13 Jul Samarkand
Great breakfast. Hard, shiny Samarkand nan with fresh mulberry jam, plus eggs and good old green tea. A Russian-speaking young Dutch joined us. He had just returned from Termez on the Afghan-Uzbek border. I envy him, for less than a month from this day, the opposite bank had fallen to the Taleban Movement, and once again, this had become a battleline of ideological conflicts, this time between fundamentalism and secularism.
After breakfast, we went to the National Bank of Uzbekistan branch in
the new city to encash travellers' cheques and draw some credit card cash
advances. Amazing that the most important commercial bank in the
country was located in a run-down building along a pothole-filled
and rubbish-strewn street. Each transaction took 30 minutes and required
signatures on at least 6 forms!
|Miniature sheet depicting Ulug Beg||Statue of Timur: Once condemned by Soviet historians as the manifestation of evilness, it is now revered by the Uzbeks as a great leader, philosopher and administrator, i.e., a renaissance man.||Portrait of Ulug Beg at the Observatory Museum: The great king's portrait was derived from studies of his skull excavated by Soviet archaeologists.|
|Old man at Shah Zinda||Bibi Khanum: Timur's great mosque||Bazaar area: The faithful going for prayers in traditional dress|
The Observatory of Ulug Beg was our first sightseeing destination of
the day. A huge curved slide and nothing else remained of the legacy
of Timur's enlightened grandson. His wisdom and interest in astronomy
(he measured the stellar year to within one minute of modern electronic
calculations) cost him his life, when his son colluded with the Islamic
clergy to arrest and behead him in 1449. This son survived his father
for only 6 months, before he too was overthrown.
|100 som banknote: The highest-denominated (since 200 som-notes are rare) - worth only US$0.60 on black market. One has to carry around stacks of this all the time.||Ruins of Old Samarkand, or Marakanda, destroyed thoroughly by the Mongol Genghis Khan in the 13th Century.||Stamps celebrating Ulug Beg's achievements|
|Our friendly hosts on the family chorpoy||Ancient Sogdian fresco at the Afrasiob Museum||In the garden home...|
Visited the Afrasiob Museum and ancient Samarkand site. The Museum
was fascinating although I couldn't read the captions, which were in Russian/Uzbek.
The frescoes were great too ! Walked around the wasteland behind,
and it was amazing how complete Genghis Khan's destruction of ancient Samarkand
was. Not a brick to be seen, just mud and trenches remained.
Beautiful, mysterious Shah Zinda was next and we spent some time chatting
with a workman who offered Robert a turquoise tile in exchange for his
shoes; Robert turned down the offer citing potential risks with customs.
After this, we visited Guir Emir, the monumental mausoleum of Timur.
Then it's tea-time in the courtyard to avoid the punishing mid-afternoon
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