The high speed train from Tashkent to Samarkand was comfortable, fast and impressive. We zipped across the wide open spaces of this part of Uzbekistan and were painlessly deposited in Samarkand. For reasons that were not clear there was a small band playing music to welcome the train. The boys always like a train ride.

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Malika Prime Hotel

I have stayed in Samarkand before at the other Malika hotel, which I preferred as being more "boutiquey". This time we stayed at the Malika Prime which was more the "grinding through tourists" sort of place.You stay at the Malika Prime, because of the location, very near Gur Emir and opposite a large public park; It is about 15 minute walk across the park and up a main road to get to the Registan - the other Samarkand sights are a bit further.

The bedrooms are fine but not luxurious. Ours was at the back/side and looked out over complete desolation and was not to be recommended. Ask for a front facing room. There is a roof terrace with reasonable views, and if you can find the staff, you can enjoy a drink here The hotel is clearly a tourist hotel in a major tourist destination, so you get what you pay for - that is nothing fancy, but value for money within (longish) walking distance of Samarkand's attractions .

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Shakhi Zinda Street of the Dead

The Shakhi Zinda has a number mausoleums and other ritual buildings of 9-14th and 19th centuries. The name, meaning "the living king", is connected with the legend that Kusam ibn Abbas, the cousin of the prophet Muhammad was buried there. Popular legends speak that he was beheaded for his faith. But he took his head and went into the deep well (Garden of Paradise), where he's still living now.

There are three groups of structures: lower, middle and upper connected by four-arched domed passages.

The upper group of buildings consists of three mausoleums facing each other. The earliest one is Khodja-Akhmad Mausoleum (1340s).

The middle group consists of the mausoleums of the last quarter of the 14th century - first half of the 15th century and is concerned with the names of Timur's relatives, military and clergy aristocracy. On the western side the Mausoleum of Shadi Mulk Aga, the niece of Timur, stands out. This portal-domed one-premise crypt was built in 1372. Opposite is the Mausoleum of Shirin Bika Aga, Timur's sister.

The lower group is near the multi-step staircase. The best proportioned building of the lower group is a double-cupola mausoleum of the beginning of the 15th century. This mausoleum is devoted to Kazi Zade Rumi, who was the scientist and astronomer.

The main entrance gate was built in 1434-1435

In addition to the mausoleums there is a large modern cemetery, where many of the headstones have "sone photos" of the dead.

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Art Cafe

We stopped here for the unusual treat of coffee, and returned for lunch. It was a nice stop and was owned by a Nargis Bekmuhamedova, an architect-turned-designer based in Samarkand. She has fused her passions of vintage fabrics and good food by creating the Arts Café Studio, located just next to the domed Bibi Khanum Mosque.

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And two more meals

Fish anyone ..or how about a bucket of Plov?

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The Registan

Perhaps the main reason tourists come to Samarkand is to see the Registan. The Registan was a public square, where people gathered to hear royal proclamations, heralded by blasts on enormous copper pipes called dzharchis - and a place of public executions. It is framed by three madrasahs (Islamic schools) of distinctive Islamic architecture.

The three madrasahs of the Registan are: the Ulugh Beg Madrasah (1417–1420), the Tilya-Kori Madrasah (1646–1660) and the Sher-Dor Madrasah (1619–1636).

By the end of the 17th century, Samarkand had gone through a severe economic decline. The status of the capital city passed to Bukhara and merchants of the Great Silk Road would keep away from the city. There were only around 1000 families left in it at that time, and once wonderful buildings of madrassah were a shelter for wild animals.

It was only in 1875 when Samarkand regained its past trading significance and the Registan Square was leveled and bridged. But, in 1918, Samarkand faced more problems. The new Soviet rulers prohibited activity of any madrassah as a religious school. There followed also many natural disasters : earthquakes, harsh weather conditions. The larger part of the cladding of the building and the exterior murals were lost. Nevertheless, it was while still under the Soviet rule that the entire Registan was restored and gave it the status of the significant historical monument on the Great Silk Road.

Restoration works lasted many years and finished just before the fall of the Soviet Union. Scientists literally had to collect thousands of interior and the exterior fragments of the buildings and put it all together again. The Registan that you see today is the results of painstaking work of hundreds of restorers. Today thousands of tourists come every day to see the beauty of the place by day and by night

In short the Registan is stunning and is the iconic image that I have of the Silk Road

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Tamerlane's Mausoleum

The Gūr-e Amīr is a mausoleum of the Asian conqueror Tamerlane. It occupies an important place in the history of Persian-Mongolian Architecture as model for later great Mughal architecture tombs, including Gardens of Babur in Kabul, Humayun's Tomb in Delhi and the Taj Mahal in Agra, built by Timur's Persianised descendants. It has been heavily restored.

