Monday, 5 November 2012

Samarkand: the epicenter of over-restored Timurid architecture

The night train to Samarkand departs Tashkent at around 9:00 and arrives in Samarkand shortly after 1:00 in the morning. This is far from ideal, and means I didn't get much sleep on my trip: the smarter thing by far would have been to take the night train all the way to Bukhara, then backtrack to Samarkand, as this would have allowed me to take the night train from Samarkand to Urgench (there's no train from Bukhara to Urgench, as Bukhara is on a different line). A ticket all the way to Bukhara is also only slightly more than simply going to Samarkand, as I paid 40,000 som for a first-class (4-berth kupe) ticket, and all the way to Bukhara would be only 46,000 som.

Anyway, I arrived at Samarkand at about 1:30, woken up by the conductor maybe 15 minutes beforehand. Somewhat surprisingly, there was a large, illuminated billboard map of Samarkand outside the station, in English. We're clearly in a well-touristed place, now, which is a definite difference.

You know you're back on the tourist trail when you see signs like this.

The station itself was closed, so I wasn't able to kill some time in there. But given the map, it was fairly easy to figure out how to walk over to the central tourist district and the Registan. As I walked down the road leading to the station, I stopped by one of the little markets that I was surprised to find still open and grabbed a quick snack.

I took my time walking into town, and when I came close to the monuments at around 4:00 I was pleased to find that many of them are illuminated all night long.

The first monument on the wwy to the Registan area is the Gur-e-Amir mausoleum, built for Temur/Timur/Tamerlane, who founded the Timurid dynasty which is responsible for most of the monuments in Samarkand.

The entrance portal in front of the Gur-e-Amir.

The entrance portal in front of the mausoleum.

Across from the Gur-e-Amir is another smaller mausoleum, the Rukhobod Mausoleum, which is partially surrounded by this court. As is typical of Uzbekistan today, the stalls now serve as souvenir and craft stores.

The Registan is Samarkand's signature monument complex, and is comprised of three madressas built over a period of 250 years. The Ulugh Beg madressa, on the left, was built from 1417-1420, while the opposing Sher-Dor madressa was constructed in 1619-1636. The central Tilya-Kori madressa was constructed in 1646-1660.

5:00 in the morning isn't that bad a time to visit, as it's truly empty at that time.

One of the guards for the central building saw me walking around and offered to let me in by selling me a ticket (which was just a used ticket). You can get into most places after hours by bribing people, but I figured it would be better to see everything during the day.

The Sher-Dor madressa is famous for the mosaic tigers just above the iwan—portrayal of living beings is forbidden in Islamic art and architecture.

After looking around the exterior of the Registan, I headed across the street to a small cafe that was open and serving locals. I was pretty surprised that you could have a humble cafe on prime real estate across from what is probably the most famous building in Central Asia, but it really was a cheap, blue-collar sort of establishment.

Shortly after 7:00, having eaten breakfast, I returned to the park around the Registan to take some more pictures.

There's still no one up and about yet.

These buildings look great, but it's difficult to realize how much is the result of restoration, as they either haven't used substantially lighter colours to show what has been restored, or the amount of restored building overwhelms that which is original. It's only when you see old pictures that you really understand just how much work has been done.

Here's what this wing of the above madressa looked like in an early colour photograph taken by Russian photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky in 1911. A French guy I met earlier in my travels who was working on architectural restorations told me that the very aggressive Soviet and post-Soviet restorations of many monuments in Uzbekistan were excessive by western standards.

And here's what it looked like in 1890, when French photographer Paul Nadar visited the region.

And here's what it looks like today.

The mirror wing in 1890.

The decoration on the Ulugh Beg and Tilya-Kori facades is more appropriately geometrical.

Obstructed view from a similar angle in 1890, with very little tile work above the iwan.

A head-on view of Ulugh Beg in 1890.  Note that the second story of the madressa is cut off.

During the day time, this is about as far as you can go without buying a ticket, as they use barricades and ropes to limit access.

A similar view in 1890. Most of the pishtaq's tile work is missing, as are the domes on the minarets and the dome on the west wing of the madressa.

