Saturday, 18 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 2: Tashkent – Samarkand

Just after midnight there was a earthquake which woke several members of our party. Not me though, I didn't feel a thing.

The main task of today was to travel by train from Tashkent to Samarkand. A bus took us to the station where we loaded ourselves into 12 seats in a 2nd class carriage. The train left exactly on time and shortly afterwards the overhead video kicked into life and showed a series of Uzbek pop video clips and a full concert of various singers performing a mix of modern and traditional songs accompanied by dancers in national costume If you're a dancer you may know of Laurel Grey and The Silk Road Company in the US who perform the Central Asian dance styles. The conductor came round taking everyone's orders for tea (pronounced choi here). The most important question in Uzbekistan is “Green or Black”.

Amir Timur mausoleum, Samarkand
In the front of the carriage was a group of young guys who didn't seem to stop eating throughout the entire 3.5 hour trip, all the while sharing bottles of “Coke” out of plastic bags. The contents of these bottles caused them to become louder and more boisterous as time went on. When we arrived at Samarkand we were greeted by many local women selling large circular loaves of unleavened bread called non. We bought a couple and learned that non weighs a ton! We headed to the Orient Star Hotel our base for the next 3 nights in Samarkand. The Orient Star's main claim to fame is that all the hotel room doors open outwards into the narrow hallway. I think the best idea is to knock before you exit your room to give people in the hallway time to get out of the way.

We headed out to have lunch in a local restaurant and I met plov for the first time. If vodka is the national drink of Uzbekistan, then plov is the national dish. It's like a pilau consisting of rice with vegetables, usually carrots, with chunks of meat on top. Its eaten for lunch mainly and restaurants only make enough to sell and once its gone – that's it until tomorrow. It's common practice if someone is looking for a late lunch to phone a several restaurants to find out which one has some plov left over. Uzbeki's claim there are 100 different ways to cook plov and that the best plov is cooked by men outdoors. Our guide Bahador remarked that an Uzbek man would not be considered a good husband unless he can cook an acceptable plov, which is interesting considering how macho Uzbek society seems to be. After lunch we went on to the the mausoleum of Amir Temir, better known in the west as Tamerlane, “The Terror of the World”. Tamerlane lies beneath a glorious dome, his grave marked by a black-green slab of marble, surrounded by the graves of various of his teachers and several of his sons. The tombstones are markers for the actual graves which lie in exactly the same layout in the crypt underneath.

From there we moved on to the Registan Complex, possibly the most famous of Samarkand's treasures, . The Registan is made up of 3 huge madrassah (schools) and like all of the sites we've been to, there's a entrance charge per person (usually about 4,500 sum) plus a charge for each camera (about 1,500 sum). Construction of the first madrassa began in 1417 by Tamerlane's grandson Uleg Beg. Its a large building with a ribbed turquoise dome in a shape reminiscent of a lemon squeezer. The exterior is covered in ceramic tiles in blue, turquoise and green.

The Registan, Samarkand
The second building, constructed in 1619 was the Shir Dor Madrassa which is almost a mirror image of the Uleg Beg madrassa. The Shir Dor is notable for the depiction in mosaic tiles of lions and suns with human faces above its main entry.

The final madrassa is Tillya Kari with magnificent mosaics covering every wall in floral and geometric patterns. Construction of the Tillya Kari started in 1646. One of the hujara (student rooms) contains a small carpet workshop and Cathy and I watched a couple of nimble fingered ladies sitting crosslegged at an upright loam weaving on a silk carpet.

I've been surprised by the popularity of gold tooth fillings here. These went out of favour in NZ in my father's generation but it seems that in Uzbekistan everyone, even young people, have mouthfuls of gold.. The fillings possibly are like jewellery or an investment, the gold can be extracted and sold if times are tough. Some Uzbek smiles are quite literally 'pure gold' and reminiscent of Odd Job, the toothsome villain in one of the James Bond movies.

1 comment:

  1. tashkent to samarkand