|Uzbekistan is a country that has enjoyed a cult-like
status for travelers. It is about as off the beaten path as you can get, yet at
the same time - quite safe. It has plenty to offer; pristine monuments in some
of the worlds oldest inhabited cities, yet unspoiled by hordes of tourists. The
country, like most of polyglot Central Asia, is rich in culture and tradition -
filled with bustling bazaars and centuries-old majestic mosques and mausoleums.
In Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva; Uzbekistan offers three of the world's oldest
and most historic cities. These well preserved urban centers serve as testament
to ancient silk route's main trading centers and are the legacy of Emir
Tamerlen's Timurid dynasty.
Uzbekistan has never been an easy place to
get to. Not only is it the world's only double-landlocked country
(Liechtenstein notwithstanding); but one must endure some abrasive Soviet-style
bureaucracy in order to get a visa. Although a time-consuming and also pretty
expensive process, with limited help from the Uzbek consulate in Dubai, this
was finally acquired. Tashkent (Uzbekistan's capital) airport is also notorious
for all sorts of scams and tricks from the officials themselves, although this
has been cracked down on a great deal recently.
Once you do get all
your appropriate paper work and documents in order, Uzbekistan reveals itself
as an intriguing destination. While the Russian's moved the city's status as
the nation's administrative capital to Tashkent in the 1930's, Samarkand
(Samarqand) remains Uzbekistan's cultural heart. I arrived just as the city was
about to celebrate its 2,750th birthday. Samarkand remains a fascinating place
to explore amongst its highlights are the Registan (which means "sandy place"
in Uzbek), which remains the heart of ancient Uzbekistan. Comprising of three
madrassahs (Islamic holy schools), the Registan was built between the 15th and
17th centuries and is considered one of the most grandiose monuments in all of
Central Asia. The nearby ostentatious Bibi-Khanym Mosque, dedicated to Emir
Timur's Mongol wife, is another highlight. Lucky enough, my host family lived
just across the road from Bibi-Khanym.
The moving Shah-i-Zinda, or
"Tomb of the Living King" is a fascinating collection of mausoleums, where
mostly the extended family of Emir Timur are buried - as well as Queam ibn
Abbas, the prophet Mohamed's cousin, who supposedly brought Islam to the
region. The Ulugh Beg Observatory was considered state of the art when it was
constructed in the 1420s and its remains and adjoining museum are also worth a
look, as is the Gur-e Amir tomb - where Emir Timur is buried.
Many special thanks to Gulchehra's family, the Oblokulovas
for making feel such a welcome guest in their household and to everyone else
who made my stay here so enjoyable.
|Above: The centerpiece of
Samarkand, the Registan
(Above: A portrait of Emir Timur at
the Ulugh Beg Observatory museum)