Trip Start Aug 31, 2005
Trip End Aug 25, 2006

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Flag of Uzbekistan  ,
Tuesday, June 6, 2006

While Bukhara is a living breathing ancient town and Khiva is a small fortress with everything within close proximity, Samarkand is a large city where there are few tourist attractions, but the ones that are there....just blew me away with their design and scale. Incredible!

I stayed in a cheap backpackers hostel (Bahodir B&B) and hooked up with lots of other backpackers. A nice change after weeks of only meeting the more 'affluent' travellers! The hostel was centrally located, and so I spent the next couple of days walking around town and then joining my new Israeli friends for dinner.

My favourite place in the city, and indeed one of my favourite places from the whole trip, was the Shahr-i-Zindah Mausoleum on the edge of town - an important 9-14th century Muslim pilgrimmage site (a cousin of the prophet is buried here). It is like a small town, with up to about 10 small mausoleums on both sides of the main path running through the middle. What makes it so special is that it is soooo beautiful. The tile work is detailed and elaborate and involves hundreds of different shades of blues. Inside the mausolems themselves, the original artwork is slowly being restored by master craftsmen - the detail is incredible...

The main tourist attraction in town is a group of 3 extremely large Medressa (medieval muslim clergy academy), known commonly as The Registan. The Registan was conveniently located a 2 minute walk from my hostel and so I got to see it at all the different times of the day - up early at 6am to bribe an official to let me climb one of the minarets for a fraction of the normal price, and then again at night to enjoy the free (if you stand at the back) light and sound show in French...

The other main attraction is the huge Bibi Khanym Mosque complex. Construction of the mosque was completed in 1404 shortly after Emperor Timur successfully conquered India, leaving a trail of destruction behind him. Bibi Khanym initially gripped the minds of many poets and was compared to the beauty and brilliance of the Milky Way, however not long after the mosque became a place of worship, the building began to collapse and fall into ruin until being restored in the 1970-80s. There is however a romantic legend surrounding the building - that Bibi Khanym, Timur's wife, built this mosque, thinking she could surprise her husband with a colossal monument on his return from India. Instead he was surprised by a love-bite in her neck, left there by the mosque's Persian architect. Timur sent a platoon to capture the architect dead or alive, but he fled up the minaret he had just built, leapt over the top and flew home to Persia... In reality, it is more likely that Timur build a mosque to thank the gods for his victory, and he wanted it to be bigger then anything he had seen on his travels. Either way, its a pretty impressive building!

Otherwise, not so much to see in Samarkand! A few other buildings, but otherwise its just another amazing silk road city!
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