The weather in lived up to the grim forecast. It was raining when I left the hotel in Tashkent to get to the train station. I left in plenty of time. Or so I thought.
I got to the train station where I bought the ticket the day before at 8:34 for a 8:55 train which seemed fine. As I was going through security however the guard looked at my ticket and said oh no the train leaves from another station. Another station! What other station? There’s another station about 5 km away. Who knew? It did not appear either in my LP guidebook or in my extensive online research. How could there be a new train station? Who has new train stations?
So I grabbed a taxi right outside not even bothering to wait for the Yandex taxi. I pointed out to the driver what time I had to be at the station and he took off. It was through heavy rush hour traffic and in the pouring rain.
We arrived at the station one minute before the train was scheduled to depart. The security guard took one look at my ticket, grabbed my suitcase and started running, beckoning me to follow him. We raced down the platform through the rain, upstairs, downstairs. I’m panting hard under my day pack, trying to keep up. Finally he got to the train and threw my suitcase aboard. I climbed aboard with about four seconds to spare. Literally.
But kudos to the security guard for making the effort. Whoever you are–thank you.
And I was not the only foreigner to go through this. There were at least two other couples who were running up also at the last minute. So it seems as
Three hours later we arrived in Samarkand also in the pouring rain. Not too much sightseeing today. I was glad that I had extended my stay to make a three-night stay rather than the two nights I had initially intended.
I grabbed a taxi to the Emir b&b a place I immediately liked. It seemed homeu and friendly. The owner spoke English and the place was well located.
By now it was lunchtime and although the hotel was well-located for visits, there was not one single restaurant or dining establishment or cafe around. Of course I was starving and became desperate for something to eat. First the owner tried to direct me to a place where there were a couple of cafes but I just could not follow the directions. and got lost in a maze of manicured walkways. Time for a taxi! I finally arrived at a place called Old City. It was very Russian and cozy and really hit the spot with some wonderful beet and walnut salad and then some noodles with vegetables and meat.
I took a taxi back and took a look at the Gur-E-Emir Mausoleum which was just steps away from my B&B.
This contains the tomb of Timur, the 15th-century monster who managed to eliminate 5% of the world’s population on his rampage through central Asia, northern India and Turkey. His big hero was Genghis Khan. Don’t get me started. But he knew his architecture. The medressas, mosques and mausoleums that make Samarkand so spectacular are largely thanks to Timur and his impeccable taste.
The central highlight of Samarkand is Registan, the ensemble of three medressas that is simply breathtaking.
But not so much in fading light on a drizzly day! Again, I was so glad I had the time to return on a brighter day. This is what I had come to see.
It took me some time to get oriented. Samarkand is divided into the Russian part of town where the train station was and old Samarkand which had the madrasas and mosques and mausoleums. This older part dates back to the 15th century when Samarkand was the capital of the Silk Road. Built after Genghis Khan and his murdering mob swept through and leveled everything in their path, these buildings were protected and restored by Russia and then the Soviet Union. After independence, the Uzbeckistan government also made sure that Registan and the other (equally incredible) sights were kept in shape. It’s the jewel of the country, if not all of central Asia.
I found the Russian part of town surprisingly attractive. It was laid out when the Russians invaded in the 19th century and, unlike later Soviet style architecture, the wide boulevards were lined with low one-story colonial-style buildings interspersed with modern structures of course. It’s on a much more human scale than Tashkent.
I returned to the hotel eagerly anticipating the next day.