Across Uzbekistan with MIR

Apr 16th, 2017, 03:49 AM
  #41  
 
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There is an excellent series of programmes made by the BBC called The Silk Road. They were made about a year ago and are currently being shown again. They are also on IPlayer if you can get it. The first covers the Chinese end, the second Central Asia ( which I have just watched and shows all the places we both went to last year) and the final one is about Iran. More keen than ever to visit Iran as it looks more and more improbable!
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Apr 16th, 2017, 08:01 AM
  #42  
 
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thanks Gertie. I'll have a look for them on iplayer.
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Apr 16th, 2017, 09:27 AM
  #43  
 
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Thanks for the viewing recommendation, Gertie.
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Apr 16th, 2017, 11:36 AM
  #44  
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Thanks gertie! I, too, would love to visit Iran, but right now I'm not even in good enough shape to visit the UK....
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Apr 17th, 2017, 10:26 AM
  #45  
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Wow, that doesn't sound good! We've already hit the 80s here. Hope you are finding something worth seeing.

Seems like as soon as one thing gets a bit better something else starts hurting. Depressing and debilitating.... Latest is possible frozen shoulder, although the bad knee is improving with exercise. I may be starting to feel my age. Good thing I have Medicare and a top of the line Medigap plan.
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Apr 17th, 2017, 10:46 AM
  #46  
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That's bizarre. My second post, showing 1:26 pm in my time zone, was posted AFTER gertie's 3:46 pm post....
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Apr 17th, 2017, 12:46 PM
  #47  
 
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Sorry to hear that Thursday. Any sign of improvement?

You're certainly not missing anything in UK at the moment... Political infighting, Brexit madness, lots of hate crime, cold wet weather. Need I go on?

Get well soon!
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Apr 22nd, 2017, 12:48 PM
  #48  
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September 12, 2016: Timur's Tomb

Timur, aka Tamerlane, the ferocious conqueror from my last post, was born in Shakhrisabze, 100 miles from Samarkand across an arm of the Pamir-Alai mountains, but he made Samarkand the center of his empire. Archaeologists date the founding of the city to the sixth century BCE, and it was already both famous and fabled when Alexander the Great took possession in 329 BCE, saying "Everything I have heard about the beauty of the city is indeed true, except that it is much more beautiful than I imagined". The city was to fall and rise again several times over the ensuing centuries, although in 630 CE the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuan Zang was as captivated as Alexander. (The scriptures he brought back from India were housed in the Big Wild Goose pagoda in Xi'an, the eastern terminus of the Silk Road.) At that time the inhabitants were Zoroastrian, but Muslim Arabs took the city in 712. Again, the city would rise, and fall, and then be annihilated by the Mongols.

Timur revived the city, and started the building program that would be continued by his grandson, the astronomer king Ulug Beg. Although Timur planned to be buried in his birthplace, he built a magnificent mausoleum, the Gur Emir, in Samarkand for his favorite grandson, Mohammad Sultan, beside the madrassa and khanaga Mohammad had already built. When Timur died unexpectedly on the way to China, he was buried in the Gur Emir, where he remains, alongside his tutor and sons and grandsons including Ulug Beg.

Samarkand, in its various incarnations, was a destination to dream of, and to reach, if at all, through hardship and danger. Although at the junction of major trade routes - to Iran, India and China - the "Golden Road" crossed deserts and mountains. It almost seemed like cheating to arrive from Tashkent by rail, in considerable comfort. The detailed itinerary for the MIR tour still assumed that we would arrive by road, and with only time for a short introductory tour before dinner. Since we actually arrived in the middle of the morning, we had plenty of time for more, and started at the exceedingly impressive Gur Emir.

The actual bodies in a mausoleum like this are in the crypt below ground, and the apparent tombs are markers. Timur's marker is a six-foot long block of jade from Mongolia. Originally intact, it was damaged during a Persian invasion in 1740, but is still a remarkable sight. But it is eclipsed by the mausoleum itself, the outer tiled dome covering an octagonal chamber decorated with onyx, marble and gilding.

