Samarkand, Uzbekistan

We arrived in Samarkand from Khiva at 6:30am on the overnight sleeper train. While not as comfortable as the Turkmenistan train (due to lack of a cooling system), it was still a good way to travel between cities as it meant avoiding having to squeeze into a shared taxi and a bumpy ride on the pothole ridden roads of Central Asia.

We headed straight to the Bohadir B&B which was in the LP, as well as being recommended to us by other travellers in Bukhara.  They gave us a double with bathroom for US$9 each including breakfast, which we were happy with. We had some brekkie and headed out to explore. The B&B is located right next to Samarkand’s Registran so as we walked out we saw the breathtaking view of the Registran’s medrassas. It was noticeably cooler than it had been in Bukhara and Khiva.

We started off at the Registran but realised we need to exchange some money so headed to Siob Bazaar. It was not hard to find a money exchanger on the black market – almost every shopkeeper exchanges or knows someone who does!

Bibi Khanym Mosque

We then headed to the grandiose Bibi Khanym Mosque. It is massive at forty-one metres high. This mosque was built for Bibi Khanym, the Great Timur’s Chinese wife. Apparently the architect fell in love with Bibi and Timur had him executed. We crossed the road over to the Bibi Khanym Mausoleum which has brilliantly restored interior. The lady there offered us to climb the ‘minaret’ for 5000 Som which turned out to be the tin roof of the mausoleum, but it had great views of the Bibi Khanym Mosque and nearby Shah I Zinda.

Turquoise fluted dome of Bibi-Khanym MosqueBibi-Khanym MosqueInner courtyard of Bibi-Khanym Mosque
Blue mosaics of Bibi-Khanym MosqueSide entrance of the Bibi-Khanym MosqueHard carved and painted wooden being sold at the Bibi-Khanym Mosque
Intricate wooden carving at the Bibi-Khanym mausoleumTiles of the Bibi-Khanym mausoleumTiles of the Bibi-Khanym mausoleum
Stalactites of the Bibi-Khanym mausoleumBibi-Khanym mausoleumBibi-Khanym mausoleum

Hazrat Hizr Mosque

Next was a visit to the 8th century Hazrat Hizr Mosque, beautifully decorated in pastel colours with wooden columns.

Hazrat-Hizr MosquePascal minaret at Hazrat-Hizr MosquePascal coloured Hazrat-Hizr Mosque
Colourful mosaics at Hazrat-Hizr MosqueIntricate tile work at Hazrat-Hizr MosqueInner dome of Hazrat-Hizr Mosque
Stalactites of the Hazrat-Hizr MosqueThe outer kiblah of the Hazrat-Hizr MosqueInner dome pattern at Hazrat-Hizr Mosque

Shah I Zinda

We headed to the spectacular Shah I Zinda, avenue of mausoleums, a truly brilliant array of mausoleums (including that of Qusam ibn Abbas, cousin of Prophet Mohammed) with beautiful tile work, mosaics – a feast for the eyes! It is a pilgrimage site and many of the tombs were covered in Som (Uzbek currency) notes.

One of the many highly mosaiced tombs at Shahi-ZindaInner dome of one of the tombs at Shahi-ZindaInterior of one of the more lavish tombs at Shahi-Zinda
Intricate blue and white mosaics at Shahi-ZindaTurquoise domes of two tombs at Shahi-ZindaAvenue of mausoleums at Shahi-Zinda
Avenue of mausoleums at Shahi-ZindaAvenue of mausoleums at Shahi-ZindaThe entrance of Shahi-Zinda (avenue of mausoleums)


An ancient Samarkand site of Afrosiab is located near to Shah I Zinda, so we decided to visit this next. While the site itself is mostly in ruins, the museum houses a 7th century fresco of KKing Vokhaouman (Sodgian period) and some Afrosiab history.

In the evening we headed back to the B&B and it started raining heavily. Thunder bellowed and lightening struck.

The Registran

The following morning we headed to the Registran, one of the most spectacular sights in Samarkand. Our B&B was just a stone throw away, so we’d walked past it a number of times but decided to explore the interior medressas on our second day. There are three magnificent medressas – the Ulugbek Medressa, named after Timur’s grandson Ulugbek, famed for his passion for astronomy and mathematics, the Sher Dor (Lion) Medressa which depict liger-like creatures (in order to align with Islamic regulations around depicting animals) which are frequently used in Uzbekistan artwork and handicrafts, and the Tilla Kari Medressa which insides contains extremely well restored mosque with its elaborately gold-decorated dome.

After we went in search of a bank (Asaka Bank) and an internet cafe, taking a walk along the streets of old Samarkand.  There seemed to be a lot of restoration going on in the streets of the old town.  We had lunch at a restaurant – plov, two salads and green tea.

