Uzbekistan - Samarkand


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September 18th 2021
Published: October 5th 2021
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**Question: Does anyone know why my portrait photos look like crap all of a sudden? They are not shown properly**



After arriving in the wee hours of the morning in Samarkand, we made our way to the next hotel where we were actually going to be able to get some sleep tonight! This time, I actually took a nice hot shower and climbed into my semi-comfy game. Then we had a nice breakfast before saying goodbye to this lovely hotel at 9am. Samarkand is another city on the Silk Road and its name means "sweet soil".

Gur-e-Amir

We walked about ten minutes from the hotel to the first stop, Gur-e-Amir, Persian for "Tomb of the King". It was constructed in 1403 for the conqueror Timur (Tamerlane) and also contains the tombs of his sons, grandsons, and teacher. The entryway itself was impressive, and it was already getting busy as well as hot. We tried to take some outdoor photos, but it was hard with so many people around. But there were a few benches (I love benches apparently) and the beautiful turquoise of the dome and some of the accents of the building were just beautiful backdrops. We finally walked inside where there was a small museum, describing the life of Timur and some of the layouts of the mausoleum, of which only a portion remain. We finally went into the main dome area and I think all of us gasped! None of us expected the interior to look like this! It was beautiful. The niches and paintings and materials surrounding the interior were just amazing and intricate. It was extremely busy, but we tried to get many photos of this impressive place as we could. Then we slowly made our way out the back and into the garden area, where I (again) a line of beautiful benches with a great view of the structure. We were told by a couple of guys that downstairs was a secret room with tombs and a few of the girls were talked into going down; I also went, curious but pretty sure what it was, and yes, it was just a cheap souvenir shop. Some things are the same no matter where you go. I quickly came back out and N and I continued to walk around the mausoleum, even getting in some shots with no people! Impressive start to the day and a great introduction to Samarkand.

Registan Square

The two long vans picked us up and took us to the next stop: Registan Square. Another gasp from us as we gazed upon this scene: Three large madrasahs facing each other over a large plaza. We got some great photos from above with a view of all three before heading to the square.

In front of the first one, Dilya described some of the schooling history with us before leaving us to wander for the next hour. The first one, Ulugh Beg Madrasah, built in about 1420 had a high entrance, including intricate inscriptions, such as the swirled blue tiles that I like on these buildings. Inside, there was a hive of activity as workshops and souvenir shops took over the rooms of the madrasah. It was pretty impressive to see and some of the group did some shopping. I looked around, and found a small museum where it described some of the history of the square and the people involved.

N and I left out the side way and came to the middle building, Tilya-Kori Madrasah, build in the early 17th century. Dilya was waiting at the entrance and after we took some photos in the arch, she had a few of us take some other photos at the entrance. The huge wooden doors looking out onto the other madrasah on the square was such a great shot - she sure knew the best places for photo ops! We took some time getting the perfect shot for each of us, waiting often for people to make their ways through the entrance or to get shots with no one in the back ground. Inside, it was the least impressive, thought this was the only one with a dome. More souvenir shops and a nice peaceful plaza. We tried more wooden door shots on the way out.

The next and final building, Sher-Dor Madrasah, was the one that appealed to me most on first appearance, This one had very visible tigers painted on the top of the arch, the tigers in front of a sun and chasing a deer. Inside was two story like the first one, but seemed to be less craftsmanship and more standard souvenirs. So, again a few of us took our time in the impressive entrance to take photos (waiting somewhat patiently for people to pass) - the photos starting to become a bit more fun.

Lunch!

After leaving the square we wandered over to a large walkway area where there were these elongated golf carts riding by. The carts seemed to be just long enough to take all 14 of us if we squeezed in. However, it seemed to be a rite of passage to get on these things as other people were also waiting and there did not seem to be enough for the numbers of people waiting. We were not able to get on the first one as the local ladies, in their demure dress, threw some good elbows in and muscled their way on. So the next one we saw, about 10 minutes later came and as soon as it stopped, before it even emptied, Dilya was leading us in a charge to hop on! Me, P, and N got on the back seat (hot from the sun!) and we were off. It was only about a 5 minute ride to the restaurant, but I think Dilya wanted us to have the full experience.

