Samarkand on the Silk Road and the Jahongir Hotel

 

The majestic Registan square

The city of Samarkand, – an exotic faraway place I knew only through reading the 1913 James Elroy Flecker poem as a child – and now here I was!

And how beguile you? Death has no repose 
Warmer and deeper than the Orient sand 
Which hides the beauty and bright faith of those 
Who make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.

We had travelled the 290km from Tashkent to Samarkand at high speed in a local taxi, and even at warp factor three, it had taken four and a half hours of racing and weaving along the lane less highway. We arrived in the evening at the charming Jahongir hotel which is to be found secreted down a small dusty street in great central location and only yards away from the famous and fantastic Registan square. Behind a modest exterior this little oasis of a hotel was one of my favourite places I stayed in Uzbekistan. The staff are super friendly and helpful and the simple rooms are colourfully furnished in Uzbek textiles and hangings. Breakfast was simple but tasty with always slices of deliciously sweet melon to enjoy.

Morning!

I fell in love with the Topchans in Uzbekistan, raised platforms with bright cushions and mattresses with a table at the centre for eating and drinking.They are comfortable islands for people to relax on and socialise in, or even sleep on. No need to trek upstairs for your pyjamas and bedroom, just roll over and snooze away on your Topchan!

 

Terrific on the Topchan!

The Topchans at the Jahongir have a canopy of vines over them with huge bunches of grapes hanging giving the space a secluded garden feel. This delightful family run hotel is in the heart of the ancient city which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Samarkand means ‘stone rock’ or ‘stone fort’ and the city occupied a central position on the Silk Road.between China and the West.

 

 

Timur was big in Samarkand

Almost completely destroyed by the Mongol ruler Gengis Khan, Samarkand rose to prominence once more in the 14th century when Temur or Tamerlane made Samarkand the capital of his empire. Timur put Samarkand on the world map and he was responsible for most of the architecture still visible today. After more turbulent centuries the city was taken by Russia and became the capital of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR)

 

Top tiles

Before we headed to the Registan square we had to go to the train station to buy our onward tickets to Bukhara.You can’t book tickets online, and, as you have to show your passport it always has to be done in person. The fastest train, the Afrosyob, was already booked up so we had to book the SHARQ train which took a bit longer. Tickets aren’t that expensive but because you get so many Sum to the dollar you need a big pile of money to purchase anything substantial. In some cases a very big pile indeed!

 

Money man

There was an international oriental music festival happening that night in Registan Square and despite making a direct request to the festival press office, we were unable to get any tickets to attend. Journalists were required to apply more than a month in advance it was explained, and needed to be granted with a press pass etc etc Good old Russian bureaucracy again!

Topchan lunch

We headed off to the square at last in the heat of mid day. The Registan square is a stunning monument of oriental architecture. From three sides the square is surrounded with grand madrassah portals covered in fabulous blue and patterned tiles. Inside, walls and ceilings with rich gold and blue decoration stun the senses.We had a delicious Topchan lunch in a shady square with herb salad and a delicately fried spinach and cheese pancake.

Orientally awesome

This would have been a grand square for commerce, royal announcements, celebrations and executions.There are souvenir shops now in the recesses of the buildings, and tourists browse the pottery and the hats in the hope of capturing something of the romance of this grand destination to take home with them.

Uzbek hat family

It is a majestic place, and a photographer’s dream. It gives a glimpse into that time when the city was great and acted as the commercial artery that was the ancient silk road, bringing wealth and acclaim to Uzbekistan.

Fantastic facade

We ate that night at a simple local cafe where the menu was customarily confusing. The Caesar salad without chicken turned out to be a sort of ham and coleslaw arrangement. This isn’t Caesar salad we pointed out naively. ‘Well I’ve made it now,’ was the perfectly reasoned reply! It was so cheap anyway we didn’t argue. 

Samarkand street life

The local food is generally good – better than I was expecting, but a bit limited in choice. It’s hard to get any fish here for example, as there aren’t really any big bodies of water anywhere near this landlocked country, and the few lakes that are left, are very far away. If you’re a kebab and chips sort of person however, you’ll have no problem at all! 
We said goodbye to Zafar and the staff at the lovely Jahongir hotel and headed off for the next stage of the journey to the next grand silk road city of Bukhara.

Time out on the Topchan

 

Perfect patterns