We all awoke at the crack of dawn to get ready to depart at 6:30am for our train to Samarkand. The weather had closed in bringing rain and wind. Wonderful. We all packed on to the bus and made our way to the station.
Uzbekistan loves its security xray machines and almost everywhere we went our bags were scanned. The station was fairly quiet as far as English train stations go and there weren’t rows of people standing far too close to the edge of the platform. We boarded the train and settled into the best train seats I have ever sat on! They beat the ones we used for the Eurostar.
The Afrosiyab train is Uzbekistan’s high speed train which runs from Tashkent to Samarkand taking around 2 – 2 ½ hours. The ride was very comfortable and we were even treated to a chicken breakfast – chicken breast in a sauce with rice (which was a little odd at 7:30am). We sped through the countryside and were pulling into Samarkand in no time.
The rain followed us but despite this we were all excited to be in one of the most important cities in central Asia. Our bus driver was delayed so we headed back into the station, our guide Guzal sweet talked the men on the door and a bag scan later we were back inside a very empty train station. It was rather surreal – chandeliers and stain glassed windows – all in a station which didn’t look like it saw much footfall.
A quick check in at the hotel and we were off to the Registan complex – one of the most well known sights in Uzbekistan. This was also our first encounter with being celebrities! We were stopped a lot for pictures with local and visiting Uzbek’s.
The Registan is a group of three Madrassah in a large square, each of them on a slightly different level to indicate their importance. The Ulug Beg Madrassah (1417–1420), Tillya-Kari Madrassah (1646–1660) and Shir Dor Madrassah (1619–1636).
The Ulug Beg Madrassah was built in the era of Amir Timur or Tamerlane – and consisted of dormitories for students, lecture halls and a mosque. The madrassah was one of the best Muslim universities in the 15 Century and during Ulug Beg’s time it was the centre for secular science.
The Tillya-Kari Madrassah was the last of the madrassah to be built. It was a residential college but also played the role of the Grand Mosque – and it was a Grand Mosque!! The gold and blue of the interior was stunning and almost took my breath away. Yes there has been a lot of restoration work and this is evident across the historical sites of Uzbekistan it doesn’t take away from the spectacle. I also made some new friends!!
Lastly we visited the Shir Dor Madrassah. The most interesting feature of this building is the Tiger’s on the facade. This goes against the ban in Islam for depicting animals. The blue domes and minarets were also impressive.
We visited the Registan again later in the day at closing time and enjoyed seeing the site almost empty. The epic scale of the building was impressive and made us feel (and look) very small! To think these were built so long ago just makes it all the more amazing!
I can see why its one of the key sites in Uzbekistan and Central Asia!
In the afternoon we visited the Al Bukhari Mausoleum. Al Bukhari was a Persian Islamic scholar who wrote the Haditha – Sahih al-Bukhari – regarded by Sunni Muslims as the most authentic of all Haditha’s and second only to the Koran in terms of its authenticity.
The Mausoleum was made of Quartz and was rather beautiful.
The evening concluded with dinner in a local family’s house. Uzbekistan has a wonderful culture of families turning their homes into mini businesses, ranging from restaurants to Suzani stores. We visited a few more of these business and restaurants on our trip, it was great way to support these local people.
More to come from Samarkand before we head over to Bukhara!
Up next from Uzbekistan
What else we have been up to: