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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Samarkand

 

Next morning, rest day over, we decided to travel to Samarkand.  I was not due in Tashkent until the Sunday night and so we had all of Saturday free to reach our destination.  Another colleague had already recommended an inexpensive bed and breakfast in Samarkand and so we were set.  I asked again about a map at this point.  Umar told me that you couldn't buy a map of Uzbekistan in Tajikistan, which I suppose I had already guessed, but one often lives in hope.  But he felt sure he knew the way as he was there twenty years ago and most probably it hadn't moved.

The open border crossing with Uzbekistan, is not far from Khujand and was a surprisingly smooth crossing, all things being considered. I was impressed how all officials met us politely and appeared to make the necessary bureaucratic processes and checks as trouble free as possible.  I suppose it helped that we were the only car crossing and a diplomatic one at that and so the vehicle registration and other formalities were a little easier than for others.

Once on the open road in Uzbekistan we seemed to make good early progress towards Samarkand.  I still felt uneasy not having a map, but Umar reeled off the names of towns and villages we should pass through, which indeed we did and so all was well.  We had the latest 'Now That's What I Call Uzbek Music' on loudly in the car as we enjoyed the relatively empty roads and tucked into tasty fruits picked up from a roadside stall overflowing with autumnal mellow fruitfulness.  Thirty minutes later and things changed.  The road which runs from Tashkent to Samarkand disappeared. And then from the depths of my memory I recalled reading that part of Kazakhstan jutted into Uzbekistan and that the original main road, which we were looking for, had been diverted some years back after some dispute or other over the  border.  I made a note to research the story later, but in the mean time we needed to re-join the permanent diversion needed to avoid crossing the blocked Kazakh quasi-isthmus.  After 10 minutes of swearing at google maps on an iphone we sought the help of some men working by the roadside.  As is customary in most parts of the world, in my experience, the answer to the question 'which direction?' is usually 'straight ahead!', but fortunately in this instance it was to be right. Soon we were back on track and hurtling past cotton fields alive with weekend cotton pickers and dancing storks. 

After Tajikistan the Uzbek landscape at this easterly end of that country is quite uneventful and without dramatic feature, consisting mostly of either arid plain or cotton fields. But this doesn't matter and in fact makes the arrival in Samarkand all the more special.  Interesting old buildings, the buzz of city life and soviet style tree line boulevards almost appear from nowhere.  Travelling deeper into Samarkand in search of our budget guesthouse, we passed the Registan, Bibi Khanym Mosque and the Shrines of the Zakhi Zinda complex.  I was already drawing a mental note of my walking tour for later.

Guest house found, safely checked in and refreshed, we ventured out in the late afternoon heat.  Even the autumn can still be warm during the day in southern Central Asia.  I was keen to get an early feel for the size and grandeur of the Registan square and attendant mosque and madrassa buildings.  I was not disappointed.  There are those who are sniffy about the reconstruction and improvement which are often made to such ancient sites in order to satisfy tourists brought up on CGI and theme parks, but in this case, at least, I believe it works well.  I would rank this place among one of my favourite ancient sites. 

We spent an enjoyable 24 hours in Samarkand.  Umar and an old school chum, now living in Samarkand, showed me around the city and introduced me to the bazaars.  I am not ordinarily a keen shopper for souvenirs, but the atmosphere and earnest bargaining in the bazaars was exciting and persuaded me to part with my money.  Suzani embroidery, atlas and adras fabric and colourful ceramics are all tempting here.  And had I had more time I would like to have dug deeper for other markets offering antiques and collectibles – my nose for these things told me they were out there - somewhere.

After a tasty Samarkand plov lunch in the Stolovaya attached to the main Bazaar, Umar and I bade farewell to our Samarkand friends (several by now) and set out for Tashkent.  We made good time on the road and this time remembered the Kazakhstan detour!  We were in Tashkent by teatime and well in time for the beginning of the next part of my official programme.  As we sat eating Naryn (a bit like a horse meat spag bol as far as I could see) that evening in a Tashkent canteen we talked about the political issues holding back full intra-regional integration in Central Asia.  However, in an odd way, I had been glad that closed borders and a lack of direct flights had allowed us to see and experience so much more than an hour long flight would have delivered.  Strangely we were already looking forward to our return journey, wondering what new experiences it might afford us.  But for now we satisfied ourselves with the tasty naryn and looked forward to a very comfortable Tashkent hotel.

