Samarkand, land of milk and honey

Samarkand, land of milk and honey

  “For lust of knowing what should not be known

 We take the golden road to Samarkand”

Well James Elroy Flecker never got to Samarkand, but I did. Not by the golden road, but by the much more prosaic and definitely more comfortable bullet train. Samarkand is OTT. Turquoise domes and minarets decorated in turquoise and cobalt blue diagonal majolica tiles stand tall, compelling the eye and requiring plenty of battery power in the camera. It sits in a fertile valley, renowned through centuries for its fruit and harvest as well as strategic location.

 

Local shoppers in market

Locals pleased with their beetroot!

 

Woman from Ferghana Valley

Woman from Ferghana Valley, sightseeing at the Registan

 

Retired Aussie grandmother with Uzbek teeny-bopper ikat fashionista

Retired Aussie grandmother with Uzbek teeny-bopper ikat fashionista, also sightseeing

We are seeing chestnut trees and lilac and iris in streetscapes, parks and gardens. When we drove over the Zarafshan range to visit Shakrisabz ( Timur’s family seat) we saw roadside stalls with the first rhubarb of the season, which is eaten here raw. We also saw grape vines, mulberry trees ( for silk production) apple trees and other blossoming fruit trees. On the return journey teenage boys were on the roadside selling bunches of the wild red poppies that grow in the wheat fields. Donkeys and carts are carrying loads of mulberry leaves from roadside plantings, to feed hungry silkworms in government funded cottage industry silk production.

Old suzanis at Urgut market

Old suzanis at Urgut market

 

Urgut market with Shakrisabz mountains in the distance

Urgut market with Zerofshan mountains in the distance

This was Timur’s capital, from where he captured lands in three directions, determined to exceed all others. At the same time he was patron of science and the arts, and in post-independence Uzbekistan a much revered figure. His Samarkand was Central Asia’s epicentre, with long campaigns securing lands stretching to Istanbul in the west, Moscow in the North, Delhi in the south. China remained unconquered. This of course was not achieved without huge cost to the vanquished, with an estimated 15 million lives lost.   If you have doubts in our might and power”, wrote Timur, “look at our monuments”. And indeed we did, in some detail in the hands of our outstanding guide Mirza.

 

The Registan is a set of three medressas whose component parts lurch off centre. Their cobalt and turquoise majolica tile work is a visual overload, said to be one of the most awesome sights in Central Asia, which it may well be spoilt to my mind by the shops that populate its ground floor cells, so the opportunities to pester tourists are multiplied. The whole set was finished by the early 1400s. It is a stunning masterpiece.

Bibi Khamyn complex

Bibi Khamyn complex

Bibi-Khanym Mosque was finished shortly before Timur’s death, a grand building that was commissioned by Timur’s wife whose name it bears. In a tale worthy of Arabian Nights, she fell in love with the architect and thus ensued a tragic story. It must surely be the only mosque named after a woman? The main gate alone was over 35 metres high. Over time it crumbled away and then suffered earthquake in 1897. Restoration of this and other complexes has been extensive over the last 40 years, and is still in train. A third set of tiled buildings is the street of tombs of Timur’s family and favourites, Shahr-I-Zindah.

 

Dome at mausoleum complex

Dome at Shahr-I-Zindah

 

Timur was an extraordinary man and his grandson Ulughbek was also extraordinary – an astronomer already well aware the earth revolved around the sun because this had been discovered much earlier by another astronomer from Bukhara. I was surprised yet not surprised to learn that everything we were taught about this honour belonging to Copernicus was a Eurocentric view. Ulughbek was of course put to death for promoting science rather than the scriptures.

I close with a few shots for the foodies – am enjoying the local round bread and fresh salads with plenty of dill and coriander, hearty soups and delicious sweets. Beer is good, wine “interesting”.

 

lunch: samsa, yoghurt and salad

lunch: samsa, yoghurt and salad

 

Lamb cooked with juniper leaves and cumin

Lamb cooked with juniper leaves and cumin

Comments

  1. Again, wonderfully descriptive and evocative lines….feel I could be standing in that market place with you, or getting a sore neck with all that upward gazing at the scintillating walls and domes. Admirable, braving the salads too!
    Love, Lib

  2. Marianne says:

    What a fabulous experience! I feel we are on tour with you Kris. Those fabrics are so beautiful and the blue domes must be able to tell a thousand stories. Can almost smell the tang of those spices in the cooking too. Thanks for keeping us posted with these wonderful pics and the recounts of your daily travels – Marianne

  3. Chris Wilson says:

    Hi Kris,
    meet me at the station, I’m arriving in the morning.
    cheers,
    Chris

  4. kaye robson says:

    Kris the colours are wonderful, the smells I can only imagine I just hope they are not over-restoring some of their sites as they have done in Oman.
    The dome at Shahr-I-Zindar looks beautiful.
    Look forward to hearing more…. Kaye xx

  5. Christine Spink says:

    I love travelling with friends. Thank you so much for sharing your journey. Those blues are ethereal like water spread on a dome.

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