I guess if you look closely you can see the lighter brickwork that suggests a restoration, but they certainly don't do much to advertise or show you how much of what you see today is a restoration.

The moon behind a minaret.

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These guys wanted me to take their picture. Unfortunately, I was having big problems with my main lens, an 18-200mm zoom, so I had to use an 85mm lens, which means this picture is actually three pictures stitched together.

The iwan (vaulted space open on one side) entrance to the central the central Tilya-Kori madressa. The iwans on these madressas are set inside pishtaqs, which are the rectangular entrance-way that stand out from the rest of the madressa building.

From the side wall of one of the madressas.

There's a large, open, park to the east of the Registan, and a surprisingly quiet park tucked behind the Sher-Dor and Tilya-Kori madressas. The circular Chorsu bazaar is located there (and is, unsurprisingly, now full of tourist shops), and this is a view of the eastern facade of the Tilya-Kori madressa from the park.

View through the park to the entrance of the Ulugh Beg madressa.

View from the large park, near the entrance to the Bahodir guesthouse, looking over at the Chorsu bazaar building, with the Registan madressas behind it.

A view of the market and Chorsu in 1890, including the rear wall of the Sher-Dor..

Another view of the Chorsu, this time showing the left-hand wall of the Sher-Dor.

It was now almost 8:00, and I had been inching closer to the Bahodir guesthouse, a popular place with tourists, and which is literally a stone's throw from where I took the above picture. The only problem was that their door was still closed, and no one was answering my knocks or the buzzer, so I sat down outside the door and did a bit of reading until a guest who was exiting opened the door. They didn't have dorms, but since this was the off-season I was able to get a triple room with attached bathroom all to myself for $10 per night. Sure, the facilities were a bit worn and crumbling, but it was a pretty good deal for the location and ambience. After taking a much-too-long nap to catch on the sleep I hadn't had, it was back out to explore.

An anonymous mosque to the north of the Registan was full of character and tilework, with an unusual standalone minaret.

The minaret base and mosque or study-hall entrance.

A tandoor in the courtyard. Uzbek and most Central Asian tandoors are horizontal, unlike in India and Xinjiang. Both tandoors and bread are virtually sacred in Central Asia, so bread is never thrown out (hence dishes like shir choi that make use of old, hard bread) and tandoors are never destroyed.

Markets and supermarkets are always fun. Here's an unfortunately-named laundry detergent. Ever since it had gotten cooler, I had been carrying my wool sweater everywhere, and wearing it almost every day over the last month. I figured I was probably beginning to smell like mutton (though Megi told me I didn't), but since I needed something warm to wear every day I wasn't able to wash it until I went to southern Iran.

Samarkand's market looks like pretty much every other market in Uzbekistan, except that it is right next to Bibi Khanum mosque.

From underneath the market's roof.

After China, there were very few places where you had to pay entrance fees, so coming to Uzbekistan was a bit of a shock. The nice thing is that after buying a ticket for Bibi Khanum you could re-enter for the next couple of days.

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As you can see from this picture I took the next day, Bibi Khanum mosque is actually a complex of three mosques around a courtyard, with a giant marble Koran holder in the middle.

Timur reportedly built this huge mosque as a surprise present for his Chinese-born wife.

Being so large and hastily built, the mosque was particularly prone to earthquake damage, as you can still see from the southern side, despite the extensive restorations.

View from inside Bibi Khanum Mosque, looking at the inside of the entrance pishtaq.

The marble Koran holder, looking south.

Bibi Khanum mosque's iwan, and the Koran holder.

Souvenir vendors under the dome of the northern mosque. The market is just behind it.

The evening sun warms up the south side of the mosque.

Across the road from the Bibi Khanum mosque and market is Bibi Khanum's mausoleum.

The entrance to the Bibi Khanum mosque complex as seen from the Bibi Khanum mausoleum.

Here's what the entrance pishtaq (on the front right) looked like in 1890, with the Bibi Khanum mosque pishtaq behind it. This is how the complex looked until 1969, when Soviet restoration commenced. Notice that none of the domes are complete, and only the main mosque has any part of its dome remaining.

