At Last ! - Samarkand - On The Silk Road.

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Hotel Zarina Samarkand
Read my review - 3/5 stars

Flag of Uzbekistan  ,
Monday, June 6, 2011

There is a legend in Uzbekistan that to build the Registan in Samarkand, Timur, the ruling King, needed to get the best bricks from Bukhara, some 300 kms away in the quickest possible time. Donkeys were too slow, and Elephants didn't work well in the bitterly cold winters. So he made a human chain stretching for the 300 kms and the bricks were passed one by one all the way.

Could this be true?

It seems anything could be true when you see the fairy tale sight of Samarkand.

As one of the oldest cities in the world, Samarkand is dotted with gorgeous blue and gold tiled domes and minarets. It is the very essence of the romance of the silk road. Alexander the Great and Marco Polo both wrote about the beauty of this city.

We arrived in the beautiful city of Samarkand just after sunset, tired, hot and disheveled. It had been a travel day best forgotten really. It started to go awry when the taxi, taking us to Riga airport at 5.00am got hit from behind by a shuttle bus. Just a minor prang and we could continue on, but nevertheless a bit unnerving. Given the stress of two days ago, we were waiting at the correct check-in counter before it even opened, for our flight to Tashkent (now with Uzbekistan Air) and were first in line. With a real feeling of déjà vu, we heard the check in girl say, "You don’t have the right paperwork. I am sorry but I will have to call my supervisor". In our previous blog we outlined the dramas of being “refused to board” and sorting the mess out and being given new tickets on this flight. Now it was happening again!  

“No” we politely said trying not to show our dismay “It has all been approved. The Air Baltic Supervisor Katarina made many phone calls on Saturday and we were approved to fly. This was the next available flight and Air Baltic booked us on to it at no cost due to the error.  Please check with her”.

“But you are flying Air Uzbekistan now not Air Baltic. We have our own rules. Please stand aside and wait” said the check in girl with a very firm attitude.

Supervisors were called. At one stage 5 people were discussing our passports and visa paperwork, while we stood helplessly to the side. The time was ticking on and we were now convinced, that once again we were going to be refused boarding.

We made attempts to explain. “Australia does not have an Uzbekistan Embassy. That is why we can purchase the visa at the airport. Our paperwork says the visa is ready for us at the airport. The other Australians on our tour have already arrived using the same paperwork. Air Baltic made all the checks when we complained after being refused to board and found out we were right. Air Baltic booked us on this flight for free. Our visa is definitely at the airport ready for us"  etc. etc.

All makes sense to us, but not Air Uzbekistan supervisors!  

As the time got closer and closer to departure we got more frantic. I went to the Air Baltic check in counter looking for Katarina the Air Baltic supervisor who had belatedly checked with the Consulate at Tashkent Airport on Saturday and had been told yes, our visas were there for us. Monday is her day off I was told and no, Monday’s supervisor knew nothing about it. What a nightmare!

With 20 minutes until take off, we went up to the 5 supervisors discussing us and tried again.

“Please” I said my voice quavering and tears welling up in my eyes “We have missed 3 days of our tour already. We have paid a lot of money to see Uzbekistan. If we are sent back on arrival at Tashkent airport we promise we will pay any expenses to your airline, but it will not happen as OUR VISAS ARE WAITING AT THE AIRPORT!”  

With less than 15 minutes until take off, we were finally handed boarding passes. YES!  We took off at lightning speed to get to the departure gate.

So that was how our travel day had begun.

The flight was reasonably uneventful and we landed in 38 degree heat. It took two long hours in a very hot airport to get through immigration and customs. Firstly the arriving passengers had no idea of queuing, and then the Consulate was not in his office and had to be called to give us our visas. Well, not give, $US70 each! (to add insult to injury, we discovered later that the others had paid $US60 each on arrival) Lastly, to pass through customs was a real challenge as the rest of the passengers had been shopping and had mountains of luggage.

Finally, we got outside the airport, and found the Gap Adventures representative who led us to a car of rather dubious condition, with open windows being the only air-conditioner, and put us inside. He asked if we had any requests of the (non English speaking) driver and we said only for drinking water, otherwise we just wanted to get on the way to Samarkand, some 4 hours away, so we could finally meet up with our GAP adventures tour group of 6 others and our guide Laziz. This was achieved by sunset. What a travel day!!

How quickly though, we forgot a long hard travel day when we were surrounded by the awesome beauty of Samarkand! Majestic Medressas and Mausoleums with stunning azure blue domes and stately minarets pepper the sky line.

Samarkand was the reason we have come to Uzbekistan and it has lived up to all expectations. All else will be a bonus. We had read about Samarkand first in the book by Steve Davey “Unforgettable Things to See before You Die”. The Old Centre is also UNESCO Heritage listed.

We visited many sights of amazing beauty and learnt about Timur The Great, the ruler who in the 15th century commissioned so many beautiful buildings to be constructed and decorated in the unique style of azure mosaics.  It was Timur who the legend says ordered the human chain to pass the bricks to build the Registan. He was a lover of art and wanted to achieve the most outstanding monuments in his lifetime. Timur’s grandson, Ulugh Beg, was a noted intellectual of the times and made Samarkand the centre of the 14th century world for the arts and sciences.

After a 5 hour walking tour in the morning,  we decided to organize a taxi to take us 2 hours into the country to see the city of Shakhrisyabz, where the historic centre is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were glad we made the effort as the Palace turned out to be absolutely stunning and we also enjoyed seeing a museum, mosque and a mausoleum. This was supposed to be the burial place of Timur the King previously mentioned, however against his wishes, he was buried in Samarkand. (He had built for himself a very modest crypt).

One last look at the Registan after dinner and then we were happy to say we have enjoyed Samarkand and almost, but not quite, forgotten about how hard it was to actually get to Uzbekistan in the first place!

Footnote: Samarkand - Crossroads of Cultures and Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz are UNESCO World Heritage Listed. Samarkand features in the book Unforgettable Places to See before you die.
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andrewjerome on

I loved this - reading blogs about non-touristy countries are the best.

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