Shakhrisabz and Samarkand

Having spent much of the afternoon at the circumcision ceremony that afternoon we didn’t roll into Shakhrisabz until atfter dark but managed to find a decent hotel even though they couldn’t officially register us. 

Nowhere close was open for dinner so we raided the small supermarket next door and spent a relaxing evening watching Uzbek tv while munching our way through two bowls of milk and chocolate cereal.


The next morning we got up early as we wanted to see a couple of the main sites in the town before cycling the 100km to Samarkand. 

We visited the town’s main mosque, a beautiful building decorated inside with the most amazingly intricate panelled wall paintings


And domed ceilings


We visited the statue of Timur which sits in front of what’s left of his famous 14th century Ak-Saray palace of which only the collapsed arch building remains. 


We unfortunately realised we had a slow puncture here but didn’t have time to change the tube so we just pumped it back up before heading north out of town.


A long climb awaited us but the road surface was good and the incline ok so it wasn’t too tough. After all the flat land we were glad to be climbing and enjoying some views.

We reached the top by 4pm. Here is Paddy sporting his Mr Motorvator look at the top.

We roll into the outskirts of Samarkand at dusk, tired and looking forward to reaching our hotel which we had (for once) booked ahead. Our way is blocked by road works though and we’re forced to take some bumpy detours. Up ahead a large crane machine blocks most of the road but there’s a small gap for us to squeeze through. Unfortunately we miss-judge completely and we end up toppling over into the gutter, taking out this poor pedestrian at the same time. By the time we’d both untangled ourselves from the bike he’d rushed off in embarrassment and we didn’t even get a chance to apologise. The impact had caused one of the back frame bolts to shear so we were forced to fix it before finally reaching our hotel.

Unlike its neighbours Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan isn’t exactly rich in beautiful mountainscapes or green pastures. It more than makes up for this though with its impressive (albeit somewhat tastelessly modernised) historic cities which are some of the most celebrated centres of artistic, cultural and scientific learning in the Islamic world. 


One of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia, Samarkand inhabited a strategic position along the Silk Road. Indeed, study either the life of Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan, and the city will feature heavily in both tales, the former conquering the city (then known as Marakanda) from the Sogdians in 329BC and the latter invading at the beginning of the 13th century. 

The artistic, architectural and scientific innovations which took place within the city during the Timurid (14th century) period are unprecedented. Note that Europe’s Renaissance period was only just getting started. 


Timur was a patron of the arts and is Uzbekistan’s national hero (much like Manas in Kyrgyzstan) and along with his grandson Ulugbek the city became known as a rich centre of learning. 


The Registan (‘sandy square’) was the centre of cultural life during his reign with the complex incorporating a number of Medressas and a huge bazar which once filled the open space between the buildings. 



Despite the buildings having been thoroughly restored, unfortunately it’s hard to get a sense of what it must have been like to leave the hectic market square and enter the cool quiet solitude of the Medressas because most of the classrooms and tree lined courtyards are jam packed with souvenir stalls. It feels a little sterile.


Nevertheless, the buildings are impressive with their intricate tiled exteriors, gold plated domes and carved wooden doors. 


Next up we head down to the Bibi-Khanym Mosque and then end the day with a walk to the collection of mausoleums at the Shah i-Zinda complex. 


Outside the mausoleum  a sheep is being butchered in the courtyard. 


The avenue of tombs boast some of the richest tiling in the Muslim world and its gem is the tomb of Qusam ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the prophet Mohammad and where we were able to sit and listen to a qari recite live recitation of the Quran. 

Inside one of the crypts


Surrounding the tombs is a huge graveyard where hundreds of other important Uzbeks are buried. 


After some sightseeing we were in need of more local currency.

Uzbekistan suffers from high inflation and nobody, not even locals, take money from ATMs because the official exchange rate set by the banks is woefully low. 

Everyone uses the black market and runs a cash economy and most hotels and shop owners will be happy to exchange. 

We spent a fun two hours haggling for the best rate at the bazar. The whole system is pretty hilarious with guys obviously running ‘patches’ – so there is no point in trying to get a better rate with the guy standing two doors down because they will likely be working for the same conglomerate. 

The exchange rate is roughly $1 = 6250s but due to inflation no notes bigger than 5000 exist and there’s not a lot of those around either so you largely get stacks of 1000s.

We were changing three $100 bills. This is the stack of notes we got back… 


Because it’s the black market we were careful to count the stacks before handing over the dollars and boy, the guys tried every trick in the book to confuse us. They were really friendly too and once we were happy we’d got the right amount we headed off with our wads of notes feeling like gangsters! 


The next day we bumped into a fellow cyclist, Jean from New Zealand, who we had met briefly outside the Turkmenistan embassy in Dushanbe. She was heading off at the same time as us towards Bukhara so we planned to set off together. Here we are outside The Registan ready to go!

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