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Clearly the most revered and coveted architectural wonder of Central Asia (and the world) is the Shah-I Zinda, a collection of mausoleums in Samarkand. Photogenic beyond words, this site is undoubtedly best experienced in person as opposed to descriptions in a blog – like this one! If you choose any of our Uzbekistan tours, you will certainly pay a visit to the Shah-I Zinda.

While many architectural sites along the Great Silk Road were constructed singularly, the Shah-I Zinda is one of the few that has many gems located in one place. According to legend, Muhammad’s cousin, Qusam b. Abbas, came to Samarkand in the 7th century A.D. to spread the message of Islam, but his efforts were rejected and he was subsequently decapitated. Furthermore following the lead of Khizr, descended into a well where he still resides as the “Living King”. It wasn’t until the Timurid Dynasty in the 14th century that that this legend gained acceptance by the royalty and many people wished to be buried near Abbas. This was when the beautiful mausoleums we see today commenced their construction.

Later, further archaeological studies revealed that the earliest structures of the Shah-I Zinda were built in the 11th century. It wasn’t until after the Mongol invasion in the early 13th century that the city was moved from Afrasiyab Hill (present location of Shan-I Zinda) to its current location. After that, it became the necropolis that we know so well today.

There’s been plenty written about the Shah-I Zinda and it’s easy to find much information about it. However, the most striking aspect of each mausoleum is the stunning and exquisite tiles. Each tile is a work of art that reflects the creativity and respect for beauty that the artisans possessed.

Interestingly, it is still possible for Muslims to be buried at the Shah-I Zinda, although it is quite expensive. If you meet the requirements for burial, ask your guide for more details.

Finally, be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water to keep you hydrated for this portion of your tour. The best times to visit are early in the morning and late in the evening. Talk to your Five Stans Adventure guide to make your arrangements as you make your way on your memorable Uzbekistan tours!

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When you return from a business trip, would you consider constructing a beautiful mosque in your town? Well, that’s what Tamerlane did when he returned from his sacking of Delhi in 1399 and the result was the Bibi Khanym Mosque in Samarkand. Easily one of the most recognizable buildings in the city, it is an essential stop during your Uzbekistan tours!

Named after his wife, Tamerlane ordered his architect to construct a mosque that met his specifications. To do this, precious stones were carried by 90 elephants from India to Samarkand. Later, Tamerlane’s illustrious grandson, Ulughbek, constructed an oversized book stand to hold a Koran. Construction was completed in 1404 with dimensions of 109 x 167 meters! Unfortunately, the building quickly deteriorated through the centuries – starting with the domes later in the 13th century – from a combination of poor design, materials, disuse, and hurried pace of construction until an earthquake in 1897 brought about a partial collapse. It remained in disrepair until 1974 when efforts were made to reconstruct this architectural gem. Today the mosque remains unfinished and while every effort was made to retain the original building, architectural flaws forced it to be replaced with a replica.

Today it is possible to relive the grandeur of Samarkand through this architectural gem – the Bibi Khanym Mosque. I recommend that you search for old photographs of it on the internet and compare them to what you see during your Uzbekistan tours. You will be amazed at the accuracy of the refurbishment, but furthermore, you will be awed by the drive of Tamerlane as he pushed the limits of architectural technology in the 13th century!

Hmmmm…when I return from a business trip, I’m usually cutting the grass. Why couldn’t I be more like Tamerlane???

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One of the most brilliant military tactics of Alexander the Great was to psychologically outmaneuver his opponents. There’s no better example of this than what he did at Sogdian Rock. Through the ages, archaeologists and historians have been unable to ascertain the exact location where this battle took place, but it’s safe to say that it was in the vicinity north of Samarkand. Given this information, a good tour guide  during your Uzbekistan tours can take you to the general area where the descriptions of the geography come close to what Alexander’s army was facing in the spring of 327 B.C.