Another view, from Shah-i-Zinda, shows it looking the same in 1969 as it did in 1890.

In 1991, with the mosque restoration almost complete, as well the secondary mosques on either side with their ribbed domes.

In 1996, in the process of restoring the compound's entrance portal.

In 1999, with the entrance pishtaq largely complete, and the ensemble looking much as it looks today.

North of Bibi Khanum: mosques, mausoleums, and ancient Sogdian cities.

A short distance away is the aforementioned Shah-i-Zinda mausoleum complex, where pigeons perch on the turquoise Timurid domes.

Brick walls are used extensively to separate residential areas from monuments in Samarkand, often making it difficult to access the older parts of the city with traditional, and colourful architecture. Here, a wall separates a highway from Shah-i-Zinda and an adjacent cemetery.

View of Shah-i-Zinda facades from across the expressway that separates it from the other monuments.

A similar view of the same buildings in 1890. You can see that the entrance pishtaq is much taller today, extending well above the point of the arch.

More notably, almost all the decorative tile work you see here is the result of reconstruction.

A view from the cemetery. If you go through the cemetery, it's actually possible to sneak into Shah-i-Zinda at the back of the complex, on the left. They probably have a guard there in high season, and I paid for a ticket when I went, but I exited the complex through the back and walked through the cemetery without encountering anyone.

Looking up at the entrance to the avenue of mausoleums.

View looking back, over the highway, at the central monument area (almost the same angle as the historical pictures shown above). That's the Bibi-Khanum mosque complex in the middle, with the dome of he Registan's Tilya-Kori madressa in the left.

Etched portraits of the deceased are extremely common in post-Soviet countries.

After leaving the cemetery, I headed to ancient Afrosiab, which is a Sogdian site with roots twice as old as the Timurid monuments that Samarkand is more famous for. I had seen another Sogdian site in Penjikent a couple of weeks prior, and this was a good reminder of just how close Penjikent and Samarkand are: they're only about 60km apart, but since Uzbekistan is notoriously unfriendly with its neighbours (despite both Samarkand and Bukhara being largely Tajik cities), the border between the cities has been closed for over five years, and as a result the cities seem much farther apart. Like ancient Penjikent, Afrosiab is little more than a dusty expanse of scrub and the odd mud ridge that is vaguely evocative of a wall or fortification. Perhaps the most interesting thing to me was how it was used to graze animals, functioning as an urban pasture, and feeling extremely tranquil and isolated despite being basically in the middle of the city. I'm sure there is more to it if you explore a lot, and I'm sure the museum is more interesting (it was after closing time when I was in the area), but it really pales in comparison to the sights to be seen in the rest of the city.

Walking back to the city from Afrosiab at dusk, I passed the Hazrat Khidr Mosque, which is at the edge of Afrosiab where it meets the cemetery and the main road that passes in front of the Shah-i-Zinda.

View from the cemetery.

The mosque in 1890, revealing the minaret and entrance are to be relatively new additions.

Another little neighbourhood mosque, in the old town behind the Bahodir and Bibi Khanum mausoleum. This part of the old town is the Jewish Quarter. In the late Soviet era there were 15,000 Jews in Samarkand.

The walls of one of the Gumbaz Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter. There have historically been pockets of Jews in these Central Asian Muslim cities, with perhaps the most well known Jewish community being in Bukhara. Uzbekistan had over 100,000 Jews in the late '80s, but mamy have since emigrated to Israel.

The walls of the Bibi Khanum mosque complex, next to the imposing iwan on the left.

Uzbek ladies chatting on their way from the market.

The northern mosque in the Bibi Khanum complex.

The iwan shows signs of restoration, but is crumbling despite it. Not great for a restoration maybe 35 years old.

It had rained quite a bit the night before. The southern mosque and the back of the entrance pishtaq.

Restored minaret against the sky.

Timurid dome in reflection.

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Once again, the Bibi Khanum complex, looking towards the entrance pishtaq.

Bibi Khanum mosque's iwan.

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More puddles.

