This has just been one of those epic days that I will remember for the rest of my life.
We arrived yesterday off a six-hour bus ride from Tashkent, we had stopped at a lovely roadside restaurant where some people celebrating a birthday has sent us over a bottle of cognac and chocolate among other things.
We arrived into Samarkand as the sun was setting between the mountains and dusk was falling on the Mausoleum of Tamerlane, who they call Amir Timur. We checked into Hotel Disholda after a long day and woke up early for our city tour the next day.
I was expecting Denis this morning, who was our guide last time and who I really like, instead I got Lina, who I don’t know. After all this time as a tour leader, sometimes I just go with it. So off we went.
Our first stop was the Amir Timur mausoleum which is just outside our hotel, the tomb of the great traveller and conqueror is something not to be missed on a trip to Samarkand.
It has a single blue dome and two minarets, it isn’t a mosque though and what you really want to see is the interior. I have to tell my group to look at their feet until they are fully inside, or else risk someone tripping over after being blown away by the dome and decoration inside the place. The dome is decorated in 2kg of gold along and the walls are inlaid with all kinds of precious materials, including jade and onyx. The tombs of Timur and his family lie in the centre of the one great room, surrounded by arches in the gazelle’s foot design, again etched in gold.
The following stop is a weird one, the observatory of Ulugh beg, the grandson of Timur, where in around 600 AD the great astronomer had built a giant sextant for his astronomical calculations. There is also a small museum, my favourite piece is an etching of Ulugh beg with astronomers from difference time periods, below is a quote: “I leave my work to my deserved ancestors”
Lina takes us also to a stop I have not visited, the museum of Afrosiab, which is the ancient name of Samarkand, and the place name by which Alexander the Great had called it. The museum was small and houses some great reliefs from the ancient city. Next to the museum is the old settlement site of Afrosiab, little more than a dusty hill…the view of the city from the spot is amazing and just knowing that Alexander once walked these streets after conquering the city made history echo across the ages right down to where I was standing at that moment.
Lina took us to a local restaurant for lunch, we watched Polov being made and had a feast for 20000 sum each, which is about $3 AUD. The entire bill for 14 of us was $32 AUD.
We left the lunch stop and headed for the Registan, which last time, I hadn’t been overly impressed with for some reason. This time it was totally different. It wasn’t crowded and there was Arabian style music echoing around the square as they practiced for the light show which is apparently tonight. At one point, I stood on a ledge overlooking the square, not caring that the group had gone ahead of my and just stared and the epic place I was standing in. It is so hard to describe I place, that I feel probably hasn’t changed all that much since Alexander came through here in about 320AD.
The minarets of the buildings towered over me, and blue of the domes shone in the sun and everywhere there were local people wearing their national dress and saying hello to me and smiling as if I, instead of this magnificent site, were the attraction. The music filled the air, my skin tingled and my head swam with the giddy sensation of being in such a place and the sheer wonderfulness that it is still basically off the regular tourist’s radar and I selfishly got to have the experience of it all to myself.
We did some shopping in the old madrassa and then Lina organised for some of us to climb one of the minarets, which is something you are really not allowed to do, but hey, money talks very loudly here. We paid the caretaker and three by three we were allowed to climb the Registan’s leaning minaret. It was the steepest climb I’ve ever done and the view from the top was unreal, as well as scary with no fences. Just me standing at the top of Central Asia looking out over all the blue domes.
When we came down, I helped the group with some more shopping and Lina introduced me to some of the shop keepers, “This is Kristina, she is one of the great travelers.” I’ve never been so proud of the way someone has introduced me before and in Samarkand, one of the great crossroads of humanity no less.
I will let the likes of Marco Polo, Tamerlane, Alexander and Heracles know that I am ready to join the ranks of the great travelers of history.
After finishing up at the Registan, we walked the group to the Bibi khanym mosque, which is a bit unstable as most of it was destroyed in an earthquake. The façade of the mosque is still so massive, that when you get close it blacks the sun and makes you feel like an insignificant bit of carbon.
On the way out of the mosque, we had a quick whip round the old bazaar which has been in use since the glory days of the old Silk Road and then went on to the Necropolis where many people of note are interred in their crypts with more wonderful blue domes. There is a lot of climbing about here, and after the episode with the minaret I opted to sit this one out and wait for the group.
City tour over, and we returned to the hotel for a rest for about an hour before going out for dinner and a local family run restaurant, where we had the usual feast with the table set out like the court of Henry IIIV. There was some traditional Sogdian dancing on tonight and again I felt like I had been thrown back in time and was watching Alexander’s Roxana dance for him for the first time when he fell in love with her.
We got back to the hotel and everyone except Sally and I went to bed, we decided to go for a walk to the Registan, which we expected to be flood lit. It was dark, but still very atmospheric and well worth the adventure it was to walk to.
It’s days like today, which remind me why I got back into the tour leading gig, remind me how much I love travelling and how much this world of ours really has to offer and also that I still have a long, long way to go.
In the immortal words of Alexander, “I fear, this world is far bigger than you or I ever dreamed, Hephaistion.”