Lunch. Omg. Lunch was delicious. We were in an outdoor seating area at the Bibikhanum Teahouse and she ordered our food for us. We had two vegetarians in the group, so we had a nice mix. But our first course alone was delicious and all it was was a couple of types of salad. We were all licking our lips after eating the carrots, which had a vinaigrette with cilantro lots of spicy garlic. We had some puff pastry thing with beef (pumpkin for the vegetarians) and then dumplings with beef. All of this was just so delicious and we were so full. I was doing well eating wise this trip until this meal. We all were ready to walk it off after this!

Bibi-Khanym

After lunch, we walked to the next complex, the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, built in the early 15th century. The main mosque is mostly a ruin now, with two the dished mosques reconstructed. You can see some of the foundation ruins of the domes surrounding the courtyard. At its height, it was the largest mosque in Central Asia, accommodating up to 14,000 worshipers. Dilya told us the long story / legend about how this mosque complex was designed by the Temur's favorite wife, who built it out of love. But Timur was away on a war campaign for years and the architect of the complex fell in love with here. They supposedly kissed after repeated requests from the architect (I imagined hooked up) and she told her husband on his return, where she later proved her love and devotion to her husband.

We did not spend as much time in this area as it was no longer in actual use and the structures are mostly ruins. But it was peaceful and you could envision how impressive it must have been.

After the mosques, we had about 20 minutes to hang around the nearby bazaar. This place did not seem overly large at first, but as you went further in, you saw that it just kept extending outwards. There were some souvenir and craft stores, but mostly, it consisted of foods, spices, and necessities - which was pretty cool. It was quite busy. N and I shared a fresh pomegranate juice, which was nice in the still sweltering heat of the day.

Hammam

For the afternoon, we had the choice of doing some street shopping or go to an authentic hammam. Initially, I was not going to do the hammam, I had done one previously in Turkey and while it was fun and memorable, it was not my favorite. However, given the choice of more shopping, I decided to spend the $25 and get a scrub and massage. So, it was main me, the women from the couples group with their one guy and two other guys from our original group. Our van took us up the hills into the center of town and we stopped... at what seemed to be a really random place. Walking into the small courtyard, up the stairs, through the halls, with construction debris everywhere, then being directed with the other ladies down into a large open locker room with cupboards hanging by a thread and the thin towels sitting at the edge of a well-worn bench.... I was pretty sure we would be murdered or starring in a horror movie. One of the ladies had lived in Turkey and was the one encouraging us to do this "This is happening ladies. We're going to see each other naked. But it will be an experience!" Indeed.

Once we were wrapped in the thin towel sheets, we walked down into brick lined tunnels and instructed to wash off in the shower in the middle of the main room. We were set onto hot stone benches as kind of like a sauna experience before our massage. The rooms were hot, but I tried to enjoy it and reminding myself that I did not know these women and would never see them again, so just enjoy it. But my god, the stone was HOT! At a certain point, and after standing twice before getting back on, I finally got up and just went to the main central room - it was too hot. And they had let two of the guys into our scalding stone bench room, while the third guy had changed and saw the first girl getting her massage - he tucked tail and ran out. So, they were just massaging us on the main central stone table - scrub, wash down, massage, wash down. There were two women masseuses with one working on the open table, and the other working on the floor in an alcove next to the main room. So we were out in the open, especially as none of us could 'take the heat' of the stone benches any more. The guys were then led into another room, but it was open to this room, just slightly offset. It was a strange experience.

