Dushanbe 46

Well today we are supposed to be seeing a giant reclining Buddha in the Museum of Antiquities but for some reason we do not, either that or I fell asleep.

Also the burial place of a Sarazm Princess and her burial attire (remind me to show you the Gold suit in Almaty) and the Soghdian murals from Piandjikent, 6th-8th Centuries.


At the time I was not really bothered as it was just another museum but now after reading so much about the history of the area I have to say I am a bit miffed.Maybe it’s a good enough reason to go back sometime.


Anyway as I said yesterday we are off to a market so lots of pictures the town we are in is called “Dushanbe” which in Tajik means “Monday” and the place grew out of a village which had a very popular Monday market.



Now those are big tubs of honey,



Grapes or bread or maybe a grape sandwich


Herbs by the large bunch and three girls modeling what could be bed sheets or something else colorful.


butchers which was a little disconcerting as everyone went and felt the stuff before buying so god knows what germs are around. The candy looks a little more inviting though.


Termez 45

Today we cross into “Tajikistan” which is new country so another one to tick off, The border is long and tedious especially as the customs people decide to stop after processing half of us and go for lunch. Doh!!!

We decide to just sit and eat our nuts and fruit (from the market the other day remember) we strike up a bried aquaintance with a young girl from South Korea who is touring on her own and using public transport to get around, she tells us she went to Afghanistan and Iran a month or so back, she picked up a visa at the border. Have to say she is a plucky soul and we wish her well although she has already surpassed anything I will ever get up to.


Once finished we are off to see another Fort and Madrassa complex. The Hissar Fortress and the Khona Madrassa. Now there are many fortress-related legends which are supported by local residents. On one of them runs that the fortress was built by Afrosiab for the purpose of protection from Rustam’s armies (remember the word “afrosiab” the original town which became Samarkand the other day). The fortress-citadel consists of three parts and is located on the natural hill and dates from the epoch of Timur and Timurids and was considered as the center of Eastern Bukhara, where the representative of Tsar dynasty (son or brother of Bukhara Ruler) was in reign.(Tsar now where have we heard that word before)


We are told that this particular Fortress was captured 23 times which make it a very bad fort, surely the purpose is to repel invaders.

If they got beaten 23 times I think maybe they need to improve the lock on the gates. 


Now we are off to Dushanbe capitol of Tajikistan and from what we see on the way in it is mostly a Russian style town.

We are shown some of their main sights however as this is not particularly rich with the gas / oil of the other “Stan’s” but I am sure it will come soon.  

They still have a few brand new buildings to show off even if you can not actually get close to them.



they do appear to have the worlds tallest flag pole but for some reason not the highest as there is one in Uzbekistan which though shorter is on higher ground.


And the pollution to go with it which is caused by their use of coal as a fuel as well as the cars which they drive without any regard for road rules.

Tomorrow we are off to yet another market but they are so colourful (colorful) that I don’t care they are a great place for photos. 

Termez 44

So the coach just stops and we all get off, now there is absolutely nothing here to see, Serge explains the place is a kilometer away but once we have crossed the railways tracks and the irrigation channel we will be fine.



yes the bridge planks were not secured and in places were missing but in for a penny as they say.


The green bit is Afghanistan (sort of) the river Oxus moves so the border changes sometimes,

Alexander The Great conquered this place in around 350 BC and left some of his staff here to rebuild and occupy the area.

An internet search brought this explanation. Alexandria is situated on the confluence of the mighty Amudar’ya (the ancient Oxus) and the Kokcha.

Across the river is a spectacular wall of steep rocks. The city became rich because it controlled the trade in lapis lazuli, but it was also situated on the Silk road.

One of the Bactrian kings, Eucratides I (c.170-c.145) honored the city by calling it after himself, Eucratidia.

It is about 2 km long and 600 m wide, and was excavated by French archaeologists and looks surprisingly like a Greek city, including temples, a palace, colonnaded courts, city wall, gymnasium (sport school), houses, Corinthian columns, free-standing statues, and a theater wth 5,000 seats. 

The city’s wealth attracted enemies, and it was sacked by Sacae nomads in c.135 BCE, and later by the Yuezhi nomads (who later founded the Kushan empire in the Punjab).

