Samarkand – a city to inspire
|The majestic Registan square|
The city of Samarkand is an exotic destination described in the 1913 James Elroy Flecker poem.
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 travelled the 290km from Tashkent to Samarkand by local taxi. Incredibly this cost a mere £16 each despite the distance. Our taxi driver liked to drive at break neck speed. Even at warp factor three, it takes four and a half hours of racing and weaving along the lane less highway.
Where to stay in Samarkand
We arrived in one piece to Samarkand. We were staying at the Jahongir hotel. This modest but charming hotel is secreted down a small dusty street in great central location. It is only yards away from the famous and fantastic Registan square. 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.
Samarkand – introducing the Topchan!
I fell in love with the Topchans in Uzbekistan. Topchans are raised platform seats with bright cushions and mattresses. They have a table at the centre for eating and drinking. They are comfortable islands for people to relax and socialise on, or even sleep on. No need to trek upstairs for your pyjamas and bedroom, just roll over and snooze away on your Topchan!
The Topchans at the Jahongir have a canopy of vines over them. The vines are heavy with bunches of grapes giving the space a secluded garden feel. This delightful family run hotel is in the heart of the ancient city of Samarkand 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.
Almost completely destroyed by the Mongol ruler Ghengis Khan, Samarkand rose to prominence once more in the 14th century when Timur 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)
Samarkand – book everything in advance!
Before we headed to the Registan square we had to go to the train station to buy our onward tickets to our next stop, Bukhara. In Uzbekistan, 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 expensive but you get so many Sum to the dollar that you need a big pile of money to purchase anything substantial. In some cases a very big pile indeed!
|Show me the money!|
Samarkand – Registan square
There was an international oriental music festival happening the night we were in Registan Square. We tried making a direct request to the festival press office, but 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!
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.
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. 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.
Samarkand – where to eat
We ate that night at a simple local cafe recommended by our hotel. The menu was customarily confusing. There are no pictures and nothing is in English. We tried ordering a chicken Caesar salad. It turned up without any chicken in it. It was a sort of ham and coleslaw arrangement. This isn’t Caesar salad we pointed out. ‘Well I’ve made it now,’ was the casual 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 is a 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 our Uzbekistan journey. The next stop the silk road. The city of Bukhara
|Time out on the Topchan|