Published: August 18th 2007May 3rd 2007
Baskets and baskets of heavenly nuts, of all shapes and sizes... and most importantly completely free to sample by the fist full!
Day 1 in Samarkand had been so rewarding that we decided to get up bright and early today ... actually the truth is that the bed was kind of a bit dusty and the room a tad too musty to encourage a nice leisurely sleep.
Breakfast at Hotel Zarina was supposedly 'a typical uzbek' breakfast, complete with French cheese, criossants, and Nescafe coffee. Hmmm.... I think not. Add to the fact that the hotel was full of French tour groups, and that the cook was an old French lady - we suspect the claim to typical uzbek was a bit farfetch. Nevertheless, it was free, and buffet, so we ate lots.
It was then off to our first stop for the day - the Samarkand bazaar. There is something about the word bazaar that conjures up images of camels and donkeys and guys in fez as well as the occasional guard named Ali whirling one of his scimitars. Samarkand bazaar was not this, but nevertheless very interesting. Primarily, for the nuts. You name it - they had it - displayed in big open sacks and most importantly free for tasting. We tried everything from 'prickly hard nut' to 'weird
The dramatic Bibi Khanum mosque gave the whole bazaar a very 'Aladdin-esque' feel. The large bread sticks and the mangy donkeys definitely enhanced the atmosphere.
red squiggly-line husky nut' - all great, some a bit sandy. The best of the lot though was 'white-spotted yoghurty nut' which were basically almonds with dots of yoghurty-sugar things all over them that just tasted delicious. And best of all, we picked up a massive bag of them for the fabulous price of $3.5USD (after spending 30 mins haggling the price with 15 different vendors down from $4USD - yes clearly my 30 mins time was worth the 50c saving).
Further on, Samarkand bazaar broke into an open air fiasco. The nice thing here was that it was back dropped by Bibi Khanum mosque - a huge and old turquoise affair. Add to that a few mangy donkeys, and number of buck-toothed old guys and numerous veiled women, and with sufficient imagination, it really felt like something out of Aladdin ... when viewed from specific angles :)
After 2 hours of munching and browsing in the bazaar, we headed over to the nearby Bibi Khanum mosque. This was apparently one of Tamerlane's (famous king) buildings that he had force-built in record time. Its a huge brilliant turquoise domed affair that really does impress. Alas, the internals have
They love those big turquoise domes over here ... but you can\\\'t blame them - they are pretty darn gorgeous
long since collapsed so when you walk into the main building, all you see are a whole bunch of bats and birds hanging around on wooden struts.
Bibi Khanum was where we made our first of a series of stubborn stands against unfair tourist price inflations. The entry price was set at 100 summ (0.10c) for locals but a hefty 4000 summ for foreigners. When I questioned the ticket lady about the disparity in price, she calmly said that foreigners have more money and can therefore pay more. Okay, so that's true ... but still, do they have to advertise it so openly. Well, I decided to voice my disapproval, and told the lady that it was a downright awful thing to do. I said that I really was sad that I would be barred from seeing such a beautiful part of Uzbek history thanks to her gratuitous overpricing, let a few tears roll, pointed out that the poor souvenir guys inside wouldn't be able to profit from my custom, and most importantly emphasised the fact that truly .... it was just downright hurtful and that it made me feel like nobody in Uzbekistan liked me and it was
Poor wife is tired
Stopping for a short rest against a friendly wall during our arduous 1 hour trek to Daniel's tomb.
all because I'm dark skinned :) ... and low and behold, we got in for 1000 summ! Okay, so the official tourism board is now going to be that little bit short of cash in order to refurbish these ancient buildings ... (btw, for all those concerned souls who are shouting in their heads - its for the upkeep of the buildings and its completely fair to overcharge tourists - yes, I understand and agree, but nevertheless I still feel that a 40X price increase is a little steep)
By now it was lunch time, and stinking hot, so we decided to do the sensible thing that most people do in desert climates at noon .... we went for a long walk out in the hot sun, trying to find the tomb of Daniel - ie. Daniel the prophet in the Bible famous for stories such as Daniel and the Lion's Den. Apparently, some Uzbek king had smuggled the body back centuries ago and buried him just outside of Samarkand. They believed that his body would grow by 1 inch every year, so every year, they made his tomb a little bit bigger. Today its over 18 feet long
so long that I couldn't even get it with a single photo ... and much too lazy to try with a panoramic shot.
- if you do the math, clearly they stopped adding to the length pretty soon!
Daniel's tomb was apparently 'a short walk in that direction' according to one guy. 1 hour later, dripping in sweat, we found ourselves in the middle of the countryside, without so much as a dog or even fly to keep us company. Yup, we were in the middle of nowhere - but according to the map, we were heading in the right direction, because had passed a whole bunch of graveyards (clearly many others had tried this same rigorous journey and had perished on the way). Finally we saw a building where we asked for directions. Alas the lady inside told us to keep walking, but she did offer to take us for 3000 summ ($3). We happily took up her offer, only to discover that it was 300m down the road - crazy rip-off artist. She offered to stay a bit to take us back to town for an extra 1000 summ, but after her little rip-off attempt, I decided she could take a flying leap - fat chance she was scamming us any more. Sadly, that was a bit of a dumb
Big bread for big mouths
Mmmm... nothing like hot giant round bread thingys ... except for the fact that they've been sitting in the sun all day with the flies and the spit of the vendors
move - half an hour later after seeing Daniel's tomb, we realized that there was no way to get back to town, except by taxi - and most other tourists had cleverly asked their taxis to stay. I tried poaching one of the taxis - offering him a tidy sum and saying that he could come back afterwards and still take his original fare - okay it was a bit dirty to try and steal somebody else's taxi .... but we were desperate. No go though - the taxi guy thought very hard, but finally let his morals and ethics get the better of him.
So Daniels tomb .... well, what can we say ... it was long - very long. It was housed in a little building and lots of pilgrims would walk in, sit down and wait through the chanting of the Imam. They would then run their hands along different parts of the tomb muttering prayers (I guess) - must be some kind of good luck thing. We thought we wouldn't be able to take any photos since it was a holy place and people were praying ... the Imam though decided that a little bit of cash definitely would override any holiness and respect.
So, how did we finally get back to town ... thankfully a little mini-bus that was shuttling people from an adjacent town drove past. We headed back into town, back to the hotel, grabbed our stuff and headed down to the shared taxi area to flag our taxi to the next stop ... Bukhara.