(The site was re-destroyed during the Taliban war so apart from some broken pottery and low walls you see very little)


A very interesting place and I might have said this previously but it may just be the oldest thing we see on this trip (but its not finished yet)


Shakhrisabz 42

Timur’s Summer Palace, the “White Palace” was planned as the most grandiose of all Timur’s constructions. It was started in 1380 by artisans deported by Timur from the recently conquered Khwarezm. Unfortunately, only traces of its gigantic 65 m gate-towers survive, with blue, white and gold mosaics. Above the entry of the Ak-Saray are big letters saying: “If you challenge our power -look at our buildings!”


Today, the towers are 38 m high. The size of the palace is really very impressive the main courtyard was about 120 m wide and 240 m lon (stretching right up to where the modern stature is now)

Calculations from the proportions of the surviving elements lead us to believe that the length of the main portal was 70 m and that the towers at the corners were more than 80 m high. The 22 m wide span of the arch of the main entrance was the largest in Central Asia. The mosaic and majolica work in the niche of the portal is particularly refined. The delicate foliage ornamentation also contains calligraphic inscriptions of verses from the Quran as well as a few secular inscriptions.


Destroyed by the ruler of Bukhara, Abdullah Khan. The legend tells that Abdullah Khan was riding to Shahrizabs and saw the palace at a distance. He sent a messenger to the city as he thought that he was already near of it. The messengers nearly died of exhaustion, but the palace was still far away. The khan got angry and ordered the palace to be destroyed. (fanciful but probably has a ring of truth in it, and they stopped pulling it down when Abdullah Khan died)


I have to say even though most of this is a ruin I think it is the most impressive thing I have seen on this whole trip. There was something about the size and what it would have been like when it was completed. It is also fascinating to thing that 600 years ago that they could create things this big and this well constructed. It just had something about the power and the opulence of a ruler who could command people to what ever he wanted without question.


It really is just a shell of its former self and Shakhrisabz would possibly have slipped back into a sleepy backwater if it was not for this particular building.

The town is small and not really that inviting but is it littered with ruins all of which are historically and architecturally significant. 

To finish off quite a day we visit  the Kok Gumbaz mausoleum complex called Dorus-Saodat (Seat of Power and Might), which contains the Tomb of Jehangir, Timur’s eldest and favorite son.

The adjacent mosque is said to house the tomb of a revered 8th century imam Amir Kulal.


and of course a few pictures of the locals.


We stayed in a “well dodgy” hotel that night






Shakhrisabz 41

So Timur / Tamerlane (some bad-ass)

Info gleaned from various web sources. 

Timur (8 April 1336 – 18 February 1405), Tamerlane in English (from Persian: Timūr-e Lang, “Timur the Lame”), was a 14th-century conqueror of West, South and Central Asia, and the founder of the Timurid dynasty (1370–1405) in Central Asia, and great-great-grandfather of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty, which survived as the Mughal Empire in India until 1857.

Timur is his Turkic name, which means ‘iron’. In his life time, he has conquered more than anyone else except for Alexander the Great.

Timur was in his lifetime a controversial figure. He sought to restore the Mongol Empire yet his heaviest blow was against the Islamized Tatar Golden Horde. He was more at home in an urban environment than on the steppe. He styled himself a ghazi (warrior) while conducting wars that severely affected some Muslim states, in particular the Sultanate of Delhi. A great patron of the arts while his campaigns also caused vast destruction.

His armies crossed Eurasia from Delhi to Moscow, from the Tien Shan Mountains of Central Asia to the Taurus Mountains in Anatolia. From 1370 till his death 1405, Temur built a powerful empire and became the last of great nomadic leaders. Those who saw Timur’s army described it as a huge conglomeration of different peoples – nomad and settled, Muslims and Christians, Turks, Tajiks, Arabs, Georgians and Indians.

Timur’s conquests were extraordinary not only for their extent and their success, but also for their ferocity and massacres. The war machine was composed of ‘tumen’, military units of a 10,000 in the conquered territories. Timur’s armies were feared throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe, sizable parts of which were laid waste by his campaigns. Scholars estimate that his military campaigns caused the deaths of 17 million people, amounting to about 5% of the worlds population (read that again that is 17,000,000 people killed by his armies).

