June 12, 2008

Silk Road III Day 4: The majesty of Samarkand

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First site of the day was the Guri Amir Mausoleum, where Timur was buried along with some of his sons including Ulugbek. This was just a short walk from the hotel. The main chamber was richly decorated in exquisite, glittering detail befitting the great ruler and his descendants. and the green jade (Timur’s ) and marble markers lie in their places in the middle. Next to the main markers lies a separate marker with a tall, thin tree trunk hanging a bunch of horse hair over the marble. Apparently this is the way that graves were marked in the open field in ancient times. There was already a marker on the spot when this mausoleum was built by Timur for his offspring, so they simply incorporated it in the design.

We encountered a group of Uzbek women who wanted to take pictures with us, since we were so foreign and therefore a curiosity to them. After a round of photos inside the mausoleum, we found ourselves back in the action in the courtyard outside. The people are truly friendly, but now we are starting to feel like zoo animals that people are always curious about…

Now we come to the highlight of the Uzbekistan portion – Registan Square. The place is grand and made up of three medressas on the east, west and north sides of the square. These buildings have survived numerous earthquakes, and have gone through some restoration. The Ulugbek Medressa, the oldest of the three, has a leaning minaret which one can climb up (for a fee, of course). It is unfortunately a bit scary, because it is presenting leaning to one side as a result of an earthquake years ago, although it has been “reinforced” by Soviet engineers.

Once you enter the medressa, you find that all the rooms have basically been turned into souvenir shops. We will see this time and again when visiting medressas which are no longer in operation – the enterprising locals have rented the space to profit from tourism.

Moving to the Tilla-Kari Medressa, it is immediately apparent why it was named the Gold-Covered Medressa. The mosque glitters in blue and gold, with the flat ceiling having been painted in such a way that it appears to be a curved dome. It's very, very bling, but I like it. The last of the trio, the Sher Dor Medressa, isn't as interesting and is completely plain inside.

We break for lunch, and we are taken to a really nice restaurant for the dish that I've been dying for - plov. I didn't take down the name of the restaurant, but the food was really delicious - possibly the best meal we had in Uzbekistan. We started with a number of small salads, which were brought to us stacked on a large tray. We picked a few of them, such as deep fried cauliflower and fried eggplant. This was accompanied by the best non we had on this trip, which looks like a giant bagel without the hole. We also got more shashlik - minced lamb, chunks of lamb, and even beef wrapped around lamb fat (a great invention, I must say).

But the piece de resistance was the plov. This is a dish mainly served at lunch, and resembles the 抓飯 of the Uygurs that I had in Xinjiang. Our guide Batir ordered four portions, and it came on a huge plate. The rice glistened with all the oil used in the frying process, and it was topped with generous portions of lamb in addition to the chopped carrots, gourd/squash and raisins. I just couldn't resist having several portions of this in spite of a full stomach... It was just awesome!

After lunch we head to Siob Bazaar for some shopping and sightseeing. It was colorful as one would expect, selling a variety of fruits, vegetables, snacks as well as other knick knacks. We bought a load of red and yellow cherries, two types of apricots, plums and a big watermelon. We had these over the next few days, and with the exception of the watermelon (due to this being only the start of the season) everything was ultra-ripe and sweet. There are principally two reasons – the fruits get plenty of sun so the sugar level is high, and the farmers only pick the fruits after they have ripened fully, expecting to sell them quickly.

The heat becomes unbearable, and we head back to the hotel to cool off. Later in the afternoon we head to the unimpressive Ulugbek Observatory, where we see the remains of the curved track of the quadrant built by Ulugbek to look at the stars. We also pay a visit to the Afrosiab Museum, located next to the ancient ruins of Afrosiab – ancient Samarkand. Among the ruins we see two young men herding sheep, and get a glimpse of the famous fat-bottomed sheep for the first time. I do have to say that the bottoms are indeed very big and fat…

We head back to the bazaar and enter Bibi-Khanym Mosque, built by the Chinese wife of Timur. It has fallen into disrepair, but I went inside despite warnings from Batir. Back in the garden outside, I pick up a couple of white mulberries that had fallen onto the grass. These were incredibly sweet. I must admit I had never seen white mulberries, and the sight of these on the green grass seemed pretty.

One last stop for the day – back to the Registan for sunset pictures. I pay the guard 4,000 Sum for the privilege of climbing the leaning minaret of the Ulugbek Madressa, for the best view in Samarkand. The climb to the top was steep and tough, considering that I’m lugging my bag full of camera gear. After stopping a couple of times to catch my breath, I reach the top and wiggle the top half of my torso above the small opening. It’s an interesting perspective and I’m glad I did it, but it’s not a spectacular view that you get.

For dinner we head to Karimbek, the Samarkand branch of Bek. This time we tried different soups. Shurpa came with sliced beef with potato and tomato, very much like my mom’s version of borscht with a clear broth. The other soup had thin noodles in a chicken broth, and this was pretty good. We had our first taste of jiz, which was the Uzbek way of stir-frying chopped meat. We also had visitors from the next table. They were going off to work in Seoul and wanted to celebrate, and insisted that we drink some vodka with them...

After dinner I went back to the Registan and Guri Amir Mausoleum with my tripod for more photos…since these monuments are lit up at night. After a very long day, I finally get back to my room just before midnight.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Aflican CHICKEN!!! YAY!!!


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