Trip Start Jun 27, 2006
62Trip End Mar 28, 2007
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I was happy to be back at a backpackers' joint - Bahodir B&B.
While at a internet cafe, I met an entrepreneur-minded 17 year old teenager who wanted to practice his English. I accepted his offer to show me the sights the next day.
Samarkand (population 400K) is a very important Silk Road city. All the touristy sites are within walking distance from the B&B, in the center of town. The most important is the Registan, made up of 3 medressas (Islamic colleges): Ulughbek, Sher Dor and Tilla-Kari Medressas. Other sites include Bibi-Khanym Mosque (Bibi-Khanym is Timur's Chinese wife), Guri Amir Mausoleum (where Timur and Ulughbek lie beneath) and Shahr-i-Zindah (an avenue of tombs)
Bukhara (population 300K), another important Silk Road city, is a 3 1/2 hour taxi ride away from Samarkand. I found a hotel in the alleyways, where I was offered an air-conditioned room (including breakfast) for $8. It is conveniently located some 100 yards from the city center, Lyabi Hanz, a plaza built around a pool in 1620.
I spent the day just wandering around this very historic city, visiting:
- multidomed-roof bazaars
- Kalon Mosque (big enough for 10,000 people, reopened in 1991 as a place of worship)
- Kalon Minaret (one structure that was not destroyed by Genghis Khan)
- Mir-i-Arab Medressa (a working seminary since 16th century - only closed between 1920-1944)
- The Ark (a royal town-within-a-town - it was occupied from the 5th century right up until 1920 when it was bombed by the Soviet Red Army
I was also led by a teenage girl to a crumbling old closed Mosque. I was in a hurry but she insisted that she wanted me to see it, since it is not a touristy joint (she somehow had the key to the structure). While showing me the place, she told me that it was her birthday and her mother couldn't afford to celebrate it for her. When asked, she told me that her father was in Moscow and did not send the family any money. Touched by her sad story, on the way out, I have her a couple of dollars asking her to buy herself a piece of cake. She asked for $4 - "the price for the key." I have never felt so used by a teenage girl.
I then went to Borzi Kord, a men's bathhouse. I paid for a "deluxe massage" which involved a guy, wrapped in some kind of bed sheet, washing me with soap and shampoo (like I was a little child) and massaging me while sitting or standing on top of me. It wasn't my best spent $15.
The next day, escorted by the receptionist of the hotel that I had befriended (they only have 1 guest and no reservation for the day), I hired a taxi for 3 hours, visiting the sites in the surrounding areas: Emir's Palace, Bakhautdin Naqshband Mausoleum and Chor-Bakr (a 16th century necropolis, or, town of mausoleums)
In Khiva (population 50K), I stayed in the old city of Khiva, Ichon-Qala, surrounded by its centuries-old walls. I have visited many sites similar to this, but this is the first one that I sleep IN. It was an amazing site when I arrived here (and woke up) at 2am in the taxi.
Again, similar to Samarkand and Bukhara, there were many mosques and medressas. I was told that at one time, there were 1,000 medressas in the Khiva region alone.
I ignored the travel guidebook and just wandered around the town on my own, intentionally trying to get lost. There were just too many listed "must-see's" according to the guidebook.
I will also remember Khiva as the town that I drank vodka and tea. The B&B owner insisted that I drank vodka with him. Before I finish the vodka (served in a little Chinese rice bowl), someone poured green tea into the bowl
I took a shared taxi to Nukus, via Urgench.
Hotel Nukus was just like a Soviet place - the service and smiling faces were both missing.
This was where Sam, an American teacher (who had taught English all over the world), and I agreed to meet, so that we could cross the border to start our Turkmenistan tour the next day together.
As opposed to Tajikistan, where I "experienced the life" there, I was a tourist in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has a very well established tourism industry (I even saw a few tour buses!). During the Soviet time, they had a special relationship with the people-in-charge in Moscow. They were able to reconstruct a lot of the historical sites to attract tourists.