Mar 18

Crossroads of the Silk Road (Destination: Samarkand, Uzbekistan)

Mon, Oct 28, 2013

I had breakfast in the hotel and then went for a bit of a walk in the Mirabod district, stopping at the bazaar. Today was exciting because 8 people had chosen to take the train to the next city so we would have lots of extra space on the truck and I could have my own seat and stretch my legs. However, excitement turned to be a bad, sick day for me. We had stopped at a roadside rest stop for the paid bathrooms and several people got lamb pasties (or hot pockets) and the smell was making my stomach churn. By lunchtime I knew that eating was not a good idea so I rested on the truck. By midafternoon and much driving on bumpy roads, I had to have the truck stop twice so that I could throw up. We got into the hotel in Samarkand by 3:30 and I immediately ran to the bathroom. By 4:00 I had the chills and I was in bed for the night – falling in and out of sleep and watching TV (more like surfing the 300 channels in Chinese, Farsi, Arabic, French, German, Spanish, etc.). The majority of the English channels were Christian TV – lots of preachers – which seemed odd given how sensitive the Uzbek customs officials were in looking for missionary materials.

A little bit about Samarkand – the city is the crossroads of the Silk Road. When poets and authors write about the silk road, often this city is mentioned. As we drove into the city, there were nice views of the blue tiles domes and minarets, and the city is surrounded by mountains unlike our drive earlier today that was quite flat farmlands.

Steps: 5,818

Tues, Oct 29

After my marathon of sleeping yesterday, I woke up early at 6:00 and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I decided that I wouldn’t allow a tummy sickness use up any more days in Samarkand. I had earlier decided that one day in Samarkand I would get up early one day to watch sunrise at the Registan square with mosques on 3 sides of the square. By 6:30 I was walking towards the square. About half way there I saw something that looked like our truck drive by. As I neared the square, I saw about 8 people from our group there. A couple girls from our trip had been there at sunset the prior night and they had bribed a guard to let them climb a minaret to watch the sunset. He told them to be back at 7:00 with a small group and we could pay the climb for sunrise. This turned out to be lucky for me. We paid about $4 and climbed the narrow, spiral staircase. There was only room for one person at the top at a time and there were amazing views.

There’s no way we could do this during the normal opening hours of the Registan. I rode back with the others in the truck to the hotel and had breakfast. I had one piece of sausage this morning that tasted like lamb and almost made me sick again…I’m definitely off the lamb for a while.

At 9:30 we went with our local guide to the Gur Emir Mausoleum. I chose to skip her tour and instead walked around the blue domed Mausoleum and took some nice photos. Next, she took us to the Registran. She kept on taking us into various shops to see how ceramics and tiles were made so I skipped out on the tour and went to the inside of the blue dome that had amazing gilded painting – incredibly stunning.

After the Registan, I headed to the local’s Siab Market. I had a big craving for the local salads. The ladies will let you sample the salads. Then I pick the one I like and bring out 100 som (about 40 cents) and I point to the one I want. They then bag up about a pound of salad. As I was sitting and eating my salad, a local beggar with a baby started harassing me. However, a young Uzbek couple had some words with her and she immediately left and then they said “Good Morning” and smiled at me even though it was afternoon. Another lady came up to me selling shawls. Without bargaining, I bought a beautiful crocheted mauve shawl made from silk and angora.

After my salads, I walked about a mile out of town to Daniel’s Tomb. This is the tomb Daniel from the Old Testament – as in “Daniel and the Lion’s Den.” His original tomb was in Iran and it was given to the town here as a gift of good luck. The legend says his body grows about a half an inch per year so now his coffin is about 30 feet long. It was covered by a Muslim cloth with Arabic writing.

On the way back to town, I stopped by the Afrosiab Museum. I had decided if it were cheap enough I would visit it. When the lady said it cost 9,000 som, I indicated I wasn’t interested. Then the ticket lady started to bargain with me. I only paid 5,000 to enter but I’m pretty sure she just pocketed the money. The museum was sort of interesting. It was on the location of the old city of Samarkand. There were various relics that have been unearthed, including some murals.

As I walked back to the Market, I met up with Tanya, Rich, Vicky, and Mark. We got some ice cream and talked to some locals in the park that were dressed very fancy and having their photo taken. We then walked thru old town and said “Salaam” or “Hello” and chatted with locals in the bottle shop and men playing an interesting board game.