East wall of the Sher Dor (Lion) Medressa part of the RegistanFluted turquoise dome of the Sher Dor (Lion) Medressa part of the RegistanFluted turquoise dome of the Sher Dor (Lion) Medressa part of the Registan
Sculpture of Kazizoda Rumi, Mirzo Ulughbek, Ghiyasiddin Jamshed, Muhammad Khavofi and Ali Kushchi at scientific discussionThe inner court of Ulugbek Medressa part of the RegistanThe inner court of Ulugbek Medressa part of the Registan
Turquoise dome of the Tilla-Kari (Gold-Covered) MedressaTurquoise dome of the Tilla-Kari (Gold-Covered) MedressaTilla-Kari (Gold-Covered) Medressa part of the Registan
The gold-leaf of the Tilla-Kari Medressa part of the RegistanThe inner dome painted blue and gold in the Tilla-Kari Medressa part of the RegistanThe gold-leaf of the Tilla-Kari Medressa part of the Registan
The inner court of the Sher Dor (Lion) Medressa still under restorationPainters restoring the interior walls of the Sher Dor (Lion) Medressa,The entrance portal of Ulugbek Medressa part of the Registan
Ulugbek Medressa part of the RegistanThe entrance portal of the Sher Dor (Lion) Medressa part of the RegistanSher Dor (Lion) Medressa part of the Registan
Sher Dor (Lion) Medressa part of the RegistanThe entrance portal of the Tilla-Kari (Gold-Covered) Medressa part of the RegistanThe three Medressas making up the Registan
Sonya and Travis at the Registan, SamarkandThe entrance portal of the Tilla-Kari (Gold-Covered) Medressa part of the RegistanTilla-Kari (Gold-Covered) Medressa part of the Registan

Guri Amir Mausoleum

We then headed to the Guri Amir Mausoleum which contains the tombs of Timur, his sons and grandsons (including Ulugbek). We also popped into the Ak-Saray Mausoleum hidden in a back alley behind the Guri Amir.

Blue fluted azure dome at Guri Amir MausoleumGuri Amir Mausoleum with blue fluted azure domeGuri Amir Mausoleum with blue fluted azure dome
Inside the Guri Amir Mausoleum hallwayGold and blue mosaics at the Guri Amir MausoleumGold and blue mosaics at the Guri Amir Mausoleum
Gold and blue mosaics at the Guri Amir MausoleumEntrance of Guri Amir Mausoleum with blue fluted azure domeGuri Amir Mausoleum

The following morning we caught a shared taxi to Tashkent, 55,000som per person for the three hour journey.

Ancient Merv, Turkmenistan

Our first stop in Turkmenistan after crossing from the Saraghs border was the town of Mary. We stayed at the Hotel Terminal near the train station (or wokzal , in Turkmen) after striking a deal with the taxi driver. I would probably not recommend this hotel as it was rather unclean and lacked even the basics (i.e. curtains, blankets). However, it was late at night by the time we arrived, so we had to make do.

The following morning we had breakfast at a Russian restaurant. We had buckwheat with sausages, and meat dumplings in soup which was delicious. We then tried to arrange for a taxi driver to take us to historical site of Merv, located about thirty kilometres from the town of Mary, finally agreeing 50 manat for a four hour round trip. On our way to Merv, we drove though Mary, observing its numerous Soviet style government buildings.

Merv is a UNESCO heritage site and while much of the site is in ruins, it was a great way to observe the local Turkmen culture as well as to learn a bit about Turkmenistan’s past.  The ancient site was quite the place during the Silk Road days of the 11th and 12th century.  It is said that Merv may have inspired the famous story of Thousand and One Nights.  At the site we had quite a few people approach us for photos, particularly the younger children and teenagers.  I loved the way the women dress in their colourful ankle length dresses embroidered with traditional Turkmen designs and paired with an equally colourful headscarf.

We visited the following in the complex:

Kyz Kala (Great Kyz Kala and Little Kyz Kala) – two mudbrick wall structures built during the 7th century by the Sassanians. The place was surrounded by funny looking camels.

Mausoleums of Two Askhab – a significant pilgrimage site for two companions of the prophet lies in front of Timurid iwans.

Mausoleum of Mohammed Ibn Zeid – another pilgrimage site, we noticed a number of Turkmens circulating this 12th century mausoleum.

Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar – with a very attractive interior and an interesting history (Sanjar, for whom the mausoleum is built, died of a broken heart when after escaping from Khiva (now in Uzbekistan), returned to find Merv  in ruins after fearless Mongol Chinggis Khan’s soldiers had attacked.

Erk Kala and surrounding fortress of Giaur Kala – we climbed the circular walls of Erk Kala, thought to be the oldest of the five Merv cities (6th century BC) which allowed us to view the wider Giaur Kala (3rd century BC). Remnants of a Buddha’s statue were found in the area making it the most Western point which Buddism reached.

After Merv, we took a shared taxi with a Russian woman and her daughter to Asgabat, the capital city of Turkmenistan. After being unable to find the homestay which we had planned to stay at, we ended up at Hotel Asgabat which was alright, albeit slightly more expensive than the other places we’d stayed.  We had dinner (pizza) at a nearby Russian cafe which had American tunes blasting from the huge flatscreen.

Camels surrounding the Great and Small Kyz kalasCamels surrounding the Great and Small Kyz kalasHundreds of camels
One of many camels at MervOne of many camels at MervOne of many camels at Merv
Sonya wandering the Great Kyz kalasThe Small Kyz kalasView of the Great Kyz kalas
Closeup view of a wall of the Great Kyz kalasOne of the two Mausoleum of Two AskhabChildren viewing the tomb of al-Hakam ibn Amr
Mosque of Yusuf HamadaniMinaret of mosque of Yusuf HamadaniMinaret of mosque of Yusuf Hamadani
Sonya and some Turkmen girlsTurkmen women talking with poppies in the foregroundLooking towards the mosque of Yusuf Hamadani from the minaret
Mausoleum of Yusuf HamadaniA Turkmen boy and girlMausoleum of Sultan Sanjar
Turkmen women on the Erk Kala wallsTurkmen women in traditional dressTurkmen children pose for a photo
Mausoleum of Mohammed ibn ZeidThree ice-houses in MervThree ice-houses in Merv