Timur and his army were never at rest and neither age nor increasing infirmity could halt his growing ambitions. In 1391 Timur’s army fought and won in the great battle of Kanduzcha on June 18. Following his campaign in India, he acquired an elephant corps and took them back to Samarkand for building mosques and tombs. He led the attack and victory on the Ottoman army in the battle of Ankara on July 28 1402

Here is one example from Wikipedia of Timurs style.

Capture of Delhi

The battle took place on 17 December 1398. Sultan Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah Tughluq and Mallu Iqbal’s army had war elephants armored with chain mail and poison on their tusks. With his Tatar forces afraid of the elephants, Timur ordered his men to dig a trench in front of their positions. Timur then loaded his camels with as much wood and hay as they could carry. When the war elephants charged, Timur set the hay on fire and prodded the camels with iron sticks, causing them to charge at the elephants howling in pain. He had understood that elephants were easily panicked and faced with the strange spectacle of camels flying straight at them with flames leaping from their backs, the elephants turned around and stampeded back toward their own lines. Timur capitalized on the subsequent disruption in Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah Tughluq’s forces, securing an easy victory.

Delhi was sacked and left in ruins.
Before the battle for Delhi, Timur executed 100,000 captives.

The capture of the Delhi Sultanate was one of Timur’s greatest victories, arguably surpassing the likes of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan because of the harsh conditions of the journey and the achievement of taking down one of the richest cities at the time.

After Delhi fell to Timur’s army, uprisings by its citizens against the Turkic-Mongols began to occur, causing a bloody massacre within the city walls. After three days of citizens uprising within Delhi, it was said that the city reeked of decomposing bodies of its citizens with their heads being erected like structures and the bodies left as food for the birds.

Timur’s invasion and destruction of Delhi continued the chaos that was still consuming India and the city would not be able to recover from the great loss it suffered for almost a century.

He invaded Baghdad in June 1401. After the capture of the city, 20,000 of its citizens were massacred. Timur ordered that every soldier should return with at least two severed human heads to show him. (Many warriors were so scared they killed prisoners captured earlier in the campaign just to ensure they had heads to present to Timur.)

The rulers of Europe were glad that the Ottoman Turk sultan Bayazid had been defeated, but they trembled at the idea that “Tamerlane” was at their doorstep. The rulers of Spain, France, and other powers sent congratulatory embassies to Timur, hoping to stave off an attack.

Timur had bigger goals, though. He decided in 1404 that he would conquer Ming China. (The ethnic-Han Ming Dynasty had overthrown his cousins, the Yuan, in 1368.)

The Timurid army set out in December, during an unusually cold winter. Men and horses died of exposure, and the 68-year-old Timur fell ill with a cold and died in February, 1405 at Otrar, in Kazakhstan really not that far from Samarkand which is his greatest lagacy.

Some Badass if you ask me (pardon my French)

Shakhrisabz 40

So now for a bit of fun, we are told our next stop is over the hills to the South about an hour away but our coach is not allowed to cross the mountain pass for safety reason so we need to use cars, ordinary cars so we pile into 8 or 9 of them and set off. It is reminiscent of the “Italian Job” or “Grant Theft Auto” a snake of cars all far too close to each other going hell for leather up a mountain pass, I wanted to turn my head around and see if the Police were really chasing us but though it better to stay focused on bracing myself for what ever might come.

Mike and I had a car to ourselves and a 6 foot 6 inch drive who had to move his seat forward to get us in so his knees we either side of the steering wheel which could not be comfortable of very safe but hey we had other thinks to keep us amused like trying to calculate how many inched we were from the car in front.


 That is covering the bases a radar detector and religious icons


anyway the pass turns out to be no worse that ones we have been passing over for the last week or two.


Snack on the way down anyone.


Some dried yoghourt balls which actually taste pretty much like sour chalk and one tries not to think of exactly how they are made. 



Now as we descend it is probably time for me to explain why we are going to this place,,,, well it is the birthplace of the guy Tamerlane who has been mentioned often.

So tomorrow is a history lesson. 

Samarkand 39 (last one here)

So we depart Samarkand today and we are off to the “Registan” which is the central part of the old town which is the most famous part.