I was second to go with the woman on the open table, at that point, I just did not care and wanted it done. The scrub was nice, the buckets of water being sloshed on me was heavenly, and the massage was quick and unremarkable, but nice. Once done, we went upstairs, changed and waited for the rest. I got teased for not wanting to blow-dry my hair: they might think you're a prostitute. "Um, I just spent the last hour lying naked in front of a bunch of strangers and get rubbed down by another stranger. I could not care less at this point." Yeah, we were all friends after this! After the hammam, we met up with the rest of the group, and had kind of a Vegas moment: What happens at the hammam, stays at the hammam. Definitely an 'authentic' hammam experience!

Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis

The next big stop was the extremely impressive and photographic Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis. This is the one we kind of were looking forward to as we had all seen others' photos, but I was still amazed at how each place throughout the day got progressively more incredible. And we were not even done yet!!! There are approximately 20 buildings here, mostly mausoleums and a couple mosques, some buildings dating back to the 11th century and continuing up until the 19th century; some of Temur's relatives are also here including a niece and sister. The architecture was beautiful as was the beautiful turquoise color (my scarf loved it!).

N and I wandered together mostly, taking lots of photos. It was somewhat busy, but nothing compared to what I imagine it would look like without the pandemic. There was so much to see! You can go into most of the buildings, where the interiors are just as impressive as the exteriors. My favorites included the one with the bench in front (of course, the tiny wooden doors, the intricate sculpting in a couple of the entrances near the top of the hill, the cemetery along the adjacent hills, and then the blue accented bricks in the exterior baked brick walls on a few of the buildings. There was so much to see! I could have spent another hour here easily.

Dinner

We were all still somewhat full from our amazing lunch, but Dilya had set up a traditional dinner for us this evening. When we walked into the event hall, we felt underdressed. She told us this is a place where many people come to celebrate events with their families. It felt like a wedding reception! There were many long tables in the large hall and lots of people dressed to the nines, including two brides, one in very traditional dress, and another in more modern dress. We started with soup and some very strange salads (like 80's 'modern' type of salads). We shared a few bottles of wine among half of us. At one point, a guy came up to sing; it was almost like karaoke, but he was the only one to sing. Women and kids came up to dance; nothing too crazy, they mostly stood in one spot and moved their hands. I loved the people watching. Dinners came out with a large tray of meats - I tried a few pieces of various types, but I was just too stuffed! Thankfully, dessert was just a shared plate of melons. It was a very strange dinner, but also quite interesting and fun!

Registan Square at night and heading home

After dinner, we returned to Registan square to see it at night when it was all lit up. So cool! There was music playing and the square was mostly closed off, while people were just sitting on the steps and grass enjoying the atmosphere. We took more photos, mine even sillier thanks to the wine. It was really incredible and a perfect end to our visit to Samarkand!

Our long vans then started the long drive back to Tashkent airport - about a 4 hour drive leaving around 10pm. I somehow managed to get a little bit of sleep on the very very bumpy ride on the short seats. We stopped about halfway through for a bathroom break - the bathroom was so so so gross. This is when I prefer to pee outside. We got to the airport at about 2am, paid our tips to Dilya and the drivers and sleepily checked in. The airport was very small with absolutely nothing to do, so four of us just sat on the floor near the gate and waited for our flight. It was another full flight and I think I got about an hour of sleep before arriving in Dubai almost 4 hours later, taking a taxi home, and getting in a short nap before starting work. What a very busy very fun weekend!!!


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5th October 2021

Samarkand
My jewel of the Old Silk Road is the Registan in Samarkand...where I spent all day on my birthday in 2019 soaking it in...our last trip before the pandemic hit. Great pics Alexis...great memories for you of an incredible city that was on all the maps in ancient times.
6th October 2021

Samarkand
Yes, it was so beautiful and so much to see and do! It's hard to believe we spent less than a day there as we were constantly on the move.
8th October 2021

Samarkand
Thanks for sharing the beauty and history. Great blogs.

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