June 13, 2008

Silk Road III Day 5: The bumpy road to Shakhrisabz

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Today we head to Shakhrisabz for the birthplace of Timur. At the statue of Timur in the center of town, we run into a few couples who were getting married. Apparently the marriage registry is just next door, and all the newlyweds will walk around the monuments and take pictures and video. The bride’s gown, which apparently cost anywhere from USD 200 to 1,000 a day to rent, were pretty hideous and remind me of something from 30 years ago.

Next to the square is the remains of Timur’s Ak-Saray Palace, of which not much is left. We make our way to Kok-Gumbaz Mosque, still a working mosque with gypsy women sitting on its front steps and asking the faithful for money. The courtyard houses a number of very old and beautiful trees, and we see many old local gentlemen coming for their noon prayer.

In quick succession we also visit the mausoleums of Sheik Shamseddin Kulyal and Gumbaz Saidon next door. A hop and a skip away are the Tomb of Jehangir - Timur's eldest and favorite son - as well as Timur’s Crypt which he built for himself so that he could be buried near Jehangir. Ultimately he could not be buried according to his wishes, and ended up in Guri Amir in Samarkand instead.

After a quick lunch of shee, mantay and some more mutton (of course!) we head back to Samarkand on the very poor roads by which we came. It's very clear to me that all the vans of the travel agencies will have poor suspension after having been on these types of roads for a while.

Our final stop of the day would be the Shah-I-Zinda and the Avenue of Mausoleums. Here we walk through a street lined with dazzling mausoleums on both sides. Shadi-Mulk Oko Mausoleum was simply dazzling inside, and it was even highlighted with spotlights inside. This was built by Timur for one of his wives.  After seeing a few more beautiful mausoleums, we come to the inner sanctum and find the Tomb of Kusam ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet Mohammed who was credited with bringing Islam into the region.

We also walk around in the cemetary of Afrosiab, and get an introduction to Soviet-style tombstones with the person's image etched onto black granite. We see many couples buried together, and some tombstones have one side left empty while one spouse waits for his/her partner to join them in the after life.

After another break to freshen up, we walk a few steps to the Restaurant Astoria for dinner. This is not a cafe or chaikhana - there was nice silverware and cystal glasses on the table - so we expected the bill to be a bit higher. The food was supposedly a mix of local and Russian, but frankly it was just OK.

Aside from a small selection of salads we chose, there was also a dish with chopped calves' liver, beef and onions. Interestingly this tastes very similar to the Milanese version of calves' liver which I had at Cipriani's in Hong Kong. There was also a chicken dish with a tomato-based sauce - not very interesting. The worst is that they don't even serve Russian beer! We made do with a bottle of vodka instead...

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