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View from the southeast corner of the mosque complex, as I walk along the road that connects it with the Registan area.

The Registan, inside and out

Another look at the side of the Tilya-Kori madressa from near the Chorsu.

The Ulugh Beg madressa.

The Tilya-Kori madressa.

The modern view.

As a reminder, the 1890 view.

The vast majority of the tourists were Uzbek, which is probably a little different in the height of the season.

Detail showing the state of the Sher-Dor in 1890.

The older Ulugh Beg and Sher-Dor madressas are both slightly irregular flawed and irreuglar: horizontals aren't quite level, verticals actually tilt a little, and lines don't quite line up. In contrast, the central Tilya-Kori madressa is perfectly regular and orthogonal. But when you put everything together, it's the irregular flanking madressas that look authentic and charismatic, while the central madressa looks somewhat sterile and modern in its relative perfection.

In 1890 the Sher-Dor looked a little different, with the main structural difference being at the top of the pishtaq.

In this 1911 picture of the right dome of the Sher-Dor, you can see the dome is missing most of its tiles, but is otherwise intact.

The interior of the Sher-Dor in 1911.

The main, central entrances to the madressas from the plaza-facing iwans are actually bricked up with ornamental screens, and you enter from the side entrances. Here's a view into the Ulugh Beg madressa through the front entrance.

Looking at the northern entrance to the Ulugh Beg, from inside the madressa. This is what madressas typically look like from the inside: rows of study cubicles in arched niches. The doors were typically low, so that you would have to bow when you entered. Of course, today they are souvenir shops.

The back of the Ulugh Beg's pishtaq and its bricked-up entrance.

The pictures from 1890 show only a single level of study cells at that time.

Both the Ulugh Beg and Sher-Dor madressas contain two rows of cubicles, which is pretty common.

The interior iwan is missing as well.

As we can better see here.

Picture from atop the single tier of prayer cells in 1911, looking over the Tilya-Kori. Note that little remains behind the facade, and the section that is currently the domed mosque appears entirely absent.

Some of the Ulugh Beg tiles survived quite nicely.

Prayer in the courtyard. Note the wooden balcony that has been added in the niche to the right, effectively converting the cell into a two-story edifice. This is a common modification when adapting these cells into shops, as it allows the shopkeeper to live upstairs and store additional goods there.

I also find it interesting that they wore turbans only 120 years ago. Nowadays small skullcaps are more likely for both Uzbeks and Tajiks, and nobody in the region wears turbans.

Similar attire in 1911.

Inside the Tilya-Kori there are only one story of study cubicles, despite the two-story facade.

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Inside the west wing of the Tilya-Kori, under the dome, is mosque with gilded walls and a gilded dome.

According to Lonely Planet the roof is actually flat and the dome is purely an illusion. I'm not sure I buy that.

Looking towards the mosque and dome from Tilya-Kori's courtyard.

These Uzbekistani tourists played dress up to pose for pictures—renting the robes and hats for souvenir pictures is pretty popular at old forts everywhere—and invited me to take one of them.

How prosperous Bukharans dressed in 1890.

Or maybe it was just the 1890s version of dress-up, since it looks like the same guy in both pictures.

Peering into the Sher-Dor madressa.

The search for American dollars

A great example of Soviet art adorns the side of an apartment building between the Registan and the Gur-e-Amir mausoleum.

Tombs inside the Rukhobod Mausoleum.

The Gur-e-Amir mausoleum during the daytime.

And here's what it looked like in 1890. The ribbed dome is largely complete, but everything else is in shambles, and a separate entrance portal is completely lacking.

The monochrome Rukhobod mausoleum and the back of the half-court that anchors one end of it.

After visiting the Gur-e-Amir and Rukhobod again during the daytime, I headed over to some of the nearby large hotels to try and take out more money. It's kind of insane, but visiting ATMs and banks (only a few branches of specific banks let you get cash advances on international cards for a commission) was a time-consuming but necessary part of my day. And since the banks are only open when the sun is up, this really cuts into the limited sunlight hours that you see in November.

