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Published: October 19th 2019
We spent 9 days in Uzbekistan because it is at the heart of the Silk Road. The three old oasis cities - Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand have incredible mazes of exotic architecture and gorgeous decorative art. We started at Tashkent, the capital, it is one of the oldest cities in Uzbekistan. Rock paintings date back to 2000 BC and they went through all the turmoils in history - Arabs in 751, Genghis Khan in the 13th century, Amir Timur (Tamerlane) occupied in 14th century and the Shaibanid khans in the 15 and 16th century. The Russian Empire arrived in 1865 and Uzbekistan finally became an autonomous country in 1991. We visited several Mausoleums, madrassas (islamic schools) and mosques, most of them restored during or after Russian occupation. The tiles were intricately painted in blue colors. Muslim culture doesn't include animals, people or plants in their decorations, but we saw tigers and flowers on some buildings.
We took a high speed train to Samarkand, 2 hours away. Samarkand is an important trade center selling spices from SE Asia and silk from China. The Registan (meaning Sandy Place), is a public square in the center of Samarkand. It is framed by three
magnificent madrases and the night scene was spectacular. What was really interesting, however, is the fact these madrases now are craft centers hosting stalls selling souvenirs, scarfs, carpets and other trinkets. Although the majority of Central Asia people are Islamic, the Stan's governments are all secular and we found the people very friendly.
We visited Bibi-Khanum Mosque, built by Tamerlane to be the largest mosque in the Islamic World, then mausoleum Shah-i-Zinda "place of a living king" where we learned about life in 'the haram'. The Ulugh Bek Observatory was one unique museum. Ulugh, born into a royal family but interested in astronomy and mathematics built an observatory in 1424 - one of the finest in Central Asia.
In additional to visit all the historical buildings, we also visited craft factories and workshops. We watched people making paper the ancient way by peeling and pounding mulberry tree skins. People raised silk worms and boiled the cocoons for silk thread. Uzbekistan's famous "akat" fabric uses a special binding-dyeing technique to form unique geometric patterns. We attended a fashion show in a silk designer' studio. She hand dyed silk in brilliant colors and made it into beautiful outfits, every model
came through like birds floating through a cloud of colors. Quite a feast for our eyes.
Carpets, silk or wool, are big business in Central Asia. All carpets are hand knotted, a good quality carpet requires 300+ knots per square inch, it usually takes a worker 6 months to a year to complete one carpet. A magic carpet - knotted from both sides with totally different patterns - sells for $140,000. I took a picture with it and that is as close as I ever will get to this beautiful reversible art work.
Before we left Samarkand, we attended a dance performance by a young Uzbek dance troupe. Girls age from 4- 12 did a full show with traditional customs and excellent dance routines. We throughly enjoyed this special event.
On our way to Bukhara, we chanced upon a 'live stock' market day. Thousands of sheep, horse, cattle and bulls were auction off at the bazaar. It was quite a sight. Our lunch break was at the Sharif Baba's farm. His wife was given a 'hero' award during the Soviet time for having given birth to 12 children. On the road side I saw a pretty round
ball of dahlia like yellow flowers and found out it is a sun flower. Baba also had cotton plants in bloom, it had flowers in multiple colors - pink, white and yellow on a single plant, I never knew that. Amazing the things you learn on a trip!
Bukhara is smaller than Samarkand and more intimate. We stayed at the lovely boutique Devon Hotel and enjoyed the evening walking through the old town and plaza. This place is full of shops and restaurants - truly an oasis in the desert. In the plaza lays the most beautiful camel because she had won many beauty contests.
Here in Bukhara, we also had the best meal on this trip - a Bukhara style pilaf. We watched the chef prepare the dish in the yard with lots of carrots and beef, 4 different kind of oil were used and some secret ingredients added. Pilaf was cooked with rice which absorbed all the flavors and was very tasty.
Since we ate many meals in "tourists" restaurants with set menus, the meals became quite monogamous. We usually get eggplant, cucumbers, beets salad, premixed and slightly pickled for first course followed by Russian
cabbage, lentil or pumpkin soup. Main course were grill or stewed beef, lamb, goat, chicken or horse meat with mild seasoning. Some forms of modified Chinese ‘dumplings’ were served, either filled with meat or pumpkins, none of them came closed to the taste of original Chinese dumplings. Fried samosa, filled with meat or cheese were more acceptable by travelers. Bread looked great when fresh out of clay oven but most time the breads on the table were cold and dry (no butter or olive oil). Watermelon and melon are twice the size as ours in the US and they are very sweet. Grapes and pomegranate are also in season and good. Some kind of sweets were usually served with hot tea at the end of the meal. We spent a few meals at private homes with local families. Those were the best meals we had. Many times English speaking guests would join us for discussions. On occasion music and dance entertainment was provided.
Uzbekistan's currency is Som and the exchange rate is 9500 to $1. I bought a huge pomengrante for 5000 Som and it cost me about 50 cents. Crazy!
September is the harvest month and also
popular for weddings. We met many wedding parties parading throughout the park and plazas. Brides dressed in western white gown walking around greeting friends and relatives. We were told most of the marriages are still arranged by the parents. The bride and groom may meet for the first time at the wedding signing ceremony. This situation had caused a few unhappy marriages but tradition still remains strong. With more women attending University and able to work independently, this arrangement may start to encounter resistance from the younger generation.
We completed our Uzbekistan experiences with Khiva and Nukus. Khiva is a fortress town, the thick city wall encircle the town completely. One can walk around this whole city in about 30 minutes. Khiva is famous for its wood carving and we watched a master create an intricate book stand from a single block of wood. We bought it and even with the help of a video clip, we still have trouble arranging it into the 4 different stands he showed us. It's like a puzzle.
Uzbekistan has its glorious history and magnificent architects but what attracted us the most are its friendly people and the incredible fabric arts and
crafts. It definitely should be a top choice for a visit.
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