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A Dacha In Samarkand

Saturday, September 30th, 1995


After coming off the Kyrgyzstan trek, Peter, our trip leader, had arranged for us to go to Samarkand in Uzbekistan before continuing on up to Tashkent for the flight home via a week in Istanbul Turkey.

Beautiful…magical Samarkand…with more history than you can imagine. The population (412,300 in 2005) is the third-largest city in Uzbekistan and the capital of Samarkand Province. The city is most noted for it’s central position on the Asian Silk Road between China and the west.

We stayed at an old Russian “dacha” (summer home) used by Communist party members before the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Everyone was excited about a real shower, a real sit-down toilet and real beds. You line up there for toilet paper…someone said…pointing to a heavy babushka (old woman) sitting officiously behind a small table in the entry way. “No! No! Not tonight,” she grumbled loudly. “Tomorrow morning…toilet paper!” We were incredulous! But the sit-down toilets have no paper….we groaned. “No, No, Not tonight” she repeated. Someone else’s room didn’t have electric lights so an old guy was sent off to investigate…never did find out if light was discovered. Some rooms had tv’s with snowy reception of Russian programs…we were hoping to get some news but there was nothing we could decipher.

So gratefully, we all sat down on real sit-down benches at a real table in the garden outside the dacha for a feast after 18 days and nights eating on the ground. There was a smattering of Russians who joined us that were not on the trek…police…Peter said. One, who had too much too drink, bragged menacingly about how much power he used to have and now he was nobody. “Don’t answer him,” Peter advises.

Despite its status as the second city of Uzbekistan, the majority of the city’s inhabitants are Tajik-speaking. In 2001, after several abortive attempts, UNESCO inscribed the 2700-year-old city on the World Heritage List as Samarkand – Crossroads of Cultures.

The Registan

Saturday, September 30th, 1995


It is said, the sand was strewn on the ground to soak up the blood from the public executions that were held there until early in the 20th century. The Registan is where Tamerlane stuck his victims’ heads on spikes, and is where people gathered to hear royal proclamations, heralded by blasts on enormous copper pipes called dzharchis. But it obviously could be only before the first of charming historical buildings had been constructed, because Tamerlane died in 1405.

The Registan is composed of three Madrasahs. A Madrasah is a medieval Moslem clergy academy.

One of the three madrasahs of the Registan is Ulugbek Madrasah (1417-1420), on the west, was finished in 1420 and contains mosaics with astronomical themes. The Ulugbek Madrasah has an imposing portal with lancet arch facing the square. The corners are flanked by the high well-proportioned minarets. Mosaic panel over the entrance arch is decorated by geometrical stylized ornaments. About 100 students were taught the sciences, astronomy, and philosophy in addition to theology.

The Sher-Dor Madrasah (1619-1636) on the east was completed in 1636 as a mirror image of Ulugh Beg Madrassa, except with decoration of roaring lions, in blatant violation of Islamic rules. The harmony of large and small rooms, exquisite mosaic decor, monumentality and efficient symmetry put the structure among the best architectural monuments of Samarkand.

The Tilya-Kori Madrasah (1646-1660) in between was completed in 1660, with a golden decoration and with a pleasant courtyard. It was not only the place of training students, but also it played the role of grand mosque. It has two-storied main facade, vast courtyard fringed by dormitory cells with four galleries along axes. Mosque building is situated in the western section of the courtyard. The main hall of the mosque is abundantly gilded.


Exotic History Of Samarkand

Saturday, September 30th, 1995
7Z3XBdt3hLmJjqkmk2I6k0-2006190121351559.gif From Wikipedia: At times Samarkand has been the greatest city of Central Asia, and for much of its history it has been under Persian rule. Founded circa 700 BCE it was already the capital ... [Continue reading this entry]

Serendipity In Tashkent

Monday, September 18th, 1995
7Z3XBdt3hLmJjqkmk2I6k0-2006190121351559.gif In September of 1995 we flew into Tashkent, Uzbekistan from New York City on Uzbekistan Airways on our way to join an REI trek into the mountains in Kyrgyzstan. The night before we ... [Continue reading this entry]

Trekking in Kyrgyzstan

Monday, September 18th, 1995
7Z3XBdt3hLmJjqkmk2I6k0-2006190120654814.gif The fall of 1995 Bob and I joined an REI adventure tour company based in Seattle Washington on an 18 day trek in the highest and most dramatic part of the central Tian Shan ... [Continue reading this entry]