I don’t remember doing a ton in the capital, Tashkent. We did take the metro to every stop possible as seeing the decoration in the stations was the one main “tourist” attraction in the whole city. We spent a lot of time in this one particular cafe with sandwiches instead of miscellaneous meat and eggs coated with dill. I remember we spent a whole day at a substantial local market where heads of sheep, goats, and donkeys lay across the table from clothing for sale. Tashkent wasn’t the city we came to Uzbekistan for – Bukhara and Samarkand were still a few hours away.
Samarkand has an incredible history. The Arabs, Western Turks, Persians, Mongolian Karakitay, and many others have all occupied Samarkand, which leaves this city with miraculous architecture and striking religious features. The city is also a pivotal trading point in the Silk Road with crossroads to India and China. I could already tell that Samarkand would be the ultimate highlight throughout our three months in the Stans’.
Our guesthouse was probably the worst accommodation we had seen in the past couple of months. There were no windows, a barely functioning toilet, and an un-usable moldy shower due to the showerhead being directly above the toilet. But it was Samarkand, so how can you complain? Our first morning, we went to the Registan, which will be the first to come up if you look up pictures of Uzbekistan, the Silk Road, or the Stans’. It is quite possibly one of the most spectacular landmarks I’ve witnessed in the 93 countries I’ve visited.
An immense courtyard lies in the middle of three madrasas; a madrasa is a college for Islamic instruction. Mosaics line the walls of each, radiating off the suns’ beams. Out of the few people occupying the monument, we are some of the few foreigners present. Uzbek brides walk from each monument, their photographer and groom trailing behind. Tour guides speak in Uzbek, showing young and old locals their country in their mother tongue. It is sporadic to have an attraction with more locals than tourists, and it’s certainly refreshing to be surrounded by others equally excited to see such a magnificent place.
The sun persistently shines on my red hair, my clothes – dirty from lack of washing – stick to my sweaty body, and my stomach grumbles as lunchtime quickly comes and goes. Throughout our time in Uzbekistan, we had a very challenging time finding restaurants, but at least we always had dried peas and various nuts stashed in the depths of our backpacks. As we walked outside the gates of the madrasa, I vividly remember walking the remnants of Samarkands’ streets until we reached the end of town. All but one restaurant was open – it would have to do!
At night, we walked back to the madrasa. This was not just a must-do in the daytime, but maybe even more so at night. We ran down the broken sidewalks, eager to arrive before sunset. Dodging past construction men working on the newest town mosque, children passing a ball in between their feet, mothers walking home from their weekly grocery shop, we arrived in the nick of time. The sunset was one of the prettiest I’ve ever witnessed, free from city smog and pollution, the moon was bright, and the sky was shades of orange and striking purple. I am hit with an instant coolness brought by night. The three buildings were now illuminated by lights instead of the sun, as I saw just five hours earlier. After a week of hopping from madrasa to mosque to Uzbeki restaurant and back to our old hostel, it was finally time to leave Samarkand. Stay tuned for part three of a three part series in Uzbekistan!