Samarkand

Trip Start Sep 04, 2003
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14
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Trip End Dec 20, 2003


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Flag of Uzbekistan  ,
Sunday, October 19, 2003

I went to Anna's house on the most beautiful autumn morning, and we took a marshoutka with Mavjuda to The Place Where the Cars Leave for Samarkand to hire a car. That's really what you call it. I think it's actually the Chilonzor autovoksal (or however you spell it) but nobody calls it that. Anna and I sort of hid while Mavjuda negotiated a good price in our absence. We ended up in a car with a man from Samarkand who kind of looked like a middle-aged Jerry Lewis and an Uzbek woman with a Kyrgyz passport (I assume she is an Uzbek who was living in Kyrgyzstan but now lives in Uzbekistan, due to the weird borders, but if she elaborated on this, I didn't notice. I just know she kept repeating where her passport was from. The long drive through the Uzbek countryside was really interesting. It's cotton harvesting time, and cotton is Uzbekistan's primary industry. So, there were a lot of people harvesting the fields by hand, and lots of people meandering across the highway from one field to the other... which was sort of problematic since our car had a radar detector and I think our driver was going 160 km/hr-- there was a lot of people and donkey cart dodging involved, but no one got hurt. The car, however, started to have problems about halfway to Samarkand, but we got there ok.

After we arrived on the outskirts of Samarkand, the Jerry Lewis lookalike showed us to our hotel, the adorable Hotel Furkat. I really really wish I hadn't accidentally deleted all of the photos I had (this was after I posted the first 15 of Samarkand) because I had some good ones of the hotel's courtyard. Oh well. Anna and I had tea there, and then wandered out to find lunch and Registan. We had lunch at a chaikhana right across from Registan (which was ok, but not great) and then went over to see Registan. For a while, we just stood in front of it, having trouble comprehending that we were really there. We had seen so many pictures of it, had heard about it so many times, that it didn't seem authentic. But once we went inside, it really sunk in. (I hadn't read my guidebook recently, so I hadn't even realized that you could go inside!) It was very cool. The cells in each madrassah where students used to study had been turned into displays for the handicrafts for sale, but you could still see the original architecture in some of them, and the crafts are beautiful-- ceramics, silk shawls, gold embroidery. One of the madrassahs was part art gallery and part restored study of one of the most revered teachers. (I forgot to bring my guidebook with me today, so I will have to look up his name and add it later.)

As we were leaving to go meet Karen at the Accels office, Anna and I were approached by a guard who asked us if we would like to climb to the top of a minaret for 3000 soum ($3). Sure, why not? Take a look at the pictures I took of Registan. Note the leaning minaret. I didn't realize it at the time, but that was the one we climbed. It was fine from the ground to the gallery level, where there's a balcony opening up from the cells to the courtyard below, but it was crumbling the rest of the way up. There was some scaffolding, but it was unreliable, the stone steps were worn and crumbling, and the staircase itself was steep, narrow, and tightly twisting. Of course, it wasn't until I was more than halfway up that I remembered that (a) I was still bedridden only 3 or 4 days before, (b) I have a bad knee, (c) I'm a little claustrophobic, (d) Uzbekistan has a history rich in occurences of people being thrown from the tops of minarets, and (e) our friendly policeman had a gun. Goody. The view from the top, though, was more than worth the discomfort. It was a very cool experience, and can be added to the list that includes walking on the crumbling city wall in Conwy (Wales) on a rainy night without the benefit of a railing. :)

After we got out of the minaret, filthy and winded (well, I was winded), we set out to find the Accels office. Not easy. We were very late by the time we found it, but Karen was still there, and we enjoyed resting there a while, talking to her and the really nice Accels staff. They helped us figure out how we were going to get to Bukara the next day, which was a good thing! We thought about taking a bus or train, but the timing didn't work out, so we decided to go to The Place Where the Cars Leave for Bukhara and hire another car. Then Anna and I bid adieu to Karen, had dinner at another iffy chaikhana (although I think I'm biased in favor of my guzari's food!) and stayed up talking later than we should have-- lots of fun. We decided what else we wanted to see in Samarkand when we returned from Bukhara- we would have about half a day to play with- but unfortunately we didn't end up seeing any of them, since Karen and I got so sick as soon as we got back from Bukhara. Oh well.
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