After visiting a couple of ATMs and a couple of bank branches, I walked back to the Bahodir by taking the back roads through the old town behind the Registan. The government really tries to hide these areas by putting up tall, long fences with no access points behind the Registan, and when you see the dilapidation of the streets and the relative impoverishment of the houses it's no surprise that they do so. Surprisingly, it can feel surprisingly rural even a short distance from the Registan, as there is a small river valley a short distance northwest of the Registan that you may find yourself in if you get lost on the winding, labyrinthine paths that run through the area.

The Ulugh Beg after I returned from my money-withdrawing sojourn.

A visit to Shah-i-Zinda: the best and worst of Uzbekistan & me

Crumbling exteriors at the Bibi Khanum complex. The original buildings lasted well over 500 years, the restorations are labouring to make it to 50.

View of the Shah-i-Zinda from across the thoroughfare.

Those snowy peak behind this dome are actually the Fann Mountains in nearby Tajikistan, not far from Penjikent.

I have to admit I wasn't enjoying Uzbekistan that much. From my horrendous experience the first day—both at the border but also at the chaikhana—to the comparative unfriendliness and rapaciousness of the Uzbekistanis who interact with you, I was missing the open friendliness, hospitality, and honesty I had seen in other Central Asian countries. And I think it was particularly jarring because Uzbekistan has, in many respects, the trappings of western modernity (good roads, lots of nice buildings, new cars, a decent economy not predicated on exporting young workers to other countries, etc.) yet in many respects operates at a lower level of "civilization" than you would expect.

One of the really annoying things was that although there were good roads, nice cars, and abundant streetlights and crosswalks, you could try to cross a road where you have the green light and the cars had red lights but some cars would just zoom past you at a high rate of speed—sometimes even passing other cars that had stopped in order to buzz past you. This had happened multiple times already in my brief time in Uzbekistan, and it happened again on my way to Shah-i-Zinda. Now, as I've said, Shah-i-Zinda is separated from the rest of the monuments by a major road. Thankfully, there is a crosswalk with stop lights connecting the two sides. So I waited by the crosswalk until the lights changed and it was my turn to cross, and cars stopped to let me cross. And as I'm half way across the road, a car screams down the road, passes the stopped cars by going into the wrong lane, then buzzes maybe five feet from me as he zooms by. Incredibly, he then turns into the Shah-i-Zinda parking lot, gets out, and starts leisurely chatting with some people there. Enraged, I walk up to him and ask what the hurry was, and why he didn't stop. He asks what I'm talking about, and I say he almost hit me in the crosswalk. He denies that that was him, or that he was driving. I let him know I saw him just drive up. He says that it wasn't him, and it's not his car, but that he's sorry if something happened, and asks why don't I visit his souvenir shop (!). I say that if it isn't his car, he won't mind if I dump some water inside it, so I take the cap off my water bottle and start sloshing water through the window that was cracked open. He doesn't like this too much, despite it supposedly not being his car. Finally, his mom comes over and basically tells me that I've made my point.

I know this is me acting like an asshole, but it's really horrible when it's clear that people have absolutely no regard for you except for how much money they can extract from you.

Donkey carts provide substantially less danger to pedestrians.

The jerk driver operated one of the tourist stalls just outside the entrance gate.

The view from the opposite side in 1890.

Once inside, Shah-i-Zinda reveals itself as probably the most impressive of all the monuments in Samarkand.

Looking up at the avenue of mausoleums from the lower tier.

The ornately decorated dome of one of the first mausoleums, located on the lower tier. These ornate stalactite decorations are known as muqarnas,

Shah-i-Zinda starts with a bang, as the mausoleums are at their most dense and with the most ornate facades at the start of the path. As you can see, most of the tourists in November are Uzbekis.

From the doorway of the first mausoleum on the right, looking towards Bibi Khanum.

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The mausoleum are so close together that I had to stitch together four pictures taken with an 18mm lens from inside the opposing mausoleum's doorway in order to make this picture.

The facade of a different mausoleum in 1890, showing largely intact tile work.

The dome of this mausoleum is covered with gorgeous tiles.