Gur-e Amir is Persian for "Tomb of the King". This architectural complex contains the tombs of Tamerlane, his sons Shah Rukh and Miran Shah and grandsons Ulugh Beg and Muhammad Sultan. The construction of the mausoleum itself began in 1403 after the sudden death of Muhammad Sultan, Tamerlane's heir apparent and his beloved grandson, for whom it was intended. Timur had built himself a smaller tomb in Shahrisabz near his Ak-Saray palace. However, when Timur died in 1405 on campaign on his military expedition to China, he was buried here instead. Ulugh Beg, another grandson of Tamerlane, completed the work. During his reign the mausoleum became the family crypt of the Timurid Dynasty. Today only the foundations of the madrasah and khanaka, the entrance portal and a part of one of four minarets remains.

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Ulugh Beg Observatory

Built in the 1420s by the Timurid astronomer Ulugh Beg, it is considered by scholars to have been one of the finest observatories in the Islamic world. Some of the famous Islamic astronomers who worked at the observatory include Al-Kashi, Ali Qushji, and Ulugh Beg himself. The observatory was destroyed in 1449 and rediscovered in 1908.

Zīj-i Sultānī is a Zij astronomical table and star catalogue that was published by Ulugh Beg in 1437. It was the joint product of the work of a group of Muslim astronomers working under the patronage of Ulugh Beg at the Samarkand observatory. Beg determined the length of the tropical year as 365d 5h 49m 15s, which has an error of +25s, making it more accurate than Nicolaus Copernicus' estimate which had an error of +30s. Beg also determined the Earth's axial tilt as 23.52 degrees, which remains the most accurate measurement to date. It was more accurate than later measurements by Copernicus and Tycho Brahe, and it matches the currently accepted value precisely.

While working at the excavation site in 1908, Vyatkin found one of the most important astronomical instruments used at the observatory: a large arch that had been used to determine midday. A trench of about 2 metres wide was dug in a hill along the line of the Meridian and in it was placed the arc of the instrument. Today, there is a circular base showing the outline of the original structure and the doorway leads to the remaining underground section of the Fakhrī sextant that is now roofed over. The sextant was 11 metres long and once rose to the top of the surrounding 3 storey structure although it was kept underground to protect it from earthquakes. The radius of the meridian arc was, according to a trusted middle age Turkish astronomer, approximately 50 metres and was said to be the same height as the dome of the Hagia Sofia mosque in Istanbul. It was used for the observation of the Sun, Moon and other celestial bodies, and along with other sophisticated equipment such as an armillary and an astrolabe, the astronomers working in Samarkand could determine noon every day according to the meridional height of the Sun, distance from the zenith and declination.

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Paper Making

This was an extra excursion which we had to pay for. I think it was added because of Norma's interest in all things to do with paper, though she was decidedly unimpressed by this place. It was a classic example of a "put on to entertain tourists" venue. As we arrived, someone on the staff there metaphorically blew a whistle and all the actors took their places for the show they put on. The show was to demonstrate how they made mulberry paper by hand, and was a bit sad and flat

The Samarkand papermaking technology is as follows. Mulberry bark is taken as a raw material. The bark is cleaned from the outside and boiled in a large pan for a long while. Then it is beaten off in large stupas to make a homogeneous mash similar to dough in consistency. The resulting “dough” is subsequently placed in a tub with water and filtered on a large sheet of flazelin. A blank is pressed, and then is covered with the next sheet of flazelin and some sifted mulberry brew, and so on. The paper is removed from the plates and dried in a vertical position for a day. The resultant dried paper is quite strong. To remove the roughness of the paper, the master polishes it on a granite table with a piece of granite or bone horn, thus the Samarkand paper obtains its smoothness.

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Bibi-Khanym Mosque

It is one of the most important monuments of Samarkand. In the 15th century it was one of the largest and most magnificent mosques in the Islamic world. By the mid-20th century only a grandiose ruin of it survived, but now major parts of the mosque have been restored.

It fell into decay. During the centuries the ruins were plundered by the inhabitants of Samarkand in search of building material. An investigation and securing the ruins was made in Soviet times. Late in the 20th century, the Uzbek government began restoration of three dome buildings and the main portal. In 1974 the government of the then-Uzbek SSR began the complex reconstruction of the mosque. The decoration of domes and facades was extensively restored and supplemented. Work on the mosque restoration continues now.

A photograph taken sometime between 1905 and 1915 by colour photography pioneer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii shows the mosque's appearance after its collapse in the earthquake of 1897.

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And after all that excitement , we are off to Bukhara

On to next town - Bukhara

Back to Overall Itinerary for Silk Road Trip 2016