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Fast Trains and Amazing Architecture in Samarkand

View Central Asia 2019 on Bob Brink's travel map.

May 18

We had to be at breakfast by 6:30 with our bags so that we could catch our morning train to Samarkand. Then my latte order was quite late to arrive. I was gulping it down as everyone else was leaving for the bus. At that moment Po phoned. The connection was bad, and all I could do was say that I had to run, but I doubted that she could understand me.

I was really tired and miserable since my Tylenol did not help last night, leaving me quite stuffed up. I could not breathe, so I could not sleep.

It only took a few minutes to get to the train station. I thought that we were quite early for a train, but found that it was almost like boarding a plane. We had to go through security to get into the terminal. We waited with the big group of Chinese tourists who we had seen yesterday at the border.

Sasha directed us (herded?) onto our car and showed us our seats. We were facing backwards. I ended up in the seat next to Begaim.

I am almost embarrassed to admit that this was my first ever look at a high-speed train. It is ridiculous that there is no high-speed train between Toronto and Montreal. I used to take a Via Rail train between the cities. It does not even have priority on the tracks since they are owned by CN. Freight goes before passengers. I enjoyed the trips, but it was only slightly faster than driving, unless the train was late. That happened often. Then the train took longer.

Now I live in Newfoundland. There used to be a train called the Newfie Bullet. As you might guess, the bullet part was ironic. It was not fast. There were places where you could walk faster. The train is long gone, tracks and all.

But I like trains. And this one is fast and comfortable. They gave me a croissant and cappuccino. This was a great travel moment. I was zipping along through Uzbekistan, a place that a year ago I knew nothing about. Sometimes you have to just stop and think about where you are, appreciate the moment. And it was cool and comfortable, not bouncing up and down like the vans. I was almost sorry that it had to end so quickly. We were there in about two hours.


I guess this is at the low end of high speed as we were usually under 200 km per hour.


Samarkand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia with evidence of its existence going back to the 7th or 8th centuries BC. With its location about halfway between the Mediterranean and China, it was a key city on the Silk Road. The city was doing fine until Genghis Khan attacked in 1220. He was not kind. He never was. His troops shot flaming arrows, hurled oil from catapults, destroyed the aqueduct and managed to kill about 100,000 people. But Genghis was impressed with the city enough that he took away 30,000 skilled craftsmen to work in Mongolia.

Samarkand’s fortunes changed when Timur (also know as Tamerlane) made it his capital in 1370. Timur was a great conqueror, along the lines of Alexander and Genghis Khan. His empire once stretched from Europe to Mongolia. Arts, architecture, and science flourished under Timur. Like Genghis Khan, Timur captured craftsmen from the countries that he conquered and brought them to Samarkand to help build the city.

We had seen how Tajikistan had replaced Lenin with Somoni as their great hero. There are no longer any Lenin statues in Uzbekistan. Instead the hero is Amir Timur.

We started our tour at the place of Timur’s burial, the Gur-Emir mausoleum. We were now back into the “wow” reactions. I was more impressed with this than the modern palaces and buildings that we had seen earlier in our trip.

The mausoleum was originally intended for Timur’s grandson and heir apparent who had died. Work was started in 1403. The mausoleum ultimately became the family crypt for the Timurid Dynasty.





The scale of what we are seeing can be a bit overwhelming. It seemed like we were always looking up, way up.

From there we went to lunch. We passed Timur. I wonder if Lenin once occupied this spot.

I took another photo of a line of white Chevys on the street across from the restaurant.
Lunch was quite good, a spicy chicken dish. It was the best we have had so far in Uzbekistan. Dessert was good as well.

As we were leaving, we could see that most of the white Chevy cars were gone. They were being towed away. There was going to be a meeting of VIP’s. It did not appear that the owners of the cars were aware of this meeting. They will have to go find their white car with all the other white cars, wherever that might be.

Our first afternoon stop was Registan Square. It is supposed to be one of the most impressive things that we will see in Uzbekistan. I was not disappointed.

Registan means sandy place in Persian. It was the heart of the ancient city, a public square where people gathered to hear royal proclamations and watch public executions. None were scheduled for today.


There are three madrassas around the square. The Ulugh Beg Madrasah was built during Timur’s time in 1417.

The Sher-Dor Madrassa was built in the 17th century and is interesting because of the tiger mosaics which is not consistent with the Islamic ban on the depiction of living beings on religious buildings.

