Heat, Heart and History

With Samarkand a three-city trip in Uzbekistan started. As mentioned before, the more cultural part of our trip began. It was only just before we started sightseeing in Samarkand that we got to know more (just from the guidebook :-)) about some of the history of Uzbekistan. And this made the sightseeing surely more interesting.

The buildings in Samarkand are not that old (relatively). The madrases and facades of the Registan date from the 14th century onwards – everything that was there before that time was destroyed by Ghinggis Kahn (so said the guidebook). The 14th century in Uzbekistan was known for the rule of Timur, a warrior Uzbekistan (and the guidebook) claims was as successful, brutal and ruthless as Ghinggis Khan only less famous. And that last fact seems to still frustrate some.

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The mosque of Bibi-Khanym has a beautiful story about Bibi-Khanym, the Chinese and most special and loved wife of Timur, who built the mosque for her husband while he was away for battle. When Timur came back he found out his Bibi-Khanym in the meantime had fallen in love with the architect of the mosque and had the poor guy killed. The mausoleum of Bibi-Khanym is opposite of the mosque. Samarkand was made capital of Uzbekistan (or ‘his’ empire) by Timur during his rule.

And then we went to Buhkara, which was in the hands of Ghenggis Khan in 1220 and came under the rule of Timur in 1370. The most famous story is about Emir Nasrullah Khan (better known as ‘The Butcher’) who killed all his brothers and 28 other family members so that he could become Emir of Buhkara in 1826. All attempts of British and/or Russian soldiers to cooperate or talk with the Emir were brutally beaten down. Two British officers were beheaded outside the ‘Arch’ where the Emir lived.

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Buhkara in 2014 is a well-renovated steaming hot city with a very clear ‘old’ and ‘new’ side of town. The old side of town has beautiful madrases, old bazaars, mosques and the famous ‘Arch’, but it is very very much focussed only on tourism. Everything costs money, the only ’businesses’ you see are souvenir stands and restaurants. In the middle of the old side of the city we sat aside ‘the pool’ (once the source of all kinds of horrible diseases which resulted in an average life-expectancy of a Buhkarian of 31 years) and had drinks and dinner. Wonderful, but the real Buhkara-life we didn’t really see.

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Khiva knew an even more brutal Emir than Buhkara who slaughtered a complete Russian army and was also famous for the slave-trade from the 16th century onwards. The old city is still very much intact with an entire city wall still around it, but also in Khiva, unfortunately, we also didn’t find a lot of ‘heart’ in the old city. Everything was too much and too well renovated in our opinion. The daily (street) life of the locals had been completely banned from within the old city walls – for the actual Uzbeki life you need to go to other parts of the city or country.

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So, Uzbekistan eventually is a country with lovely and wonderful stories, with beautiful madrases, mosques, facades and squares and with a bizar current rule (the country is (communist) ruled by Karimov, since 1992 already and he is still going strong, who e.g. in the capital of Tashkent forbid the ‘call to prayer’ from the minarets while 90% of his population is Muslim). A country that because of the heat, the lack of heart in the cities and bizarre history we will always remember!

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