View from inside the mausoleum to the opposing one.

Looking towards the entrance.

Further on the path opens up, with mausoleums more widely spaced and set back from the path.

There's always something to work on, even if only to maintain older restorations.

Looking back at the entrance to the upper tier, where most mausoleums are.

A family enjoys the views.

About halfway to the end of the path there is a small mosque connected to the mausoleums.

View through the Kusam ibn-Abbas mausoleum.

Prayer before the mosque's beautifully tiled mihrab.

The bare white walls only accentuate the beauty of the tile work.

Light streams through a window in an ornately decorated room of the complex, complete with geometric murals and complex muqarnas.

Tiles, new and original, hint at the extent of the 2005 restoration of the complex.

So many gorgeous buildings so close to one another.

Looking back towards the entrance and the first cluster of mausoleums.

Two of the many mausoleums, from one of the walls that surrounds the complex. Restoration appears to be an ongoing process.

Looking down at the first tier of mausoleums, from behind the one with the tiled roof.

The mosque is located in the complex where the pathway passes through the archway, to the right of the turquoise dome.

A couple of guides/touts relax in the sun.

How the avenue looked in 1890. I believe the are that is walled off in this photograph is the area filled not with mausoleums but with tombs or grave-markers today.

Dried berries on a tree just outside the wall.

The modern cemetery surrounds the ancient necropolis.

A tomb inside a mausoleum.

Graves, Shah-i-Zinda, and the snow-capped Fann Mountains in the background..

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The turquoise domes of the lower level, and the ocher domes of the first section of the upper level.


Modern Soviet and post-Soviet graves.

The steps leading from the back of Shah-i-Zinda to the cemetery. There's a modern grave with a sitting area and benches next to that tree.

An alternate view of the same dome, from behind the necropolis, in 1890.

View from behind the mausoleum being restored.

So many domes they look like the rooftops of a domes marketplace or colonnade like you might see in Turkey or Iran (or the original Bibi Khanum complex, apparently).


The lower mausoleum with the muqarna dome.

In 1890 you can see there is a considerable stretch in the middle or the row that has no surviving mausoleums whatsoever. That isn't the case today, where there are only a few gaps in the rows of mausoleums, and then only on one side.

Heading back to the rear entrance of the necropolis.

It's nice they use traditional-looking scaffolding, but the interesting detritus around the bottom suggests they just pull off bricks willy-nilly and chuck them to the ground (so this had better be a restoration of a restoration).

Looking back towards the entrance.

I spent almost three hours at Shah-i-Zinda and the cemetery. Overkill, sure, but it was a great place to relax and sit and read while soaking up the ambiance, and inside the complex itself you are remarkably free from the commerialism and souvenir vendors hat plague so much of Uzbekistan. 


Another shot of the mausoleum being restored.

How it looked in 1911.

Although this tile work is impressive, it can't hold a candle to the first mausoleums on the upper tier.

A head-on view of the chartak (archway) in 1911.

The facades on these ones simply are unsurpassed.

Similar view in 1890.

Add caption

Plus ├ža change...


From just outside the complex.

I reach peak asshole

Although the beauty and tranquility of Shah-i-Zinda had helped me cool down from the earlier traffic-related incident, I was still really annoyed with how people drove and how they treat you. So when I was crossing back to the southern side of the road at the crosswalk and the scene repeated itself—a minivan dodged traffic and hurtled past stopped cars on its way towards me—I had had enough. I kind of waved my arms as it was approaching, then as it passed me I threw my water bottle at it. Boom! It was a thin plastic bottle, so I expected the bottle to break, and at first it looked like it did. But it actually wasn't drops of water I saw falling to the pavement in the van's wake, but little hexagonal shards of broken glass: I had shattered the side window. I think it took a bit for the driver to figure out what had happened, but it took a few seconds before it even started to slow down, and it stopped about 300 meters down the road.  Now, I could easily have just left, but I wanted to yell at the driver, too, so after finishing crossing the road I walked in the direction of the stopped van.