Not sure why it was saved for our exit but it was. We walk around which is about a kilometer but it is bright and warm here as it has been for all of our trip which means I have been dragging around jumpers and coats for no real reason Doh !!.

Anyway as we walk towards the place and it comes into full view you start to get the majesty and commonly described as ensemble of majestic, tilting madrassas – a near-overload of majolica, azure mosaics and vast, well-proportioned spaces – is the centre piece of the city, and one of the most awesome single sights in Central Asia.

The Registan, which translates to ‘Sandy Place’ in Tajik, was medieval Samarkand’s commercial centre and the plaza was probably a wall-to-wall bazaar where announcements and executions would be held maybe the reason for the sand ?


Now to help you with the pictures of the buildings from left to right they are (and there might be a quiz later so pay attention) Ulugh Beg (remember him from the Observatory) Medrassa the Tilya-Kori Madrassa and the Sher-Dor

So a bit of history for you on Samarkand.

Built on the site of a town called Afrosiab, which dated from the 3d or 4th millennium B.C. yes that is 2000 to 3000 years so right now around 4000 years old, Samarkand was known to the ancient Greeks as Marakanda or stone / rock town. Ruins of the old settlement remain north of the present city. The chief city of Sogdiana, on the ancient trade route between the Middle East and China, Samarkand was conquered (329 B.C.) by Alexander the Great and became a meeting point of Western and Chinese culture. The first paper mill outside China was established there in 751.

The Arabs took Samarkand in the 8th cent. A.D., and under the Umayyad empire it flourished as a trade center on the route between Baghdad and China. In the 9th and 10th centntury as capital of the Abbasid dynasty in central Asia, Samarkand emerged as a center of Islamic civilization. The tomb of Bukhari (d. 870), near Samarkand, is a major Muslim shrine. Samarkand continued to prosper under the Samanid dynasty of Khorasan (874-–999) and under the subsequent rule of the Seljuks and of the shahs of Khwarazm. (we heard about them a few days back)

In 1220, Jenghiz Khan (lots of different spellings we use Genghis) captured and devastated the city, but it revived in the 14th cent. when Tamerlane made it the capital of his empire. Under his rule the city reached its greatest splendor; sumptuous palaces were erected, and mosques and gardens laid out. Under Timur’s successors, the Timurids, the empire soon was much reduced it broke up in the late 15th cent. and was ruled by the Uzbeks for the following four centuries.

Samarkand eventually became part of the emirate of Bukhara (and we know ALL about that place don’’t we) and fell to Russian troops in 1868, when the emirate passed under Russian suzerainty. In 1925, Samarkand became the capital of the Uzbek SSR, but in 1930 it was replaced by Tashkent (where we started from several days ago).



As you can see from the pictures below there was at one time some problem with one of the minarets which seemed to be falling over so they tried to pull it back into place and slightly over did it  


Meet and greet with the Locals ?????????????



It is difficult to capture or explain the scale or the color or the brightness of the place. Now I know lots of it have been restored but to be honest you can already see the cracks and it would seem our 20th century building techniques are not a patch on those of our ancestors. The place does hold your attention and your imagination, I am pretty sure everyone has heard of the Silk road and Marko Polo and this very place where all of this trade passed through.

That makes It a bit special. One quote we had was “When Babylon and Rome were being founded Samarkand was already in full swing” 



Samarkand 38

So off to the Market we go and spot a coffee house we will stop at on the way back, the route from the Registan down past the Bibi Khanym to the market (see already I am a local) is abour 2/3 of a mile and used to be a crowded Market road lined on each side with hundreds of merchants selling everything you could want. See the picture I found taken 110+ years ago. 

 Photo Poul Nadar 1890

Unfortunately of course progress has meant that this road is now a sort of Strip Mall with shops selling tourist souvenirs which takes something away form it but to be fair they are living a better lifestyle now and this is reflected in their buildings just as it is back home, we have indoor plumbing and central heating there are things we have developed and it would be wrong for tourists visiting England to expect us to be living in wattle and daub houses just to fit their ideal.

Anyway I did not take a picture of the whole street but did manage to snap a few kids on it


So at the Market now and legend has it the Alexander when he conquered this place was quite taken by the bread and tried (unsuccessfully) to bake it back in

Now I have to say it is ok but only ok and not much variety  so not sure I would want to eat it all the time but there again I do live in France so our bread is already ok.


