Madressah at the Registan
This was an ancient Islamic school set in the Registan. Wish my school looked like that.
We woke up bright and early to catch a shared taxi to Samarkand - our next stop on the trip. Uzbekistan has this super-convenient means of traveling between cities - shared taxis. All you do is turn up and the shared taxi stand, fight through the rabble of taxi drivers that swarm you because you're a tourist, and then negotiate a price per seat in a taxi going to your city of choice. The nice thing about this is you get to travel with other people in a confined car - which guarantees some level of interaction. We only had to wait about 20 minutes to get a full car, and during that time, we got to chat with lots of friendly taxi drivers, who seemed thrilled that we were married, and horrified that we had no kids.
Alas, we sadly got a car of rather surly people. In the front seat was "angry russian mama" who didn't even return our friendly cries of drasvuityeh (hello). Beside me was "leering Kazim" who leered at us suspiciously for the first hour. Food is always a great way to make friends, so we tried to erase the scowl from "leering Kazim"
Its amazing that so much colour and detail has been preserved. Actually, its just very well restored.
by offering him some raisins that we picked up the day before - we achieved moderate success - his scowl was now replaced by a blank dazed look.
The drive was still quite fun though as we got to see the local countryside, and more importantly enjoy some crazy driving. We flew - hitting speeds up to 150km/h, on roads that were moderately good, but with occasional massive potholes. We felt so sorry for the poor tires/suspension of the taxi as the driver showed no mercy. His general principle for driving was "see a pothole - go straight for it, see a blind corner - try overtaking across it". It was fun though, and most importantly got us to Samarkand in a record 3.5 hours.
Samarkand is known as the romantic capital of the Silk Road, and was where all the traders who were cool used to hang out enroute from Europe to China. It was also the capital of the largest empire ever conquered by a single king - the empire of Tamerlane (this is what were were told anyway). Back in the day, Samarkand was your typical Islamic city, full of massive minarets, palaces, emirs, guys
on camels, etc. Alas, today, its been replaced by a sprawling city, that thankfully though has managed to fairly well preserve some of its more beautiful old buildings.
After checking into our B&B, Hotel Zarina (which to those who are interested, I would NOT recommend as it was IMHO overpriced for what we got), we headed over to the major attraction - the Registan. The Samarkand Registan (meaning city square) over the centuries has been described as the "most beautiful", "most majestic", "most romantic" and "awe-inspiring" collection of buildings in the whole Islamic world. And even today, its pretty darn beautiful. To be honest, we both felt that this was better than the Taj Mahal - much more colourful, more beautiful, although a little bit smaller. Basically, its 3 massive 'typical' Islamic buildings (ie. minarets, fancy roofs, coloured dome) that have all been preserved in all their beauty. You can just imagine what this would have looked like before all the surrounding buildings were built - alone surrounded by sandy desert - a sparkling beauty that you'd glimpse from your camel. It truly would have been breathtaking.
So .... we took lots of pictures - and I mean
lots. And ... we also posed for lots of pictures. Why? Because this place had a few local tourists - and they all were 'thrilled' so see an Indian-looking guy. It was fun for the first few photos, and even a little flattering to suddenly be mobbed by groups of eager girls demanding a photo and fighting to stand next to me. More worrying was the numerous gangs of guys that also were fighting to stand beside me, and to put their arms around my shoulder. Mothers were the most 'testing' though, as they all wanted to get that 'perfect' picture with their little kids. All that 'forced smiling' practice on our wedding day came in useful, as I'm sure we took over 30 photos that day with random people. That was a taste for what was to come in future days (see future blogs).
We also had lunch at this great little restaurant where you get to sit cross-legged at raised tables. This has to be the coolest thing about eating in Uzbekistan because you can sprawl out on big cushions and really rest your aching feet. Lunch was a huge affair, with MASSIVE shashkaleik (meat on sticks),
How I love thee ... sigh
meat dumplings, meat cutlets, and meat soup. Note the common theme - meat. They eat a LOT of meat here - and amazingly, meat is actually cheaper than salads. And they really know how to make meat taste good - I guess its the extra fat and oil that they drizzle on that gives it the extra sumptuous taste.... mmmm ....
In the evening we headed over to the "Gur Emir", final resting ground of Tamerlane, king of the world in the 1300s. Despite his requests to be buried in a 'humble' tomb, his subjects built him this awesomely huge monument - pretty impressive. It was then time to wander through the back streets and meet more locals. This time we stumbled upon a whole gang of cute little girls playing with a huge skipping rope. We were amazed at how friendly everybody was - even the local mothers came out for a chat. It was good friendly fun, although we kind of got a bit tired of the 'where are you from' question - though we did discover that Uzbek for China is 'htoi' which, when said, sounds like your spitting on somebody.
That night we wandered
What a greedy wife
Shashkaleik, Meat dumplings, and some other things on sticks
around 'new Samarkand' - the more modern part of the city - and had dinner at a Russian restaurant. Once again, it was 'random' ordering from the Russian menu, but alas, this time we ended up with one HUGE piece of chicken that truly can only be described as the dry stringy stuff you get at camps. Oh well, you can't win them all.
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