The driver and his passengers approached me (it seems this was a marshrutka or share taxi, though not marked as such), and the driver couldn't understand why I would be angry about his driving, and just kept telling me how much his window would be. He seemed to known it would be $80 (does he replace them a lot), and the only thing he cared about was getting me to pay. He and I exchanged heated words for a while, then I started to walk away. He and his passengers didn't like this, so they grabbed me and prevented me from moving while he fetched a police officer.

Now, Uzbekista has a bit of a weird reputation when it comes to police. On the one hand, there are the strict registration requirements for foreigners, but on the other hand they have also had instructions not to bother tourists too much (which is why some share-taxi drivers prefer foreigners, as it means they are less likely to be shaken down for bribes) lest they give the country a bad reputation. I figured I might get kicked out of the country, but at this point I didn't really care (except for the visa troubles it would cause, as I could really only be kicked out to visa-free Kyrgyzstan).

But when they managed to flag down a passing police car, I was kind of surprised that the police sided with me, and after hearing from the driver and passenger he was most concerned with asking me if the driver or his passengers had hit or punched me. When I said they hadn't, he was satisfied, except he actually made the driver apologize to me and shake my hand (which he was very unhappy to do, of course).

This, of course, is me reaching peak asshole, and me most blatantly taking advantage of the tourist's privileged situation. To be honest, this is something I would also do in North America or Europe, but that's because I'm prepared to deal with any consequences. But I imagine the consequences in Uzbekistan might be quite different if a local had done what I did, but at that point I really didn't care.

And being at that point of not caring is pretty horrible, and my realization of how horrible it is is why I didn't care if they kicked me out of the country. I had experienced something similar in Vietnam, where after being scammed repeatedly in my first few days in the country I was seriously contemplating leaving, as I realized that I didn't like the way my experiences were making me feel about the country and the people—treating people with great suspicion as a potential scamster. That's not how I want to experience places, it's not how I want to think of people, and it's not a healthy way to travel.

As I was walking back, a couple of French tourists stopped me by the crosswalk and told me they saw everything and could vouch for me if I needed them to. I told them that everything had turned out OK, but they gave me their email addresses just in case I needed them to confirm what had happened.

Shah-i-Zinda from the south side of the road, shortly after I reached peak asshole.

 Bibi Khanum Mausoleum.

Leaving Bibi Khanum and walking up the road to the Registan area. Remember that everything outside of those darker tiles on the domed mosque are whole-cloth, modern restorations.

An interesting Soviet-era mosaic.

Chrysler 300s are luxury cars in Europe and Asia—you frequently see them stretched into limos and used at weddings—but this is the first one I've seen with scissor doors. Of course, you need to leave the doors open when you park to properly show them off...

Wedding central: the Monument to Grieving Mothers (over soldiers lost in war).

They do a procession around the central flame, while the wedding planner looks on.

You know how important I am? So important I need to take calls while getting married. Of course, he could be talking to a relative who couldn't make it, but I like my snarky interpretation.

The English translation: "You are always in our hearts, my dear!"

Wedding photographer. Like everyone else in Central Asia, he uses Canon equipment—good luck finding anything else.

I left Samarkand much the same as I entered it: visiting Gur-e-Amir and the train station in the dark. I took the same train that arrived on completing the Tashkent-Bukhara journey.

Historical views of Samarkand

Russian newsreel of Samarkand, circa 1930:


November 3: 16,200 som + $10
  • Room: $10
  • Breakfast: 3,800 som
  • Ice cream & ice tea: 2,700 som
  • Bibi Khanum entrance ticket: 8,000 som
  • Ice creams: 1,700 som
    November 4: 27,400 som + $10
    • Registan entrance ticket: 13,300 som
    • Room: $10
    • Ice cream: 1,000 som
    • Pepsi: 2,400 som
    • Dinner: 9,000 som
    • Internet: 1,200 som
    • Bus: 500 som
    November 5: 49,800 som + $3
    • Night train to Bukhara: 34,000 som
    • Shah-i-Zinda entrance ticket: 5,000som
    • Dinner at Bahodir: $3
    • Pepsi, bread, jam: 9,000 som
    • Internet: 1,800 som

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