Wednesday, April 30, 2008


We are rolling along the old Silk Road now, and Samarkand is no disappointment. We arrive in the dead of night and get dropped off on the outskirts of the city, right next to a conveniently open chaykhana (teashop). We wait for daylight, which comes early, and at 6.30am we are staggering past wonderful tiled mosques and mausoleums in the cool of the morning, looking for a place to stay. Samarkand is the most evocative of place names for us - a destination we wanted to reach in the early days when we thought about this trip, and it's a thrill to finally arrive. The city was capital of Tamerlaine (Timur 'the lame') 's empire, and he built up a flashy collection of buildings using artists and craftsmen from the lands he conquered, by the end of the 14th century. Much has survived, just, and has been heavily restored.

We visit the Registan, a complex of mosques and medressas, at sunset. The huge tiled portals reflect the pinkish golden light. One of them features a pair of tigers, which is pretty unusual to see in Islamic buildings, as the portrayal of living beings is prohibited in Sunni Islam. It is peaceful and quiet, and the large buildings are impressive. It is a contrast to our earlier visit to a street of mausoleums which was jammed with Uzbeks and foreign tourists, all out together sight-seeing on a Sunday. The mausoloeums are surrounded by a cemetery filled with photo-engraved tombstones - an illuminating collection of people in various fashions and headgear, an ethnographer's dream.

Samarkand is a low-rise city and in the distance we can see the snow-covered mountains on the border with Tajikistan. The city is full of fairly quiet tree-lined roads and shops that are heavily disguised as old houses. The parks are full of fountains, flowers and grass - this is the greenest place we've been for ages. There's a provincial feel about the place which is conducive to lounging around. Lunches consist of mutton shashlyk and bread washed down with pots of green tea - absolutely delicious once you get used to the coating of mutton fat in your mouth afterwards. This is probably when the vodka comes into its own. We are staying in a family-run B&B with a small patio in which everyone hangs their washing. We eat our evening meals there and chat with some of the other travellers - a rare opportunity to meet other people passing through Central Asia - and swap news about the China visa latest...........


annelie said...

Dear John and Gayle,
It´s so good to read about your trip and look at the beautiful pictures. I don´t know if you remember: we(Ali and Annelie from Germany) met you in Yazd at the hotel you worked. We we´re sitting that one night talking about this and that. I am happy to get the chance to read about what you are doing and what you experience. Hopefully and me will get to do something like this soon. Wish you all the best for your tour.
Hope to see you one day again. Take care.

slowmotion said...

Thanks for somethimg good to read while stopping-over in Singapore-airport. Enjoy yourselves. k