Uzbekistan: Fat, happy men and pilgrims in Samarkand are written by Soren Bonde
A magnificent city in Uzbekistan
In the 1200th century, Marco Polo described Samarkand as "a magnificent city", where the caravans were given a welcome rest before moving on to their strenuous and dangerous journey. To the east the Pamir and Tian Shan mountains reigned, and to the west the scorching Kyzylkum desert awaited.
The city became the region's most important trading post, and its prosperity was made visible in the lively bazaars and magnificent buildings. Even today, the attraction has not diminished.
Since the fall of the Soviet bloc and the independence of Uzbekistan in 1991, tourists have been arriving in increasing numbers. Samarkand is a treasure chest of architectural masterpieces from the time of the Silk Road.
Registan is the heart of the city. At first glance, it takes your breath away. Three blue-tiled mattresses dominate the large space. At these schools, young men were taught Islamic disciplines but also mathematics, logic and language.
Over time, the square has become the landmark of Samarkand and Uzbekistan, and when you experience it for yourself, you easily understand why. Uzbekistan has some of the most beautiful architecture in the Islamic world.
I sit on a bench and breathe in Registan's grandiose atmosphere while the April sun warms my face. A German guide explains to his group that Ulug Beg taught in one of the mattresses in the 1400th century. The famous scientist and astronomer was the grandson of Timur Lenk himself or Amir Timur, as he is called here.
Amir Timur - National Hero of Uzbekistan
Timur came to power in the mid-1300th century by marrying the daughter of the khan. He made Samarkand the capital of Uzbekistan, but later moved to Tashkent.
During numerous expeditions, he expanded the borders of the kingdom in all directions and conquered most of Persia. Timur beautified Samarkand with riches brought home from distant lands and the income that the caravans brought here.
In 1405 he died at the age of 69 during an over-ambitious expedition on his way to China and is now buried in Samarkand. He was undoubtedly a ruthless gentleman but is today considered the national hero of Uzbekistan.
The tomb of the Emir - a beautiful monument in Uzbekistan
The Guri Emir - the tomb of the emir - is one of the city's most beautiful monuments with its golden walls adorned with calligraphic Koranic verses and beautiful patterns. The architecture is distinctly Persian, for Timur invited architects, artists and craftsmen to beautify its capital in Uzbekistan.
In the middle of the room are stone coffins, as memorial stones for Timur, his sons and grandsons. Only the male part of the genus lies here. I put my neck back, hold my breath and enjoy the impressive dome high up.
Not far from the Guri Emir in Uzbekistan, among others, the women of the Timur family are buried in the necropolis of Shah-i-Zinda, which is another breathtaking building complex to visit. At the entrance, I force a horde of pilgrims and am met by yet another overwhelming sight.
This street of mausoleums was created over several hundred years, and one of the most beautiful is the Shadi Mulk Aka from 1372, where one of Timur's wives is buried. Shah-i-Zinda was thoroughly restored in 2005, and today the blue-tiled facades once again shine with the sun in Uzbekistan. The name means "The Living King" and refers to the largest shrine - the tomb of Qusam ibn-Abbas.
He was a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and is said to have brought Islam here as early as the 7th century. Everyone wanted to be buried near the living king, and Shah-i-Zinda grew with time.
Do as the locals in Samarkand
Saturated with impressions, I trudge back towards the hotel. A pair of fat, happy men with square felt hats come down a flight of stairs followed by a fragrant smoke and food smell. My stomach rumbles in agreement and I go up the stairs. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to satisfy your hunger in Samarkand, either in the finer restaurants or in a - often more pleasant - "chaikhana".
In these tea houses, men primarily meet for a chat, but women are also welcome. In addition to tea, traditional dishes such as "plow" (a rice dish) and "manti" (small dough packets) are served here. I take off my shoes and sit down at a "tapchan", which is a bed-like platform covered by a blanket with a low table on top.
Here you sit in a tailor's position and eat with the locals, and like the locals. Not much has changed here since the time of the caravans. It is very atmospheric and relaxed. Nice.
Have a good trip to Samarkand and the rest of Uzbekistan!
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