Samarkand. I was excited at the thought of Samarkand. It was a place that, for me, conjures up a picture of a city shimmering in the heat, of camels and traders and the air tainted with the smell of leather and spice. I guess this all comes from thoughts of the Silk Road and my reading around it. Whatever it was, I was excited.
We left Tashkent on yet another sunny day – we have been so lucky with the weather and have had no rain since Pingyao in China – all those years ago, or so it seems!
The countryside now is very ‘grown up’. There are large fields watered by a comprehensive network of large concrete irrigation channels. All sorts of crops are evident, some fields are lying fallow but are tilled – looking alert and ready for action – and the inevitable cotton. For some time a railway line runs parallel to us with stations appearing at odd intervals but looking more like bus stops than anything else. Long goods trains trundle past with a range of goods wagons – tankers, ships containers and some just open with a wooden framework, their contents delivered or still to come.
Many of the rural roads are edged with stalls selling large water melons and squash, the stall holders sitting patiently under any shade they can get and spattered with dust from the road. There are so many I cannot see how any can earn a living wage.
In contrast, the majority of cars that pass us are up to date and in good condition. Chevrolet seems the car of choice and white the preferred colour. The number of cars is interesting given that there is a fuel shortage. When we first heard of this when we were driving over the Namangen pass in our fleet of cars, we thought it a temporary issue. However, it appears to be a permanent situation. The truck seems to make a fuel stop very infrequently, but Simon took the opportunity when he could of filling up and mountains of notes were handed over.
The other driving issue is the checkpoints that appear at very regular intervals. Sometimes we stop and sometimes we are waved through – there seems to be no rhyme nor reason to it.
As the day wore on we were back to an area of desert with the vague mauve shape of mountains in the far distance. I dozed….., Then we were there!
Samarkand, one of the most famous cities of the Silk Road. Cross roads to China, India and the West. Capital city of the mighty Timor. Demolished by Gengis Khan. It rose and fell so many times. And we had arrived.
Our first ancient sighting was Ulugbeg’s Astronomical Observatory, a tile covered building sitting on raised ground outside of the crumbling city wall. We then entered the city. Once again the wide boulevards of a Russian city with lots of trees lining the road. Before long we came across the enormous statute of Timor – hero of the area who made Samarkand his capital in the 1500’s. He stares over the main road roadways, still a heavy presence.
Our hotel was light and modern, but the wifi which have not had for several days was poor.
We ate supper in the outside courtyard of a large restaurant called the Samarkand where two men played typical Uzbek music on a drum and violin and lost the battle with the disco music of a wedding inside. The decor of the place was very modern and interesting – a mix of mosaics, whitewashed walls and exposed brickwork.
The walk back in the dark was a bit scary as we had not thought to take torches, there are no street lights and I think the paving is the original city paving from 600 BC! It was certainly haphazard and subject to large craters opening up when least expected! Despite this the journey home was accomplished and we adjourned with a sightseeing day in Samarkand ahead of us! Great!