Samarkand, Uzbekistan


Samarkand is one of Central Asia’s oldest settlements. A key Silk Road city, it sat on the crossroads leading to China, India and Persia, bringing in trade and artisans. Many have ruled here, including the Turks, Arabs, Persians, Mongolians, and of course, Genghis Khan. It became Central Asia’s economic and cultural epicentre in the 1300s until it went into decline in the 16th century. For the several decades in the 18th century, after a series of earthquakes, it was essentially uninhabited. The city was resuscitated by the Russians in the 1800s.

Apparently, the people in Samarkand don’t speak Uzbek, but an Uzbek-laced Tajik, which is closer to Farsi (as spoken in Iran). Either way, it makes no difference to us from a practical point of view.

The train journey from Tashkent to Samarkand was surprisingly comfortable. The seats are wide, the cabins are air-conditioned, and since we did not purchase black market tickets, we did not have to worry about someone else taking our seats. There are many families on board with young children and after installing themselves and placing tea, soft drinks, biscuits and bread on the tables, most proceeded to watch Uzbek soap operas where women cried every five minutes.

After three and a half hours, we got off the train and got into a seriously beat-up ‘taxi’. Even with Rita speaking Russian, we still got ripped off. Ah well, part and parcel. At least the hotel was quaint and the manager speaks pretty good English though like most people here, they prefer to speak Russian. The only exception are the younger ones. They are often very keen to practise their English, and we have been stopped twice for English practice, and once for Mandarin. Even though I explained to this very friendly young man that my Mandarin is rather poor, he kept going anyway. With such enthusiasm I couldn’t walk away so I proceeded to practise a little Mandarin myself!