The Tilya-Kori Madrassa was built just ten years after the Sher-Dor. It has a large courtyard and includes a mosque. The courtyard is full of tourist shops.


As Sasha was giving us a lecture in the museum, we looked over and saw that two ladies were taking a video of us. That is fair. I took their photo.

After our lectures, Sasha gave us time to walk around on our own. It started to rain so I got under cover. A man came over and asked me for a selfie. I asked Lynley to take our photo.


Eventually it was raining hard enough that we went off for coffee to wait it out. Begaim paid this time. Little things like that are great for good will.

Michael asked Sasha if he felt Russian or Uzbek. Sasha said definitely Uzbek. We then learned an interesting thing about nationalities in Central Asia. Sasha told us that his documents show his nationality as Russian. Begaim said that her documents for Kyrgyzstan showed nationality as well. Nationality is something that is different than citizenship. This is an old Soviet policy that Stalin created at the same time that he was moving the borders around and put Tajiks in Uzbekistan and Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan. These people were required to register accordingly. The newly independent countries have continued with the registration of nationality.

After our coffee we walked towards the Bibi-Khanum Mosque. We saw another hero, the former president.


There were xot dogs and ice cream for sale.


The Bibi-Khanum Mosque was started in 1399. There were issues with the construction from the start, and then it was further damaged in an earthquake in 1897. Extensive restoration has been done on the structure since 1974. There is still more work to be done.


Our last stop was the Siab Bazaar.

It was raining when we left the market, so we had to hurry to the bus. We got a bit wet getting out at our hotel, the Hotel Dilimah. It is redundant, but it is another fine hotel.

Sasha took us to a large venue for our dinner. It was where, Sasha, who lives in Samarkand, had his wedding reception. The restaurant was jammed with big tour groups. They looked European and old. Not that there is anything wrong with being European or old, but it was an indication that we would get tourist fare. I was impressed with the décor in the lobby.


We asked about WhatsApp. Sasha said that it is slow in Uzbekistan (a government thing) but wait until we get to Turkmenistan where we will have no Facebook and no Gmail. He said Turkmenistan is like North Korea. There will be no selfies with the locals. But he loves Turkmenistan.

Evonne had bought a couple of bottles of good wine to share, since this was her last dinner with us. She will be going back to Kyrgyzstan tomorrow. In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, we had been bringing wine to the restaurants. But rules are different here, at least in this venue. They serve their own wine. Evonne made an impassioned appeal, but Sasha was unable (or unwilling) to ask them for an exception. We all agreed that we could just buy some wine, so ordered one bottle, but there was no enthusiasm to buy a second one later.

We had another dinner of kebab, lamb and chicken. The food was fine, just not as amazing as the food we were served earlier on the tour.

Sasha said that he had no plans for tomorrow night’s dinner. I whispered to Begaim that I was probably the only one who would want pizza. She told me that she and I could go for pizza. She is so good to me. Like I have already said, you have to love her.

On the walk back I asked Begaim about cough drops. I am almost out of my favorites, Fisherman’s Friends. I never thought that I would go through so many. Unlike back home in Canada, the little stores here do not sell cough drops. We wanted to try the pharmacy next to our hotel, but it was closed.

We found everyone in the hotel lobby. The hotel gave us some glasses so that we could drink Evonne’s wine. I had a glass of wine but did not feel up to staying longer to help with the second bottle and went back to my room.

Po phoned. We tried WhatsApp and Skype. Lynley had said that Facebook messenger had worked for her. We had never used it but after some fussing got a great connection. Thank you, Lynley, and chalk one up for group tours. But then I started coughing, so we had to end the conversation.

We will continue our tour of Samarkand tomorrow before catching an evening train to Bukhara, so we do not have to get up so early. Maybe I can get a good night's sleep.

Posted by Bob Brink 07:32 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged uzbekistan samarkand central_asia kalpak_travel

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I loved Samarkand, and we were fortunate that although we were on a group tour we had a second day free to look around a bit on our own. I'm hoping to read that your cold started to improve a bit after this - a cold on holiday is a miserable thing :( I had a bit of a one in Bulgaria but nothing like as bad as yours sounds to have been.

by ToonSarah

Sarah, Without being too much of a spoiler, I will note that it was a hard one to get over. More free time would have been good, but the structured tour kept me going. I might have just stayed in bed with nothing scheduled.

by Bob Brink

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