Along the Silk Road to Samarkand

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May 3rd 2016
Published: April 18th 2018
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The road, in this case, was a railroad, as a train journey from Bukhara to the nation's 2nd largest city, Samarkand, is the best means of getting from A to B, in terms of time vs cost factor. The centrepiece of Samarkand happens to be the nation's most revered treasure known as the Registan, and is a centrally-located masterpiece which could accurately be described as the final word in impressive Uzbek architecture. Staying at the backpacker-friendly B&B Bahodir meant that the Registan was a mere few footsteps away, and the 3 facades which collectively constitute the Registan are destined to etch themselves on a visitor's mind in such a way that they are likely to be one's most lasting impression of all Uzbekistan. Upon entering each facade, a different atmosphere greets the visitor, and whether we are talking museum exhibits, souvenir stalls or pure gilt-edged opulence, every effort has been made to ensure that there is depth and diversity beyond the impact of the structure's grand exterior. On a similar scale, another place of historical interest which scales lofty heights is the Shahi Zinda Ensemble, also knowns as Street of Tombs, and is a compound of mausoleums adorned with blue cupolas, high portals of beautiful majolica and ornamental stone arches. In the immediate vicinity thereof, the Bibi Khanum mosque has a courtyard 432 feet long, and 338 feet wide, paved with marble slabs, and surrounded by a roofed gallery. The entrance, the high-walled courtyard, is through the great gates with archways, and they have a marble base and tiled facade. The gates are flanked by twin 168-foot high ceramic columns, and in each of the corners is four tall minarets. At the far end towers the enormous star spangled portal of Bibi Khanum, crowned by a colossal bright blue dome to complete the set. Elsewhere within the city, be sure to check out the Gur Emir Mausoleum, for the purpose of gaining as complete an impression of the entire set of landmarks within Samarkand, and even a casual stroll will reveal attractive city features such as fountains, avenues, architecture and parks which add colour and character to a city already well-endowed with glorious features. A stroll down Tashkent street is a must for the shopper or casual wanderer, and for bargain-basement shopping options brimming over with local character, look no further than the Siyob Bazar, where local produce and market goods abound. Further afield, but staying on the market theme, a 50-minute taxi ride out to Urgut market on trading day will reveal a bustling hive of activity where traders jostle for business and shoppers float around in awe of the size and exotic buzz of a trading spot in a town known almost single-handedly for this noteworthy market. If you are seeking a night out with cultural depth, then your best bet by a wide margin, so it seems, is the Samarkand restaurant, and with an attractive facade eclipsed by a wildly ornate interior decor, the quality of the food is matched by the lasting impression made by the costumed dance show, and the chance to showcase your moves on the dancefloor as the diners enter disco mode. All in all, Samarkand is so typical of the Silk Road that it is a must-see Uzbek destination, and a city whose foundations and origins have been tastefully developed and expanded rather than being ruined by the onslaught of modernization. It is fair to comment that leaving town at the city's main railway station can only lead a visitor to wonder whether what lied ahead was any match for what immediately preceded it....


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