Suitably impressed by this introduction to Samarkand, we ate lunch in an attractive restaurant before dedicating the afternoon the piece de resistance, the Registan.
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Apr 22nd, 2017, 02:30 PM
  #49  
 
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Hope you are feeling better, Thursdaysd. Thank you for your awesome description of Gur Emir and photos to match.
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Apr 22nd, 2017, 03:31 PM
  #50  
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Thanks tripplanner. Knee is doing better, shoulders not so much... still grounded.

Glad you liked the photos, that place was stunning!
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May 13th, 2017, 02:02 PM
  #51  
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Sorry for the delay in posting. I am still not well, although the difficulty in selecting photos for the blog post also contributed.

@annhig - I remember that on my other thread you were not impressed with the Registan. My photos don't do it justice, but maybe take a look anyway?

September 13, 2017: At Last, Samarkand's Registan

If Samarkand was the "Center of the Universe" under Timur, the Registan was, and is, the center of the center. In Timur's day it was a commercial center, with a covered bazaar, but his grandson, Ulug Beg, made it a religious and teaching center instead, with a madrassa to the west, a hospice for dervishes to the east, a caravanserai to the north and a mosque to the south. It is said that he taught astronomy in the madrassa, which had quarters for over 100 students.

Ulug Beg's madrassa was built between 1417-1420, and two hundred years later it was the only one of the four buildings in good repair. The then governor of Samarkand, Yalangrush Bakhadur, removed the ruins and built two new madrassas on the west and north sides, Shir Dor and Tillya-Kori. The complex again fell into disrepair, with the buildings used to store grain, and was revived, surprisingly enough, by the Bolsheviks.

"Registan" means "sandy place", and at one time it probably was. By the 2000s, however, photographs show a cleaned up square, although there are still bushes growing in front of the buildings. They had been removed by the time we visited, and nothing blocked the view of the facades, gleaming in the sunshine. In fact, there was rather too much sunshine when we visited as a group, and I went back later in the day for the evening light.

One might not guess, from all the photos of the facades, that once you enter the buildings you find interior courtyards ringed by more beautiful decoration. While souvenir sellers are scattered throughout all three buildings, they are not pushy, and don't detract from the experience. We were fortunate that there were few other tourists sharing the place with us. Abdu said that the road to Samarkand was currently closed, perhaps because deceased President Karimov had recently been buried in town, and delegations were still visiting the tomb.

While I spent hours admiring the three madrassas, I could easily have spent days. I, along with three other people from the tour, did get an unexpected bonus two days later. It was a rare day when we were on our own for dinner. We had returned from a hot, exhausting, and not very satisfactory expedition to Shakhrisabz and Abdu's suggestions for where to eat started with picking up snacks at a convenience store, moved on to eating in the hotel's restaurant (which we had done the night before), and finished with calling out for pizza! When pressed he came up with a cafe that was about to close and a restaurant opposite the Registan.

After consulting Lonely Planet, I suggested another, more interesting sounding restaurant also opposite the Registan, and the four of us set off, passing the Registan on foot (the others wound up eating pizza as the hotel's restaurant was closed). Now, Abdu had mentioned that the Registan was illuminated at night, but when we had passed it in the coach the lighting hadn't looked very interesting. By sheer luck, we arrived just as the light show started, and it was absolutely magical. The fact the only four of us saw it is, in my mind, a big black mark against MIR. Since I wasn't expecting to take photos I only had my smart phone with me, but I got a few shots even so. They don't do it justice, but then the daylight shots don't either. Like the Taj Mahal, this is a place that repays the effort of visiting in person.
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May 13th, 2017, 07:13 PM
  #52  
 
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Absolutely stunning, and the nighttime views even more so! You just moved Uzbekistan even higher on my list. Hope that you are taking care of yourself and feeling better very soon.
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May 14th, 2017, 06:32 AM
  #53  
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Thanks for the good wishes, tripplanner, I think we may be closing in on a diagnosis.

Definitely consider Uzbekistan! I would recommend Tashkent - Samarkand - Bukhara - Khiva, by train if the high speed line is finished. Iran is still high on my list, but doesn't look like I'm going anywhere this year - which does validate my decision to take early retirement so I could travel, but I could really do without the validation!
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May 14th, 2017, 07:27 AM
  #54  
 
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You're welcome Thursdaysd. Iran's on my list too. So many places to go...
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May 15th, 2017, 12:41 PM
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thursdaysd - I went back to have another look at your blog and at your pics of the Registan - definitely better than ones I'd seen before and from your description I can see that the photos do not do it justice.

