Nearly at the end of our lockdown armchair travel alphabet, and U is for Uzbekistan – a country I’d always wanted to visit, ever since I first heard about the silk route and saw pictures of incredible Registan Square in Samarkand. So what do you think of, when you think of Uzbekistan? Maybe it’s the same as me – the Golden Road to Samarkand?
The amazing spires and domes of Registan Square. I’ve got so many photos to show you… 116 in fact, so buckle up and let’s start on the road to Samarkand from the capital Tashkent.
Our first port of call was Shahrisabz, the birthplace of Tamburlaine the Great, or Amir Temur as he is known locally. Here’s the Great Man himself
Here’s some of what remains of Amir Temur’s Ak-Serai Palace…
This is the Mausoleum of Jehangir, Timur’s oldest and most favoured son.
And this is the Kuk Gumbaz mosque, a Friday mosque built in 1437 by Sultan, astronomer and mathematician, Ulug Beg.
We continued our drive down to the border town of Termez. As the route is used for smuggling drugs from Afghanistan we were stopped regularly by police – maybe once every half an hour, to check our passports and the boot of the car. All very polite but no nonsense at the same time. Eventually we reached Termez! This was the view outside our hotel:
So there was never any doubt as to where we were! Our tour was to start at the local museum.
But it was a Monday, and the museums were shut. However, our guide also worked at the museum, and she arranged for it to be opened specially for a private tour just for us! That was quite a privilege. We saw loads of riches – here are a few of the exhibits that interested us:
Alexander of the Great Bust – if I read that right
Tamburlaine’s chess set (allegedly)
A fine samovar. And much more, as you’d expect. Our next port of call was the Hakim-al-Termizy mausoleum complex.
Hakim-al-Termizy was a Sufi saint, jurist, and writer who died in Termez in 859. There appears to be a bandstand in the gardens.
See the flat white building behind? That’s a military installation in Afghanistan. That’s how close to the border we were! Nearby is the Fayz Tepe Buddhist Temple – a 2000 years old monastery complex
We also visited Kampyr Tepe, which had just (a matter of days) been released from being a miltary zone and opened up to tourists. There was no one else around for miles, and hardly any excavations had really been completed. Walking around, we spotted these kitchen containers, still in their original location.
And pieces of pottery just laying on the ground
Our final visit of the day was to the Murch Bobo Mosque, the Friday mosque built in 1916. Very colourful!
A slightly nerve-racking drive back from Termez to Samarkand – because none of the petrol stations had any petrol, as the government had sequestered it all for the lorries carrying the freshly picked cotton. So we relied on reused two-litre coke bottles of petrol bought on the black market in villages as we went! But we did reach Samarkand – and all its glories.
Just wandering around on our own, on our first day
so much fantastic architecture
Registan Square itself, made up of madrasahs and a mausoleum
Here is the famous Sher-Dor Madrasah, with its fantasy tigers on the front arch
The magnificence of it all takes your breath away
Plus these buildings are tall! This is the Tilya Kori Madrasah
The arches are immaculately defined
And the decorations extraordinary
Here’s the tomb of Tamburlaine (again allegedly)
Look at all this exquisite internal decoration
This is Ulug Beg’s Observatory, built in the 1420s.
Here is Ulug Beg meeting some other people. And they all look like Ulug Beg.
The Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis. Stunning architecture, housing the bodies of the great and good, including a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed. The roofs under the outside part of the mosques are brightly painted in the Iranian style (apparently).
This is the other major Madrasah, Ulug Beg Madrasah.
We also visited the Bibi Khanum Mosque with its famous stone Koran stand. Childless women are meant to crawl underneath it to make them more fertile.
It’s all beautiful by night too.
And whilst this may look like a welcoming sight – the wine is very sweet and not that great. Still we bought a few bottles to take home, as you do.
Let’s take a pause from all this architectural splendour, and take a look at some markets. Some of them are in the usual format of – well, a market! This is the market in Termez
And this in the capital, Tashkent. Nice melons.
But in most places, people just sell their home/farm grown/caught produce by the roadside. On the way out of Tashkent, people sell their wares out of prams.
If you saw a pram, it never had a baby in it. This one in Khiva contained bread!
Anyway, back to the sightseeing. After we left Samarkand we had a long drive to our next location, Bukhara, crossing the Kyzylkum Desert. Our next night was spent in a desert yurt.
And it was in the middle of nowhere!
Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? I have never, ever been so cold in my life. My uncovered head sneaked out of my sleeping bag overnight and the subsequent headache didn’t lift for three days! I was very happy to move on towards Bukhara.
The outer walls of the fortress are enough to deter any invaders
And the old town is rather attractive – probably the most attractive place we found in the country
The next day our tour started with the Ismael Samani mausoleum
The Memorial complex of Al-Bukhari is a lot more modernAnd the Chashma-Ayub mausoleum, site of Job’s well – and now a museum for the town’s water supply!
This odd design looks as though it could blow over in a strong wind. Not so. It’s the Bolo Hauz Mosque. Very busy on Fridays, when the attendees spill out on to the street.
See the beautiful detail of the tiles
Here’s the Kalon mosque, rebuilt in the early 16th centuryIt’s a stunning sight
Madrasahs fill the courtyards
And more fantasy creatures on the decorations – Simurghs on the portal of Nadir Divan-Beghi madrasah
And the Chor Minor, with its four minarets
We saw the famous Bug Pit – but it was a bit shabby really
Onwards the next day to Khiva, a city protected by UNESCO but which has been transformed into a living museum, so it has a slightly odd feel to it.
This is the lovely Muhammad Amin Khan Madrasa
The walls of the city are immense!
And it’s very atmospheric by night
Various sights include the Kukhna Ark
which offers great views of the city from the top
In the Juma mosque, every pillar has a different carving
In Khiva they celebrate the man who invented algebra, Al-Khorezmi.
Before returning to Tashkent (which we did on a most terrifying broken down old Uzbekistan Airways propeller plane) let’s have a look at some of those exquisite tiles that you find dotted around the entire country.
Tashkent is a modern city. From our hotel room we could see the TV tower straight in front of us!
But there is room for the famous storks too!Which are even immortalised in silver!
A modern Friday Mosque complex
Not sure the brooms in the market are that modern though!
And the super pears are imported from China!
There are modern statues! This is the Monument to the Fallen in the Wars
And this is the Memorial to the survivors of the Earthquake
Before we leave Uzbekistan – let’s have a look at the people. They say people make a place, and that’s certainly true of Uzbekistan. Lads on a street market outside Tashkent:
A bride and groom in Shahrizabz. They are meant to maintain solemn faces all day. If they (especially the bride) are smiling, it implies they are of, shall we say, loose virtue
Some reckless and daredevil Russian fellows (at least, according to the T-shirt one of them wore)
Those impish Russian guys again
A calligrapher – almost everyone over the age of 30 in Uzbekistan has a mouthful of gold teeth!
Folklore and fashion show girls
A happy bunch of farm workers
And a terrible Tashkent twosome!
Thanks for joining me on this long, but hopefully entertaining set of Uzbek reminiscences!