A place so beautiful that it was looted from everything. A people so skilled in their trade that they were all kidnapped by Genghis Khan. Most of them have been murdered. Yes, I am talking about Samarkand, the supposed center of the legendary Silk Road between China and the West.
The history of this place and the neighboring area has seen so much bloodshed that people now seem wary. Happy, content in the beauty that could not be plundered even after the repeated invasions. People synonymous with one of the most hospitable in the world, warm and welcoming. That of a place where Bibi Khanum, a queen, was killed by Timur, the king, because he was unwillingly kissed by an architect.
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Temur, Nor Black Nor White, he believed in Gray.
Yes, that’s why I say this place is synonymous with the story, Beauty and the Beast.
It is a place that will give you so many beautiful pictures that you are not sure which one to choose for your facebook cover photo! Traveling to Samarkand is an experience, where you may find yourself standing for centuries on the exact spot where Alexander, Genghis Khan, Timur or even the lucky traveler Ibn Battuta once did. So while it’s impossible to tell you everything to do and see and experience at Samarkand, I’ll try anyway.
Just to give you heads up.
Shai-i-Zinda – Video games get real here.
Of course I played a lot of scavenger hunt video games before the PS3 and X Box era and there were these ruins in the background. A place that reminded me so much of Arabian Nights and Sindbad that I wanted to get closer, hoping to land there. And then I saw this, Shah i Zinda, the necropolis in Samarkand.
All those wishes then became reality, because this complex is so intricate, so subtly colored, so unreal and yet real that it takes your breath away.
Even Genghis Khan spared this.
About 800 years ago, Genghis Khan plundered the port of the artists of Bukhara. He burned thousands of copies of the Qur’an and killed, raped and looted many, but this minaret survived his gaze. By luck or maybe his beauty he also did his best, the Poi-Kalyan minaret survived the ax that fell hard, very hard. As you stand on the property and watch it, you may be able to hear it again – When Belle lures the beast.
You have to get drunk in Samarkand.
Okay, with that headline I’m not suggesting you grab a beer or anything. It’s just to get prepared for life in the streets of Samarkand. If you smile at anyone on the streets here, there’s a guarantee you’ll end up in their house, warming up to all the chatter with a cup of black/green tea. A specialty, it is made without sugar or milk and is usually taken with meals. So another chance is that you also get a free dinner!
Here lies a king.
Yes, this is Temur. Tame the lame. This is Gur-e-Amir, where Temur is buried. The king who ruled these once rugged terrains and who had enough energy to lead Delhi’s largest ever invasion. Such was his infallible mind that he brought back elephants from his booty, who then trudged with those giants on the frozen steps. You may not love him for his love of power, yet there is something so overwhelming about this place that it makes you stop and think. At least for a few quiet moments.
This, my friends, is a souvenir.
Bukhara, near Samarkand, made Genghis so jealous and at the same time insecure that he kidnapped all the craftsmen from here. Considered the breeding ground of the finest carpets in the world, the entire region is a hub for artists. They are (literally) everywhere, including the lanes, courtyards and even outside mosques, cut off from the crowds around them. Imagining and creating – beauty.
When In Samarkand, Go For Detoxification.
Forget the mosques, forget the lanes, forget the graves. If colors are what you’re looking for, head to the Samarkand fruit market. Everywhere in Uzbekistan, by the way. It is like the work of a painter who traced and spilled all the colors on the canvas. Not to forget, the colors here are edible.
As I said, I can only give you an introduction to Samarkand and its neighbours, because there is an inexplicable fate. So go there, experience it all and don’t forget to write back. We’ll wait to know what it feels like to walk the same way as Alexander. Until then, happy travelling.
About 6 km away, Samarkand International Airport is the nearest and of course fastest way.