Anyway I digress Mike and I need to buy supplies so some fruit, nuts and what ever else takes our fancy, and to start with we encounter the Nougat section of the market.

I say section as the place which is huge seems to be divided into lots and everyone in that area sells pretty much the same thing. 


Now of course they are all vying with its neighbor for business so as you pass everyone is offering samples and trying to get your attention.

A bag of Nougat later we move on to the Nuts section which is something which in particular has amazed me everywhere we have been there has been an abundance of nuts. Not just available but literally sacks full everywhere.

It is just something I have not considered before but of course it is high protein and 100 gram of Almonds has 500 calories in them (I just love google don’’t you) so a good source of food and not as perishable as many things.


*Note top left of the first picture they are dried Apricots with Walnuts in which was inviting enough for us to buy some, a decision I would regret very much in a day or two.


As we wander around taking in the sights and filling our day bags with goodies we are mostly ignored by the locals as this place is where they do their daily / weekly shop.

There are sections for various things and a few shops one of which we drop into as I think biscuits might be nice for our travels.

As we purchase some one of the staff is explaining to us the next year he is going to the LSE in London to study finance and did we want to change some money whilst we were here. (Everyone is a potential money changer as long as your $’s are clean and crisp) As the rate was better than any we had been offered we changes $40 to keep us going. Next we go into the next shop and are browsing and talking to the staff when one of the guys starts to tell us that next year he is off to the LSE in London to study Finance. We say we have just heard that story and thing it is a tall tale but turn around to find the chap from the other shop standing there where it becomes obvious they are brothers and are both very excited about spending time in England (We did not explain about the cold and rain as it would only have dampened their enthusiasm). 



Samarkand 37

Next is a somewhat special place as it is the tomb on Timur (and I promise in a few days I will explain all about him&nbsp to site is called “Gur-Emir”, in English “Tomb of the Commander”, it is the mausoleum of the 14th-century Mongol conqueror Timur, or Tamerlane. Though it has suffered from time and earthquakes, the monument is still sumptuous. Completed in 1404, it was originally intended to be the tomb of Timur’s grandson Muhammad Shah, but after Timur’s death in 1405 whilst on a campaign to China he was brought back and interred there as well, along with other members of his family.


The extant structures in the complex consist of a chapel crowned with a ribbed blue-tiled dome, enclosed by a wall, and fronted by an archway. The mausoleum plays an important place in the history of Islamic Architecture as the precursor and model for the great Mughal tombs of Humayun in Delhi and the Taj Mahal in Agra, built by Tamerlane’s / Timur’s descendants, the ruling dynasty of North India (now I bet that was a bit of a surprise to you well it was to me as well)



I sometime have to remind myself that we are not the only people interested in these places as there are many many locals who are visiting the sights as of course it is there country and it is there history as well.

I suppose the Tower of London has lots of English visitors as well


Quite a place and well worth an hour or so. We are going to finish our tour tomorrow morning and we get a couple of hours off to be tourists and get some supplies for some long road trips we have planned so we are off to yet another market (well tomorrow on the blog, what do you think of it so far ??) 


Samarkand 36

So lots and lots of sights to see, we are off to an observatory which we are told was the most important one in history although it did manage to get lost for 450 years.

Called the Observatory of Ulughbek (try saying that after a beer or two) it is the site where Uleg Bek (that’s easier) grandson of Tamerlane made some of the greatest achievements of the pre-telescope era of astronomy.


Beg determined the length of the tropical year as 365d 5h 49m 15s, which has an error of +25s, which when he calculated it in 1430 was quite a feat and something which is actually difficult to comprehend.

In fact most of this is well above my head (literally and figuratively) but I do recognize it is really really important

Uleg Bek, also built one of Samarkand’s greatest Islamic ‘University’ the Ulughbek medressa in 1420.

He was an exceptional man of culture. His own son had him decapitated, and his incredible astolab (he discovered 200 previously unknown stars) was leveled after his death in 1449 and not rediscovered in 1908,


No you can not ask me how it works. Google it like everyone else.


there are always weddings and people taking pictures of them at all historic monuments where ever we go (in a few days we get very close to one ourselves)