Just want to add that I'm sorry that your health is preventing you from travelling at the moment but perhaps with a diagnosis will come a cure. Here's hoping.
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May 16th, 2017, 06:49 AM
  #56  
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Thanks, ann. I am very glad I got to see the Registan in person. Still waiting on test results....
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May 30th, 2017, 12:05 PM
  #57  
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September 14, 2016: Sepulchre Street

This was a very full day, but the stand out sight, even competing with the Registan, was the Shah-i-Zinda, a street - or sometimes staircase - of stunning mausoleums. The original site of Samarkand was Afrosiab, northeast of the present city, and Shah-i-Zinda climbs towards it. The oldest burial, according to legend, was that of Kussam-ibn-Abbas, the cousin of the Prophet Mohammed who first brought Islam to the area, and who was murdered by the local Zoroastrians in 676 CE. Any surrounding structures were razed by the Mongols, but Timur and his descendants continued the tradition of burying important relatives close by.

Many of the 14th and 15th century buildings were controversially renovated in 2005, although not all. Plaques in front of each mausoleum give the date of construction and information on the burials, where known. My Odyssey guidebook to Uzbekistan devotes two and a half pages to similar information, but I don't think it's really necessary for an appreciation of the site, except perhaps for the Kussam-ibn-Abbas mosque with its room for pilgrimage and the grave chamber holding a 1380 four-tier tombstone.

At the top of the narrow, crowded street was a cemetery with some more modern burials. The contrast between the profusion of color and decoration lavished on the Islamic mausoleums, and the stark Soviet era grave markers, was extreme. Unfortunately, we visited in the late morning, right before lunch, so the light was not the best for photographs.
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May 30th, 2017, 05:16 PM
  #58  
 
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Yes, very interesting report, thanks. Currently reading Colin Thubron's Shadow of the Silk Road and would like to get on to Peter Frankopan's recent The Silk Roads: A New History of the World when I can find an edition with large enough print for ageing eyes -

https://www.theguardian.com/books/20...ankopan-review
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May 30th, 2017, 05:43 PM
  #59  
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My sister sent me a copy of that for Christmas (I confess I have yet to read it - need to finish this TR first!). The type seems fine to my also aging eyes, but it is a US edition. You might see if someone on abebooks.com will send you the US edition for reasonable postage.

It's hardback, 9 1/2 by 6 1/2 inches, published by Knopf.

The Odyssey guides have a fair amount of info, and I have a somewhat dated coffee table "The Silk Road: Art and History" by Jonathan Tucker. You might also look for books by Peter Hopkirk.
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Jun 11th, 2017, 01:31 PM
  #60  
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September 15, 2016: Shakhrisabze

One reason I had chosen the MIR tour was because it included a day trip to Shakhrisabze, Timur’s birthplace. It was a decision I was to regret, for several reasons. Shakhrisabze was just 50 miles from Samarkand, provided one drove the straight route through the mountains. But, as we had found on the way to the Fergana Valley, coaches were no longer allowed to drive those roads. Instead of using cars this time, we detoured around the mountains. Three and a half hours to get there: three and a half hours to return. Not only was this a long day on the coach, through not exactly awe inspiring country, it meant we arrived in the middle of the day. The light was terrible for photographs, and the temperatures were in the high 90s.

Then, the sights just didn’t live up to their billing. No doubt Timur’s White Palace was magnificent in its day, but there was very little of it left – just the admittedly tall twin entrance towers. A lot of landscaping was underway in the vicinity of the towers, but meanwhile the only shade was in the shadows of the towers themselves. After the towers we did visit the Kok-Gumboz mosque, but by that time all I wanted was some relief from the heat.

Based on my photographs, we stopped on the way to visit a carpet weaving operation, aka shopping op. We also ate a heavy lunch before heading home. This was the day four of us saw the Registan illuminated on the way to one of our few independent meals. We all enjoyed the Cafe Labig’or, where we dined on the upper terrace, working our way through the entirety of the brief menu: lamb kebabs, beef kebabs, “fried” chicken, tomato salad and beer. Part way through the meal, a group of locals took over the next table, and one young woman, who had spent time in the US, came over to talk to us. The evening was a major improvement over the day.
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