The Solo Journey Begins in Samarkand

Samarkand Travel Blog

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Soaking up the sun at the Registan
I don't think it really dawned on my until I was nearly dozing off on the airplane-like seats in the Samarkand-bound train that this is truly the beginning of my journey, now that the wedding festivities and host family portion of the trip had ended. I quickly transitioned when I got off the train on my own, looking for a marshrutka (minibus) to the center of town. Located only about three minutes east of the Registan, or "place of Sand" where the trio of medressas huddled waiting for tourists to appear, Bahodir B&B turned out to be a good find. Never mind that my room was dirty, the beds were sagging and the towels would not have passed many hygienic standards, the staff were very friendly, served a tasty breakfast and for a relatively small fee offered to hand wash my dirty laundry. Jackpot! I stayed for three nights and paid about $12 per night.

Because of the location, I was able to come and go frequently, and with my own room it was nice to have privacy for a change. The Registan being practically next door, I frequented it many times a day. Two medressas face each other, the Ulugbek and the Sher Dor, with the Tilla-Kari as the centerpiece. As it was when I last visited, there seemed to be some sort of construction going on, but the bright blue skies complemented the blue domes and made for perfect photo ops. I walked up Tashkent street to the Bibi Honim mosque, a palatial complex commissioned by Tamerlane's wife who later was beheaded for it because the architect fell in love with her and demanded a kiss to finish the construction. Tamerlane was a jealous type.

Next was the Shah-i-Zinda, a series of rooms making it a mini-city shrine to Qusam ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed. A newly built highway passed directly in front of it and curved through the city to near Hoja Doniyor, or the Tomb of the Prophet Daniel. Uzbeks and Russians lined up outside the fountain to fill bottles of sacred water. I washed my face and hands, sat down by the swift but dirty Siob River and reflected for a moment. It was such a peaceful place. The actual mausoleum was up some stairs and contained a 60-foot long sarcophagus. Daniel is said to grow an inch every two years, thus necessitating an enlargement of the tomb. At least it makes for an interesting story.

After all that walking I was pretty tired and it was getting late, so I went back and took a nap, then went out and had chicken shashlik, tomato & onion salad and a Pulsar beer for dinner at a teahouse across from the Registan. It was chilly at night and the teahouse was open-air so I had to bust out the jacket. I was slow moving the next morning so I decided to continue the pace. I took a minibus to Hoja Ismoil, a small town outside of Samarkand that is the final resting place of Ismail Al-Bukhari, one of the greatest Muslim scholars and considered to be the premier authority on religious law. When I arrived, there must have been about 15 different wedding parties crowding the broad walkway to the mausoleum. Couples of brides and grooms walked in slowmotion as video cameras captured their unsmiling faces. Inside the complex was less crowded and very pristine. The tomb was particularly beautiful and the aivan's ceilings were gorgeously painted. Everything looked rather new. Back in Samarkand I visited the Guri Amir, the mausoleum where Tamerlane, Ulugbek and a couple grandsons are buried.

I walked around the new city and through Navoi Park. I happened upon a bar advertising pizza and could not resist the possibilities that might lie inside. I was not disappointed...this was the most authentic Uzbek pizza I'd ever had. The assorti pizza I ordered was a small but it was so big I could not finish it. On it was tomato sauce, roast beef, chopped hot dogs, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and what appeared to be actual mozzarella cheese or something like it. They served a pink dipping sauce that looked be made of mayonnaise, ketchup and the spicy cumin called zira. With a cold Sarbast beer and a nostalgic Hi-Fi song from 1999, it was a glorious moment. But had the price not been in sums, nothing inside would suggest Uzbekistan. Still, a break from the mundane Uzbek food was a welcome interlude.
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Soaking up the sun at the Registan
Soaking up the sun at the Registan
photo by: asturjimmy