TWC'S Odyssey
Tan Wee Cheng's Travels in the Central Asian Republics of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan

12 Jul   Samarkand
The bus journey lasted 15 hours, passing through the boundless steppes of southern Kazakstan.  We passed Kazak territories twice on the way to Samarkand, the first time was a long stretch between Bishkek and Tashkent, and then a very short stretch between Tashkent and Samarkand.  Stalin sure had great fun drawing boundaries which had little resemblance to the local geographic, ethnic and economic landscapes, and thus created lots of political anomalies in this region.  As a result, the republics were dependent on Moscow as an arbitrator of cross-border disputes.  So much for divide and rule.

Along the way, we passed through vegetable farms, wheat fields, ugly industrial towns, wild desert wastelands, as well as a mini-sandstorm and a brief shower.  Finally reached Samarkand early in the morning.

200 som banknote (seldom-seen) showing a tiger from the Registan. Registan Square: The glory of Uzbekistan. Registan Square on stamp.
Robert at the Registan Me in front of the Registan More of me and the monument

"In all the other parts of the world light descends upon earth.  From holy Samarkand and Bukhara, it ascends."

              Local proverb.

 "For lust of knowing what should not be known,
 We take the golden road to Samarkand."

              James Elroy Flecker, Hassan, 1913.

Well, we reached Samarkand without any Uzbek soms on hand, and a taxi driver offered to change with us for 175 Soms = US$1 (This is the black market rate; Official rate is 90 soms = US$1).  Although we had agreed on US$1 for the ride to Hotel Samarkand from the bus station, this chap later demanded US$3

At Hotel Samarkand, we borrowed the hotel phone (for free) to ring Kutbiya Rafiewa (Address: Iskandarow Str., 38, 703012 Samarkand, Tel: [3662] 352092, 353823, 354527) who runs a homestay at her home near Guri Amir (Tamerlane, or more politically correct, Timur's Mausoleum).  Yes, she had vacancies and her sister, Aziza, brought us to the place - a traditional house with a vine-sheltered courtyard (US$8 per person, plus US$3 for an enormous dinner).  We were to spend the next few nights in a shed in the garden.  Here we were surrounded by apple trees, mulberry trees, pomegranate trees, etc, as well as an inquisitive cat and some chickens.  Best of all was this very friendly family who was always providing us with lots of tea and snacks, as well as a lively exchange of views and ideas.  We have learned so much about this beautiful country and her people as well as their aspirations, after a few late night conversations with Aziza and a few of her other English-speaking relatives.

A special note must be made for a bed-like platform called the takhta in Uzbek or chorpoy in Tajik.  Uzbek and Tajik family and social life evolve round this platform.  The takhta (or chorpoy) is usually covered with carpets and sometimes has a little table on it.  Families eat on it and remain there after meals chatting, when having no other tasks round the house.  Many restaurants and choyhonas (teahouses) also have such platforms where men sit around chatting about life and current affairs.  Soviet rule did nothing to change this age-old custom.  Such platforms are found even below modern apartment blocks.

More tigers Ulughbek Medressa Sher Dor (Tiger) Medressa
Inside the Medressas: Light "Wedding Ceremony" - a play Inside glories
"Risghistan of Samarkand was originally, and is still even in its ruin, the noblest public square in the world."

            G.N. Curzon, Russia in Central Asia, 1889

After settling down and a quick bath, we visited the renowned Registan (As grand as it sounds, it was built by Timur with the craftsmen of the Eurasian lands he conquered.  Definitely the most beautiful monument in Uzbekistan.) and the Bazaar (Very Middle Eastern in atmosphere but nothing in scale when compared with those in Istanbul and Cairo.).  We also passed the Bibi Khanum, Timur's grand mosque (to be built without grandeur anywhere), shrouded with the restorers' scaffolding and cranes.  Apparently, it has been in restoration for the past decade or so, as an Italian I met later told me.  He had been here in the 1980's when this was still the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic.  In the evening, we watched the "Wedding Ceremony", a cultural drama performance, at the Registan Square (US$7).  Despite Samarkand's legendary reputation, there were few tourists.  Indeed there were only four tourists watching 20 plus performers.

Uzbek-Tajik musicians "Wedding Ceremony" - a play Join the fun !

Click to here to go to next page: Samarkand II



Heart of the Silk Road 
Click here to send an email to Tan Wee Cheng