The ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. Two out of the 3 most beautiful cities in Uzbekistan filled with beautiful culture.
Day 1 – Tashkent – Turkmenistan Visa – Samarkand
Today it had been exactly two weeks since we applied for our Turkmenistan transit visa. However the employee at the embassy said we had to wait until the Monday, a week later. Since we were getting impatient we decided to call the embassy anyway and they confirmed that our visa was ready!!!
Missed that we are going to Turkmenistan? Read in this blog when we applied:
We jumped outside and 20 minutes later we were at the embassy and about an hour later we were back outside. 45 dollars less to spend but we got the Turkmenistan 5 day transit visa in our passport!!
At the same time we got confirmation from our Iran e-visa grant notice. Basically how it works with this visa: you apply online for a grant notice code. Which is an approval for the visa, you take this code to the embassy and the visa is issued. This would have been perfect, we would then go to the Iranian embassy in Tashkent, get our visa and continue our travels through Uzbekistan.
NOT. My application got declined, reason being that I needed a business visa. While Elisa’s was accepted… same application + plan. Luckily Zahra From key2perisa (recommended by Caravanistan) who helped us applying for the code, proposed to apply again and see what happens. Unfortunately since it was Wednesday, and Thursday’s and Friday’s are weekend in Iran. This would take at least another 3-5 days before we would have an answer. Time to continue to Samarkand, we have to come to Tashkent later and go to the embassy.
Made our way to the bus station and got on a bus the Samarkand. Bus was filled with curious locals. Most of them staring at us and some mustered up the courage to ask where we are from.
At the end a local guy started talking to us, mainly to practice his English. When we got off at the city center he decided to get off as well to make sure we would find our way to the hostel. He waved a taxi down and guided us to our hostel. Gotta love Central Asian kindness!
Day 2 – Registan
We woke up excited and ready to explore the historical Registan of Samarkand. Samarkand was once the main hub for Islamic studies and was the capital of Timur’s empire in the 14th century. In fact, his tomb is also located there – among many others. After getting a small taste of the grand old structures in Turkistan we knew that Samarkand would be amazing. Bright and early we walked toward the Registan.
The Registan is breathtaking. The buildings came before us and we just stood there in awe taking it all in before getting the tickets to go inside.
To give some background information, so you guys know what you are looking at: These are 3 different madrassas (schools) all built at different time periods. First one was built in 1417 and is called the Ulugh Beg Madrassa. It is (like all of them) decorated beautifully with blue mosaic in the front. They all have a beautiful courtyard in the middle surrounded by small rooms where classes were held.
The second one, Sher-Dor madrassa was built in 1619 and is characterized by the lion mosaic decoration on the front side, although these lions do look like tigers – they are meant to be lions!
The third one, the middle building was built only 10 years later and was meant as a residential place for students and as a mosque. Inside of this one lies something spectacular. Once inside of the courtyard you turn to the left and you get a peak of a gold hue coming out of the door. Inside there is a room almost completely plated with gold and blue, keen eyes can see that this is the where the cover of the Central Asia’s Lonely Planet was shot!
Inside all of the madrassas there is a courtyard and small rooms all around. Nowadays those small rooms are filled with souvenir shops and tourists. But back when they were in use they were filled with students learning and innovating. If you look closely you notice that all the doors are very small. This is not an indication of how small people were back then. The reason for why they are like this is because in front of the door is an Islamic text and the students were supposed to bow before it every time they entered the room.
After exploring every Madressa and taking way way too many pictures we decided that we would come back in the evening because we’d heard that it was even more beautiful then! We walked further north of the Registan and went to the Bibi-Khanym mosque. Legend has it the mosque was build by Timur’s favorite wife, as an honor of his return from a conquest in India. However the architect fell in love with her and demanded a kiss before he would finish the mosque. Timur later finding this out order to death of the architect.
From this giant Mosque we made our way to the Shah-i-Zinda complex. Shah-i-Zinda means “The living king” another legend here is that Kusam ibn Abbas, a cousin of the prophet Muhammad, is buried here. The Shah-i-Zinda complex was establish from the 11th until the 19th century and consists out of more then twenty mausoleums.
After this full day of culturing So we relaxed at our hostel before heading back out to witness the Registan by night.
This is something we recommend everyone to do. During this time of day the Registan is so quiet and we almost had the whole place to ourselves – no giant bus groups of tourists. Due to the brilliant lighting, it was possible to see so much more detail and really it looked like a different place.
Day 3 – National day of Samarkand
This day is definitely one that we will never forget as we saw the most friendly and beautiful side of Uzbekistan.
The 18th of October is the National day of Samarkand – and they sure know how to celebrate. We started off by walking into the park where there was a kind of a display of sports. Little kids crowded a huge square all playing their different sports such as boxing, wrestling, football, taekwondo and so on. We spent a lot of time there being very impressed by the skills of the little kids!
