Day Four (Still in Uzbekistan)
For a map of Central Asia, click here:
Here’s what we did today, pretty much of a typical day, and one reason the Smithsonian discouraged those not up for an exhausting tour:
- Up at dawn, breakfast and then on the bus at 8
- Visit to Timur’s mausoleum (beautiful)
- Visit to Ulug Beg’s observatory
- Archeological site from the Sogdiana period
- Lunch in elegant restaurant
- Trip to factory for silk rugs (no, I did not buy one)
- Visit to a bakery
- Dinner in family home
- Whew, off to bed
Here is what we experienced:
After coming back from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan, we drove in the bus and ended up in Samarkand, a city in southeastern Uzbekistan. Things have gotten a lot more interesting in terms of beautiful historical sights. We have seen one after another amazing buildings of classic Islamic architecture from the Timurid period (14th and 15th Centuries). Timur (otherwise known as Tamerlane) was an Uzbek warrior who kicked out the Mongols (although he married into Genghis Khan’s family) and established a rather fragile empire, which broke up within a century after his death in the early 15th century. (They had not worked out their rules of succession as well as the British!) He encouraged learning and brought in architects and artists from around the world. We have seen the madrassas (schools) and tombs (mausoleums) that the Timurids built. His grandson, Ulug Beg, was also a warrior, but also a brilliant astronomer, who built on Greek and Indian astronomy to map many of the stars well before the Europeans. Luckily his students saved some of his writings, which were passed down and preserved.
A few other items:
Music and Arts: The Uzbeks and Tajiks have an artistic and expressive society, with amazing crafts, music, and dance. We saw a person play several of the traditional instruments, which are a huge range of stringed instruments, each different is size, the number of strings, how they are made (with which wood), and how they are played (plucked or bowed). The other common traditional instruments are flutes and tambourines that serve as the drums.
Money: They must have had some hyperinflation along the way because all denominations of the money are in the thousands. For example, 1000 “som” is 20 cents, and I have never seen any lower denomination (few coins or lower bills). So I asked an innocent and naive question about why they don’t just log off three zeros to make the arithmetic easier. The answer was practical; it would take a lot of money to redo all the bills and machines to make the bills, etc. Of course, they are all used to this crazy system and see no problem with it, just like us and our pennies.
Clothing: While people don’t wear the most elaborate traditional dress day-to-day, most people (except for youth in the cities, who wear jeans and T-shirts) do not dress in “Western” dress. Most women wear very colorful flowered long dresses, and older women over middle age usually have something on their heads, usually a scarf. I have never seen a face covering (including a covid mask, which is another story). Older men often wear a typical Uzbek cap, which can be colorful or black.
Food: We have been constantly overfed, with buffets for breakfast, three or four courses for lunch, and the same for dinner. Each meal (lunch and dinner) starts with an elaborate display of salads. I have gotten lots of pictures of these colorful displays. Then we have a soup (today at lunch a delicious borscht). Then there is the main course, usually meat (sometimes kabobs) with rice and potatoes. Finally, there is fruit and usually also a sweet dessert. I don’t know how they expect you to eat all this, but you can see why I am struggling to overcome an upset stomach. Still it is good, and especially to look at.
Personalities: I noticed a distinct difference century between Uzbek and Tajik people. This was confirmed by our guide as a “type,” with obviously many exceptions, Uzbeks are more reserved, and Tajiks are more outgoing–perhaps like the contrast between Japanese and Chinese people. As an example, at the hotel where we stayed in Tajikistan, the proprietress gave us hugs, turned on the boom box, and had us dancing around with her after breakfast. In Tajikistan, everyone was happy for me to take their picture, which wasn’t always the case in Uzbekistan.