Jun 102013

When I got into this part of the trip, I realized there are a ton of pics and details from this day, so I’ll be splitting my daytrip to Samarkand into two parts.  This is part one, covering the train to Samarkand, a morning of touring, and lunch.  I was lucky to have a day off from work this weekend, and wanted to make the most of it!

Had to get up super early this morning, because I’d been booked on the 7am train from Tashkent to Samarkand.  I had hoped to be on the 8am so I could at least get a little sleep, but unfortunately there was confusion, and my driver picked me up at 6am to go to the train station, leaving me operating only about 5 hours of sleep.  And no breakfast.  And no caffeine.  Well, actually a little caffeine…I’d found a bottle of water the night before, but it was sparkling so I used the gross in-room water kettle to boil some up and make a little instant coffee that was in the room.  Better than nothing!

The drive to the train station was only about 10 minutes, and security was tight.  There were at least three security checkpoints to get into the station checking tickets and passport, but by the time I got it they were already letting people onto the train.  I’d booked the new-ish highspeed train, which made the trip in just a little over two hours, traveling in excess of 200 kph!  There were three classes on the train – regular economy, first class, and “VIP class.”  The price difference really wasn’t that much, so I booked the VIP!  I was too curious not too!

A few shots of the seats:

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One thing that became clear quickly.  There were carriage numbers printed on the tickets, but no seat numbers.  It was first come, first served, with the attendants trying to sit groups somewhat together.  It all worked out on the trip down, but the trip back was a hot mess!

I won’t talk too much about the train trip, since I got many more details on the return when I was more awake.  There was a food and drink cart, and it had Red Bull, so that helped to wake me up a little bit.  I really should have had a second one…and just like that, a little after 9am we pulled into Samarkand station.

I’d debated if I wanted to hire a guide/car before arriving, and in the end, I’m glad I did . The sights were a bit spread out, and I got a good amount of history.  Plus, a car and guide for an 8 hour day for $80 (or so I thought) was pretty reasonable.  He was waiting for me at the station with a sign with my name on it, and we were off.  He asked what I wanted to see….and I said all the historic sights.  Isn’t that what people come here for?  “No club?  No sexy lady?” Uh no, and yes, I had to spend several hours getting grilled about girlfriends…him cracking jokes about “only 3 kids, that I know of, I have girlfriends in many countries.”  It was irritating, but I tuned it out more or less.

After convincing him I really wanted to see all the typical boring historic sights, we were off.    The first stop was the Ulugh Beg Observatory.   It was built in the 1420s in order to determine the midday point.  The most annoying part of this site were the two giant tourbusses full of Korean tourists.  No idea why they seem to come to Uzbekistan in such large numbers, but they apparently do.


Anyways, back to the Observatory.  A picture of the outside:


In order to measure midday, a large trench was built.  I don’t get the exact physics of how it worked, but here’s the trench anyways!



At the same site sits the Ulugh Beg Madrassa, a couple shots of the outside:

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Down the hill next to the observatory and madrassah, was a statue of the man himself…Ulugh Beg!



…and a sign explaining the evolution of the excavation of the site since it was “rediscovered”



I sat around on the benches outside just soaking it in, and reflecting on how far from home I was, and in all the amazing things I’ve seen in my travels around the world so far.  My driver (annoyingly) kept trying to get me to keep going, but I asked him to let me just sit and enjoy.  I didn’t think it was very likely I’d get back to Samarkand any time soon!  Finally, after a half hour of taking it all in (after walking around) I was ready to head to the next stop.  It was already well over 30C outside, and the sun was scorching!

Our next stop would be the Shah-i-Zinda complex.  A series of (mostly) mausoleums formed over more than nine centuries.  It’s known who was/is buried in some of them, but several of the others it’s much less clear.  I wandered around here for nearly an hour just taking in all of the buildings – they were fascinating.

The entrance to the complex:



Inside a mausoleum:


Entrance to a mausoleum:

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Right next to, and attached to the complex, was a modern cemetery.  A bit odd, but it was kind of cool to see nonetheless:




On the wander out of the complex, I took several more shots of some of the fascinating mausoleums:


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The final site for the morning was the Dzhuma or Friday Mosque.  It was built in the mid 1400s.  A couple shots of the outside:


The inside was in significant disrepair:

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The interior courtyard was also in pretty rough shape:





There was, however, a giant Koran holder:



Next to the mosque was the market.  A shot of the front gates:



At this point, my guide told me to take 30-40 minutes to go wander the market.  I got the feeling he was trying to get rid of me, but I was interested in seeing it anyways, so it ended up being ok.  A few shots inside:

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…and finally a panoramic shot of the market that I’m really happy with!



We went from the market to lunch….which wasn’t included.  He asked if I liked Plov (a rice dish that’s very typical in the region) and I told him absolutely.  So, he took me to a place that supposedly won the local Plov cookoff competition the prior year.  Who was I to complain!  This is one of those times where I took the risk with a local place…it was so crowded and busy that I figured there was a decent chance that it was pretty sanitary.  Happy to say, I didn’t get sick and it was delicious:



As I mentioned, this was “not included” in my $80 tour price.  Later, when we settled, he told me the lunch had been $15 per person, which I had a very very hard time believing with that many locals, but couldn’t really argue about it at that point.  He was an excellent guide, but I have to admit I was really feeling scammed the whole time.  Lunch complete, it was time to head off for part two of touring!

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