We continued onto the boulevard where it was possible to buy all the fruits and veggies you could think of. While we were walking, looking at some grapes and pomegranates I was pulled into a dancing lessons with several Uzbek ladies dressed in their finest. They thought me the basic hand moves and we gathered a huge crowd around us! After a good dance workout – and an appearance on the Uzbek television we continued into the park.
Inside of the park the displays continued. The local universities had come out displaying their work. They even had students display their work and how they were fixing computers and up-and-coming mechanics were had engines on display. There was stage after stage of different kind of music playing, children dancing and of course, the national Champions in Plov making.
We decided to venture towards the Registan again, to look at what was around the area. We discovered that the entrance fee to the Registan was free today, we were just a day late! But oh well, the scenery was beautiful and we even saw a double wedding photo shoot!
After a very eventful and fun day we went back to our hostel and met up with a French friend who joined us for a beer in the city. Now, it is not easy to find good beer places in most of Central Asia, but the Green bear pub did the trick this time and we had a good time.
Day 4 – Ulugh Bek’s observatory
We used this morning to plan our trip to Turkmenistan and then continued and walked towards the very touristy Bazaar in Samarkand. This bazaar was the first one we went to that we really did not enjoy. It lacked the chaotic charm that makes the central Asia bazaars special. But we continued through the market and towards Ulugh Bek’s observatory which was a few kilometer walk away from the Registan. Ulugh-Bek was a renowned astronomer and made remarkable discoveries during his time. His observatory contained an informative museum and a building which used to house the sextant that he used for his astronomy discoveries.
Day 5 – to Bukhara
On this day we took the train to lovely little Bukhara. The train station is a big soviet style building with beautiful blue artwork inside. The train ride itself was nice, the trains are comfortable and quick. We arrived to Bukhara in the afternoon and immediately we fell in love!
Our hostel was located in the heart of the old city. After a short walk the beautiful majestic madrassas appeared before us. We basked in the beauty for a while before becoming very hungry and finding some food at a very touristy, but beautiful restaurant in the The pool you see is a leftover from the old world, Bukhara used to have numerous pools like this one. Citizens gathered, bathed and drank – as you can imagine, this brought a lot of vicious diseases. When the Russians came, almost all of these pools were drained in the name of public health.
After dinner we explored Bukhara a bit in the sunset. The sunset enhances the colors of old Bukhara, making everything even more beautiful. Once the sun had set we walked to the Kalon minaret. This minaret was built in 1127 and is 47m tall. It is an amazing structure. Especially by night, the whole tower is beautifully lit and all of its details are exemplified. Apparently, this minaret has a dark side. The story goes that married women, who looked at other men, were thrown off there as punishment. One woman was smart enough to put on multiple layers of clothes and survived the fall. They decided that God had forgiven her and let her live.
Day 6 – Exploring Bukhara
We went out early in the morning to escape the major tourist herds and explored the old city of Bukhara. If you look at a map of Bukhara, you will see that on almost every street and in every corner there is a madrassa or a mausoleum. There is a lot to see, especially if you are a history buff. We went into several madrassas and then went to the old city wall, the arch and into the museum there. The museum itself is like the other museums in Uzbekistan, pretty underwhelming. But the surroundings were beautiful and we got a nice view of the city.
After that we ventured into the park outside the old city, typical soviet style family park. Looked fairly run down and empty. But there was a small mausoleum there and a pool. Close by the park the bazaar was bustling and of course, we went in there and stocked up on some fresh grapes. And enjoyed watching the locals go about their daily activities.
Day 7 – Haircuts and palaces
This day was kind of an extra day in Bukhara and we used it to make some copies of documents that we needed in order to apply for the Iranian visa. Also I got a haircut! It was honestly kind of scary. To sit into a chair and trust a person with your hair that does not speak a word of English is intimidating. But, she did a really good job and I was happy with the result!
After the haircut and copying we visited the Summer palace of Timur. It is a bit outside the city and was quite beautiful. So if you have some time to spare then the Summer palace is worth a visit.
We went back into the old city and went to EscoBar, inside there were only men smoking Hookahs. But we ordered some coffee and tea and had a good time spending the afternoon talking and drinking tea over a cloud of hookah smoke.
Then I got a message from my mom telling us that this was our 100th day of travelling! We did not realize that it had been so long, so of course we had to celebrate with a delicious dinner and drinks!
Day 8 – Bus time
This morning we took an 8 hour bus to Tashkent. There are no time tables for these buses. So we showed up to the station in the morning, hoping that there would be a bus waiting that would leave soon! We were in luck, because a bus left at 9am sharp.
The bus however had no AC and for some reason they were blasting music so damn loudly throughout the whole trip. So loud that me and Marc could not even hear each other even though we sat next to each other. So it is easy to say that we were relieved when the 8 hours passed and we were back to Tashkent.
In Tashkent we met up with our good Australian mate, Tom and his friend. We grabbed dinner and drinks at the local Irish pub. We had a good evening catching up and enjoyed the beers and delicious food.
So we covered two of the most beautiful cities of Uzbekistan. Khiva the 3rd and maybe the most beautiful one will follow in the next blog!