As Alexander was completing his conquest of the Achaemenid Empire his opponent, Oxyartes of Bactria, sent his wife and daughters – one of whom was Alexander’s future wife, Roxana – to the security of a fort on the top of a steep mountain and supplied it with ample provisions in anticipation of the long siege. When Alexander’s troops arrived the defenders of the fort refused to surrender and added “Your men will need wings to capture this fort!” Never one to back down from a challenge, Alexander made the call for volunteers and was able to secure 300 men to scale the mountain side during the night. Thirty men perished at the attempt, but in the morning when Alexander pointed out that 290 men were above them ready to attack, the demoralized defenders meekly surrendered despite outnumbering Alexander 100 – 1 and his remaining force was still on the ground with no way to climb up!

As the defenders exited the fort among them was Roxana, the 2nd most beautiful woman in Asia, while most contemporary observers placed Darius’ wife as the most beautiful. Alexander proceeded to marry Roxana and from Bactria he moved south to continue his record of conquest into India.

You can still visit this area to get an idea of what Alexander and his army was against, although nobody is quite certain of the exact location. If you decide to go on an Uzbekistan tours and are in Samarkand, Five Stans Adventure can organize an excursion that will take you to an area that possibly could be where the battle was fought.

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Another option for travelers is to ride the modern, comfortable, and quick Afrosiab train between Samarkand and Tashkent! Introduced in 2011 and built by a Spanish company, a second train was added to the route in 2012. While many people prefer taking the trip by private car or flying, others may enjoy the added romance that only a train can provide. If you decide to take the Afrosiab, it will make your Uzbekistan tours an unforgettable one!

You will have provides ample opportunities to capture some of the most breathtaking scenery as it winds its way from Tashkent though Syrdariya and Jizzak until its arrival in magnificent Samarkand. While traveling by car takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes for the 344 km trip, the Afrosiab will get you to your destination in 2 hours and 15 minutes. The train consists of 2 business class cars, 2 VIP cars, and 4 economy cars, and has enough seating for 257 people. There’s a bistro that’s located in the middle of the train that offers snacks and drinks for the trip. Despite this, feel free to pack your own goodies if you prefer. Additionally, there’s plenty of space to place your luggage.

Usually, the Afrosiab departs Tashkent in the morning and returns in the evening, but check with your tour guide to ensure the correct arrival/departure times. Prices vary between the various classes, so choose the one that fits your budget best.

Riding the train is always an adventure, but you will be pleasantly surprised at the level of comfort and courteous service. Consider taking the Afrosiab train as a part of your Uzbekistan tours to enhance your experience in the land of 1001 nights!

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We have a profound understanding of the attraction that Uzbekistan (and Central Asia) has for tourists and we offer many variations of our Uzbekistan tours packages. But one city seems to set itself apart from the others because of the historical, architectural, and cultural impact it’s had on the region. That city is Samarkand; the home of many of the world’s most famous architectural gems that millions of tourists have already discovered. While the list of these gems is very long, arguably the most famous structure in Samarkand is the Gur-I Amir, or “Tomb of the King.”

It is the mausoleum of Tamerlane (1336 – 1405), the great Central Asian conqueror. Eventually it became the family crypt of the Timurid Dynasty. Originally, it was constructed with the idea that it would be the tomb for Muhammad Sultan, Tamerlane’s grandson. However, Tamerlane’s sudden death coincided with the inability to transport his body to his tomb in Shakhrisabz. Therefore, he was laid to rest in Samarkand.

Only a novelist could describe this beauty, so I’ll keep my words simple. From the outside, the most memorable aspect to be seen is the azure fluted dome. The walls are decorated with blue, light-blue, and white tiles, and organized into various designs. Inside the mausoleum there is a high chamber with deep niches and various, diverse decorations. I told you I was going to keep this simple, didn't I? When you're on the Uzbekistan tours of your choice, be sure to take as many photos while you're there. It's amazing how quickly the time will pass while standing in the middle of this great city!

After reading my description your next best option is to look at the pictures you can find all over the internet to get an idea of the intricate artistic works. On the other hand, anyone can do that, right?

But the best – and only – option is to come here and see this ancient wonder, the Gur-I Amir, for yourself! Find a trusted tour operator to support your dream to visit this and many other architectural gems in Uzbekistan and throughout Central Asia! Already, countless tourists achieve their dreams, so now is the time for you to select the Uzbekistan tours to help you live your dream!

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