount of monuments here was nearly overwhelming, so we decided to take it slowly and have a good look around each place to get to know what we were seeing. This was Timur's showcase city. The city seen today is mostly Timur's work and vision, and it's hugely new and varied styles for the time were as result of Timur forcibly putting to work craftsmen from all over his massive realm. He may have been a brutal tyrant as a leader, but his ideas about architecture, colour and grandeur made this city the most amazing spectacle in Central Asia. We have always loved this style of buildings, and we felt so happy and lucky to make it here to see the center of Timur's epic world.

Bibi-Khanym Mosque entrance, Samarkhand
Silhouettes, Shar-i Zinda, Samarkhand
The stunning tiles at Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand
Gur-E-Amir Mausoleum, Samarkhand
 Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand

Of the four biggest sights there, we loved the Shar-i-Zinda, or The Avenue of Mausoleums, the most. This was the place where the man who brought Islam to the area in the 7th century was buried, along with many other important bodies and relatives of Timur. The sparkling variety of stunning tiles and changing colours at different times of the day had us mesmerized, and we loved it so much we visited twice. It was here we first saw the "Ramadan Ladies". Apparently, every evening during Ramadan, women from nearby areas, got together and visited a different religious sight, to pray, but from what we saw, mostly to socialize and have a laugh.

What a view, Shar-i-zinda, Samarkhand
Taking a rest, Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand
Little cutie, Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand
View from cemetery, Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand
Turquoise dome at Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand
Archway, Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand
A octagonal tomb, Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand
Ramadan Ladies, Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand
Reminded us of Chinese design, Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand
Rich making friends, Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand
Looking out over the Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand
Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand
Ramadan Ladies having a laugh, Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand
Love the colours, tiles, Shar-i-Zinda, Samarkhand

A short video of Shar-i-Zinda:

The cemetery surrounding  Shar-i-Zinda was quite interesting, with the same style of graves we had seen in Armenia and Georgia- etched with the faces of the dead, and several view points providing gorgeous views of the Shar-i-Zinda and the town.

Cemetery, Samarkhand
View of Shar-i-Zinda from cemetery, Samarkhand

Gur-e-Amir was the home of Timur's body, along with his son and grandsons. The small mausoleum and surrounding area was a pleasure to stroll around- at sunset the warm sunlight seemed to light up the whole building. The “fluted” dome of the mausoleum, one of a few around Samarkhand was especially pleasing to the eye, as was the Ak Saray Mausoleum nearby, where the ornate blue and gold colour scheme was reminiscent of a peacock. We were surprised by the rough map inside the Gur-e-Amir which showed the extent of Timur's “empire”. Although not quite as extensive as the Mongol empire (which had the largest continuous land empire in human history), he controlled all of Central Asia, Persia, Turkey, Armenia , Georgia, Iraq and Pakistan! The good natured Ramadan Ladies turned up again, requesting photos with us, and starting halting conversations. Quite by accident, we stumbled across the back entrance to both these monuments, and saved ourselves some money. Of course, we don't mind paying a small entrance fee, but when tourists are paying 15 times more than locals (if they pay at all), it annoys us.

Outside looking in, Gur-E-Amir, Samarkhand
Ramadan Ladies complete with gold teeth, Gur-E-Amir, Samarkhand
Gur-E-Amir at sunset
A watchful eye, Gur-E-Amir, Samarkhand
What an entrance, Gur-E-Amir, Samarkhand
Waiting for their bus, Gur-E-Amir, Samarkhand
Interesting faces, Gur-E-Amir, Samarkhand
The interior of Ak-Saray Mausoleum, Samarkhand

We somewhat solved this when we visited the Bibi-Khanym mosque, once the biggest mosque in the world. Arriving before opening time (for the best light for photography), the guard offered us a discounted entrance fee, which we gladly took. The scale of this building was phenomenal, especially considering it was built in the 15th century. Apart from the size, however, much of it was falling down on itself, and we were not able to enter, and we didn't find the tile work or style as beguiling as the first two sites we had visited.

