Day 17 and 18: Dushanbe - Samarkand (Uzbekistan): Leaving Dushanbe in the early morning, we took a two hour drive to our final border crossing of the trip as we headed once more into Uzbekistan. This crossing turned out to be the longest timewise at a tad over three and a half hours. The border was laid out in classic cold war format. A strip about one kilometre long, with the actual border in the middle. The 500 metres either side of the frontier line were "no go" for vehicles, and each had 3 check points to navigate - a soldier to check your passport, a passport man to check it again and laboriously record all your details onto both a register, and also onto a computer system, then a customs man rifles through all ,and I mean all, your possessions looking for anything to divert himself from the mind numbing boredom of his job. With me they found my iPad and two of them jabbed away on it like small boys for 5 minutes. Then you did the whole thing again in entering Uzbekistan. Only one person at a time could be processed, and the customs took around 10 minutes per person.

The bus that met us in Uzbekistan was clapped out and too small for our group and our luggage. The Uzbek guide to meet us spoke not a word of English. There was no water nor food for us on the bus. "Null Points" for Wild Frontiers on this one! To say I was angry would be an understatement. We had a short stop to buy bread and a bit of basic food to eat on the bus, then lurch over the mountains towards Samarkand. Uzbekistan tends to be a bit paranoiac about checking travellers. Each time you enter a new province in the country you have to stop at a police control point. At one they even insisted in xraying all our baggage - yes, that is right, we had to remove it all from the bus and have it xrayed. It was pitch dark and well over 12 hours after leaving Dushanbe that we finally rolled into Samarkand. The driver then had difficulty finding the hotel, probably not surprising as he had driven from the border for around 10 hours without a break !

After that day the saving grace was the hotel, the Malika Classic. We enjoyed this hotel, and the fact that it was a little way from the centre was not a problem, as we were with a small group, and transport and guide were provided to ferry us around the city. If you had to walk you may think differently! A really nice hotel with rooms facing inward to an interior courtyard. A pleasant nice place to relax with a beer after a days 's sightseeing. The hotel is much better for relaxing than the better positioned Malika Prime - between the two I am glad I stayed here. Apart from breakfast we did not eat in the hotel during our two day stay in Samarkand (we used restaurants in the centre). I would be more than happy to stay at this hotel if I went back to the city

We ate at the City Restaurant. This was a "civilised" restaurant. They served good food, well presented and made a real effort to make us feel welcome. The owner was in attendance - always a good sign for me. It was not "classic" central Asian food, but after 3 weeks on the Silk Road, I had had my fill of "classic" central Asian food, and this was not more "classic". I do not like to be hurried with a meal, and was more than happy with the speed of service. The drinks are on the pricey side (in comparison to the food) so if you are on a budget, check the price of beers, etc, before you order. I would certainly recommend this restaurant to anybody visiting the city

The city is most noted for its central position on the Silk Road between China and the West, and for being an Islamic centre for scholarly study. Genghis Khan, according to Juvaini, killed all who took refuge in the citadel and the mosque. He also pillaged the city completely and conscripted 30,000 young men along with 30,000 craftsmen. Samarkand suffered at least one other Mongol sack by Khan Baraq to get treasure he needed to pay an army. The town took many decades to recover from these disasters.

The Travels of Marco Polo recording his journey along the Silk Road, describes Samarkand as a "a very large and splendid city..." Here also is related the story of a Christian church in Samarkand, which miraculously remained standing after a portion of its central supporting column was removed. In the 14th century it became the capital of the empire of Timur (Tamerlane).

The sights of Samarkand include

Click on any of the thumbnail images to get a larger photo

The joys of another border crossing - 3.5 hours all told ! A clapped out old bus met us, with no food or water on board - a
saving grave was this bread stall. The control points continued for most of the drive in Uzbekistan The Malika Classic was, gracia a
Dios, a really nice hotel, with all rooms looking onto a central courtyard - wifi was fairly non-existent, but the boys loved it.
Shah-i-Zinda necropolis includes mausoleums and other ritual buildings built gradually over nine centuries. This was a really spectacular .
site, and for this alone it would be worth visiting Samarkand . The mass of detail and sheer scale of the place was breathtaking .
.most of it has been fully restored and is alive with visitors, the majority being Uzbeks. This was the lady that manned the pay kiosk.
The Russian cemetery was interesting with the pictures etched on the tombstones. The on past various local colour to the market.
Again not really touched by foreign tourism, they sold an eclectic cross section of sweetmeats, vegetables, spices and even hats.
Time for a quick refreshment before going to the Bibi Khanym mosque, which is a complete reconstruction rather than a repair.
And what everyone comes to see - Registan Square, one of Central Asia’s most iconic sights - 3 madrasahs grouped on 3 sides of a .
.square, At night a low tech son et lummiere was running Dinner at the Old City Time for a tourist photo
A visit to Guri Amir (Tamerlane’s tomb) and a last wander round the architecture and museums. But no time for a shave.


On to Bukhara

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