Hitchhiking in Uzbekistan: road stories #19 – from Samarkand to Tashkent
Staying in Samarkand: accommodation highs and a silk road gem explored
We had heard much of Samarkand. A fine stop on the Silk Road, rich in history and one of the must see destinations of Uzbekistan. Firstly, however, we revelled in the luxury of having a bit of privacy and a flat in which to enjoy ourselves.
We had organised couchsurfing in the city but the girl we had contacted was actually in Tashkent. Her family had a flat that they were not using, however, so we filled it with reckless abandonment. There was no internet, little running water but it was warm and it was ours. We tried to cook our first plov, which turned out to be an abject failure, and we took a trip to the shops to purchase some breakfast for the following day. Within 5 minutes of buying some eggs from a friendly Russian woman, I proceeded to drop them on the floor smashing them all without exception. I went back to the jovial lady with my tail between my legs and after having a good laugh at me, she gifted me the replacements for free.
All good things must come to an end, however, and the pesky registration slips drove us to a hostel after 2 days of tranquillity. The hostel was not so bad, though, and we had a couple of interesting conversations. Initially with an elderly French couple who were backpacking around Uzbekistan, staying in the cheapest places and having a lovely time for it. Then with another lady advancing in years who impressed us with her vigour. She was Russian, from Vladivostok, must have been around 60 but was travelling alone. She told us stories of her past adventures (all in Russian, but we were getting better at the language) of her times in Siberia and beyond. The real question though is when did we get so old to have more in common with them than with 20 year olds?
In between accommodation shuffles we did manage to fit in some sightseeing. We visited the stunning Registan, where we were approached by a policeman who offered to show us up one of the minarets if we greased his palm with silver. It wasn’t worth it as the view wasn’t great. It was also here that we met one of the couchsurfers who had accepted us but too late as we had already organised somewhere to stay. He and his young friend were desperate to practice English so we went for a little walk with them to see Timerlane’s tomb. They were nice, if a little young, but it did break our hearts a little to reject his pleas to come and spend the night in his village.
Furthermore, we made the trip a little outside the centre, to Ulugbek’s observatory. For the uninitiated, which we were before we came, Ulugbek was an astronomer who lived and worked in the city and is somewhat of an Uzbek national hero. The observatory was decidedly disappointing consisting of a descending tube and a small museum of nothing of interest. We also visited the Shah-i-Zinda cemetery which was elegantly beautiful but upset Ania as she wasn’t allowed in because she was wearing shorts. Instead, I ventured in alone with camera in hand but seeing as I am not the resident photographer here, my efforts left a lot to be desired. I will leave the camera work to Ania in the future.
All in all, Samakrand was an interesting place to visit but for me it lacked the sparkle of the other great Silk Road cities of Khiva and Bukhara. The mosques, medressahs, markets and streets were beautiful but they just didn’t move me so much. Perhaps it was the fact that the modern city lived in and around the monuments or maybe it was just medieval Islamic art fatigue.
Hitchhike to Tashkent: a regulation drive and the importance of research
Getting to the edge of the city seemed daunting but we had done the leg work before as the exit we needed was near the Ulugbek observatory and we knew which bus to take. After the ride and the inevitable ‘nie nada taxi’ (we don’t need a taxi) to the taxi driver hordes when we left the bus, we walked on until we were free of their grip.
The hitchhike was in reality pretty uneventful. A young guy took us to a town outside the city on the road to Tashkent. Then two guys who weren’t really in the mood to chat took us all the way to the Uzbek capital. Simple!
written by: Jon