When we returned to the hotel, the power was out. The electricity had been out for about an hour last night and each room has a huge emergency light so it seems this is a common occurrence. Tonight’s power was out twice for about an hour each time. We played Apples to Apples for a while in the lobby by the light of flashlights and emergency lights.

Uzbekistan is starting to grow on me. My first impressions weren’t very high after such a wonderful time in Kyrgyzstan but now I’m enjoying Uzbekistan much more. This is a lovely time of year to visit – today’s temperatures were perfect for walking around.

Steps: 32,005

Wed, Oct 30

I was thinking about getting up super early for the sunrise at the mosque today but I’m glad I slept in because the sunrise wasn’t very nice. After breakfast, we set out with our local guide again. She first took us to the Bibi Mosque which didn’t look too interesting because I had already taken photos from the outside yesterday in the sun so I skipped this bit of the tour and went to the bazaar/market to find a place to exchange money. I then joined the group again and we went to the Shakh-i-Zinda collection of mausoleums and a mosque at the local cemetery. This place was amazing – with beautiful restored tile work.

Me looking very Shrek-like

Barb and I set off for a hot lunch at the bazaar and we ended up in a little cafe in the middle of the action that seems to be the place where the vendors have their lunch. Our choices were eggs sunny side up with french fries; or bun-less hot dogs with french fries; or sliced sausage with french fries. Neither of us were having a strong stomach these last couple days so we just opted for french fries. There were no free tables in the cafe but a couple ladies motioned for us to sit with them. With very limited English, we discovered that these ladies with golden teeth were from Tajikistan and they sold fruits in the market. Barb, Linc, Bree, and I shopped at the souvenir shops at the bazaar. I was tempted by a couple items (an embroidered jacket for $40, a sheep fur hat for $30, and a carved business card holder for $10) but I’m holding off to do my shopping in the next city of Bukhara. I would have probably walked further today but it was so cold today and sprinkling much of the day.

Barb left to go back to the hotel so I decided to walk around the old Jewish quarter. Our guide had told us there were at one time 30,000-40,000 Jews in the city and now there are 164. This was supposed to be the old part of town but it seems the old woodwork has been replaced by metal doors. It was near a small mosque that I was approached by a man in a long purple robe and skull cap.
Him: Hello
Me: Hello
Him: How do you like Samarkand
Me: I like it very much <pause> but it’s very cold
Him: come with me
Me: <following him> Um, where are we going?
Him: A house. A casino
I am always wary of a scam but felt that I should check this out. We just took a few steps into the common room of a house that was right on the main street thru the Jewish quarters. I could see many people thru the windows. There were 6 men there and 3 were playing dominoes for 1000 som per game (about 40 cents). There were several sets of tables and chairs and a flat screen TV with the Russian news on. The opposite wall had a picture of the president of Uzbekistan, who is from Samarkand. When I told them my name was Lisa, they dubbed me “Mona Lisa”. They were quite funny in our limited ability to communicate in broken English. The man in the purple coat told me that they were “Uzbek Mafia” and like “Al Pacino.” Several men came and went and one guy came by who said what I thought was that his daughter from NY would be there in 5 minutes. In fact, he called his daughter in New York who spoke very good English. She said his father wanted to invite me to dinner at his house the following day. Unfortunately, I will be leaving tomorrow morning. I returned to the “casino” where a couple guys were now playing a backgammon-like game. I learned this was called “Shesh Besh” or “Six Five” in English, for the two dice…rolling a 6 and 5 gets the name of the game. After a bit of close watching, I decided it was time to return to the hotel before dark so I said good bye to the men.
Back at the hotel, I met up with Sam, Mindy, Bree, and Linc and we went to dinner at the Maroqand restaurant. I had noticed this place two days ago because the spelling of the name is similar to my last name. Also, the symbol of the ‘M’ in the sign is a clear rip-off from McDonalds. An exact replica of the golden arches. Almost everyone from our group had eaten there at least once because it was good and cheap and the closest place to get solid food to our hotel. I ordered a sort of chicken fingers meal for about $5. This was lightly breaded fried pieces of chicken, some fried onions and tomato, rice with garbanzo beans, and french fries – a lot of food. It was all good.

There seems to be an obsession with America here. When people ask our group where people are from, they get most excited about America. Several people have told us it’s their dream to come to America. There are signs in all of the towns about the “Green Card Lottery”. Some students from an English class all wanted their picture taken with me. A shop owner asked me how easy it was to get a Green Card.

Steps: 17,909


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