At the height of our uncertainty in Tashkent with health issues, trouble finding parts for the car and registration problems we were almost going to head for the nearest border and give up on Uzbekistan. We heard from many travellers that Uzbekistan was their favourite Central Asian country and that you could really get the whole silk road experience here. Because we mucked around for so long with visas and at the border we thought we should make the most of it. Our main concern was registration, because we had been unregistered in Tashkent for so long it was unlikely that we could get any kind of accommodation for the rest of our journey. Hotels always check your previous registration before taking you in.
So finally we were back on the road again, first stop Samarkand. Our friend Tim had been reciting poems, blabbing and generally faffing about Samarkand for a long time so we had great expectations. It was once the centre of one of the worlds biggest empires which stretched from China to Baghdad and Greece to Russia. And of course a hub for all Silk Road trade. An easy days drive from Tashkent we watched as the cotton farmers pulled in their yield for the year. As we pulled into the city it was actually much smaller than we thought with many minarets, madrasahs and mausoleums rising above the modern town. After negotiating the very narrow streets we checked into a reasonably priced hotel right next to the Amir Timur mausoleum. There wasn’t any problems with the registration in the end. It was good time to check out the mausoleum in the arvo with the sun low in the sky. Amir Timur rose to dominate this part of the world in the 13th century after the mongol empire crumbled. He was a fierce and merciless ruler responsible for deaths in the tens of millions. He was also an intellectual and understood the importance of education.
The tomb was one of the most beautiful we’ve seen with the most intricate decorations. The blue paint seemed to glow a very strange but poignant effect. His actual coffin is made of the largest piece of jade in the world. Too bad some misfortunate fellow dropped it and cracked it in half at some point in time.
We checked out the outside of the mausoleum with its minarets, mosaics and wide arched architecture and took some nice photos as the sun came down.
The Registan square was next on the agenda at the centre of Samarkand. During the 13th century this was the centre of the Timur empire, with royal decrees being shouted from the rooftops and other such spectacles on display. Two huge opposing madrasahs with precariously angled minarets adorned the square with an equally sized madrasah adjacent to them. Despite the scale of them they are all so intricately decorated with mosaics in every corner, cornice and crevasse.
We spent the next few hours checking out each of the madrasahs and navigating the many steps between them. Thankfully most tourists and locals are happy to help. I just hope I haven’t caused too many bad backs with my fat arse. Each madras has a large court yard surrounded by various size enclaves some with street merchants selling their wares and others had tombs of long past rulers.
Later that day we headed for another mosque down the road that was restored in the 60’s from an unrecognisable pile of rubble. This seemed a lot more authentic, there were no tourists in site and the mosque was still popular with the locals. It felt much more peaceful, we sat in the shade of some large trees in courtyard and watched as the locals followed their Islamic traditions.
After mucking around in Tashkent and Dushanbe it felt really good to be back on the road again. Tim and Nic were a few days ahead so after a day seeing the sites at Samarkand we were back on the road again and headed for Bukhara.
The road to Bukhara was interesting. It slowly deteriorated more and more until the point where the desert was reclaiming the road. Massive irrigation projects setup during the soviet era allowed much of Uzbekistan to be used for various agricultural purposes, mainly cotton growing. When the irrigation ends the landscapes change almost immediately from green fields to red desert dunes. Between Samarkand and Bukhara we crossed about 200km of proper sand dunes. We got to the point where there was more sand than road then suddenly a brand new dual carriage way began. It was strange, the dunes were reminiscent of the Simpson desert back home but we were doing 120kph over a new highway.
We arrived at Bukhara in the night meeting up with the boys at a hotel. Told about the local food court, Lyabi Hauz, we headed there for a feed. Despite it being a bit of a tourist hot spot the only food on offer was the usual Central Asia cuisine, sashlick, lagman, plov etc. A bit disappointing but we didn’t let it spoil the evening as we watched the locals dance away to their favourite local band. The actual history of Bukhara is cloaked in mystery. So yeah well just leave there.
We woke the next morning keen to get an early start. Heading in on foot from the hotel we walked to the old town through a series of discombobulated domed buildings to the Lyabi Hauz complex. From there we continued on towards the Poi Kalyon Square. Passing a number of beautiful Madrasahs on the way. One store took our interest, Jess spotted a forge inside an old mud brick building. We entered and had a chat with the blacksmith there. Jess being a black smith was keen to see how they worked, it turned out to be good timing as they just put some metal in the forge ready for shaping. We watched on for the next half hour as the two blacksmiths worked together to form and shape a couple of blades for the hand made knives they sell. It was great to watch and hear Jess’s explanations of the process. We ended up buying two beautifully made matching butterfly knives.
From there we continued on to the Ulug Beg and Abd al-Aziz Khan madrasahs where a local bloke invited us into his home for lunch. We had an interesting conversation with him over lunch as he explained about how he often invites tourists in his house. People make a small donation for his generosity but he didn’t actually ask us for money he said to pay with your heart. To which we did with 10,000 somi. He said he use to be a foreman at a big factory during the soviet era, after the crumble of the Soviet Union the owners of the factory packed up and left leaving many people in the area unemployed. Most people including him now rely on tourism to earn a living.
After lunch we finally made it to the Poi Kalyon Square, the minaret rises 45m above the town and can be seen from everywhere in Bukhara, quite a sight. It has an interesting story. Being built in the 11th century using mud bricks mixed with bulls blood, camel milk and eggs. When Genghis Khan arrived a couple hundred years later he levelled much of the town but when he reached the tower his hat fell off as he raised his head to view it. He then spared the tower because he thought that anything that knocked his hat off and caused him to bow to pick it up should be saved.
We continued on to the Ark fortress, the exact origins of the fortress are lost in time but archeologist believe to have been made around the 5th or 6th century. The town government was situated hear so it could be more easily defended against invaders. Unlike Samarkand the architecture of the fortress differed quite a bit. This pretty much completed out route from the hotel. We checked out a few other quite madrasahs before jumping in a taxi and heading back to the hotel.
Khiva being our next destination we hit the road early the next morning. The search for diesel was on again and only after about the 10 servo did we find any. The irrigation continued after Bukhara and it was the season for cotton picking. We watched the locals toil in the endless fields of cotton collecting every last flower. And so the road goes on.
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