Soaring entrance to Bibi-Khanym, Samarkhand
Rich dwarfed in entrance, Bibi-Khanym, Samarkhand
Arabic script incorporated into tile work, Bibi-Khanym, Samarkhand
The massive Bibi-Khanym, Samarkhand
Distinctive dome, Bibi-Khanym, Samarkhand

The last of the big sites we visited in Samarkhand was The Registan. We can't quite put our finger on it, but it didn't capture us in the same way as the other monuments- maybe we were getting a little "Timur fatigue". But whatever it was, we visited a few times at different parts of day, and never felt much of a connection to the place. We also found the lopsided nature of the Registan more than a bit disconcerting!

Main courtyard of The Registan, Samarkhand
Wonky tower, The Registan, Samarkhand
The Registan at sunset, Samarkhand

As usual, we loved exploring the backstreets, and although they weren't as atmospheric in Samarkhand as in Bukhara, we still enjoyed the contact with people going about their everyday business. A few smaller mosques, Makhdumi Khorezm and Koroboy Oksokol caught our eyes, and we were again struck with the colourful designs on the wooden roofs of the aivans (verandahs) - it reminded us so much of the Sikkim/Nepalese art work on Buddhist temples in those countries. There were also a fair few old monuments in which the tiles had fallen off, or the walls were crumbling, and it was sad to see them in that forlorn state.

Sweet children, Samrkhand
Old sign, "samsakhana", Samarkhand
Stunning painted ceiling, Makhdumi Khorezm Mosque
Colourful detail on ceiling, Koroboy Oksokol
Staying in the cool, Samarkhand

We continued our keenness for markets, firstly with the Siob Bazaar, which was right in the middle of all the tourist sites in town, and as a result prices were a little higher. There was still a great range of produce there, including an entire section dedicated to nougat, Samarkhand honey, shots of mulberry juice, and the dense, heavy Samarkhand bread we weren't too keen on. We managed to find a few hidey spots to observe and photograph people without being obtrusive. There were many more raggedy begging gypsies at this market- it's interesting how they seem to look and behave the same whether it's here, in Bulgaria, Georgia or western Europe.

Lovely looking woman, Siob Bazaar
Piles of nougat, Siob Bazaar
Crystallized sugar for chay, Siob Bazaar
Heavy Samarkhand bread, Siob Bazaar
Old woman, Siob Bazaar
Young boy selling oranges, Siob Bazaar
A quick shot of mulberry juice, Siob Bazaar

The second market we discovered was completely different. Urgut Bazaar was a 50 minute shared taxi ride away, and we really felt like we were out in the sticks, with suburban scenery quickly turning to rural, and many mud brick villages lining the road. The market covered an enormous area, and was extremely crowded. There were many different items for sale here we hadn't come across before- donkey harnesses, religious clothes, lots of colourful cloth, and many household items, and prices were much lower then in town. We had the most attention here we'd had so far in Uzbekistan, and at one point gathered a little crowd around whilst speaking to a stall owner. The people started at us in wonder, and some of the brave ones asked for photos. The cooked food section was an interesting sight to say the least. Bits of fat in unidentified juices, plov dripping in oil and random chunks of meat didn't tempt us to try anything!! We had quite a task trying to find transport to take us back to Samarkhand, with acres of car park filled with buses, cars, taxis and marshrutkas (mini buses). Eventually we piled into a marshutka for the trip back, with piles of shopping (including our own super cheap bags of fruit), and friendly people happily nattering away- mostly about us!

Trying on hats, Urgut Bazaar
Mates at Urgut Bazaar
Interesting man begging, Urgut Bazaar
Gorgeous face, Urgut Bazaar
Traditionally dressed gentleman, Urgut Bazaar
Happy with his samsas, Urgut Bazaar

Unfortunately, our last two days in Samarkhand were spend mostly in bed being miserably sick from both ends, but luckily we were slightly better for our overnight train trip to Urgench.

A summary of our impressions and costs of accommodation, transport, fees and food will be found on the next blog post.

1 comment:

  1. Nice nougat slabs. Great wide angles perspectives of architecture. Its the array of faces that gives a sense of cultural existence. It really is a digitally underdeveloped region which makes it a place to go to experience a different pace of life. Thanks for the thoughtful blog on the region.