Friday, November 16, 2007

Samarkand, Unconvincingly Fake Democracy of Uzbekistan

There are many reasons why people go to Central Asia and Samarkand has been one of them for millenia. Over th centuries, folk have put up with crap transport, weird entry requirements imposed by cuntish rulers and endless variants of mutton just to come to this place. Alexander the Great heard of the place and , like many after, just had to come here. Admittedly he conquered it instead of simply having a look but the bisexual megalomaniac started a trend.

In a lot of places backpackers are a strange reflection of the inequality of the world. Boys and girls from societies so prosperous they feel secure enough to ditch it all for months go to places 2 steps away from basic subsistence . Here the rucksack crowd and the tour groups are just the latest lot of moths drawn to Samarkand's flame. The travel bug owes a lot to this place.

Samarkand has been important since Christ was but a gleam in the archangel's eye but most of what can be seen here is from after the 14th century. Samarkand was one of many amazing places razed to the ground by Genghis Khan. He might have been invincible but he was still a unwashed tasteless prole. Luckily for the world, what one bloodthirsty conqueror can destroy, another bloodthirsty conqueror can resurrect. Enter Amir Timur AKA; Timur the Great, Timur the Lame, Tamerlane.

Timur is a bit of a cult figure in Uzbekistan. In a scary way he is the most famous local and they have to make the best of it. They focus on his conquests, the long overdue kicking he gave to the Golden Horde and the way he made Samarkand into a centre of Islamic culture and a place of beauty. They tend to gloss over his less admirable actions such as having Delhi put to the sword or they way he liked to play Jenga with human skulls. Anyways, Timur and his descendants plowed cash and slaves into making Samarkand even greater than it was.

If Samarkand embodies the Silk Road then the Registan symbolises Samarkand. It is a square surrounded on 3 sides by huge madrassas. Google it if you want to see what I am writing about but what you will never get on a screen is the sheer scale of it. However nice, a picture cannot give you the feeling I felt when I walked under it's stupendously big gates which are twice the height of the buildings behind. That is why it's worth coming here beyond the "I've taken the road to Samarkand" inner medal travellers award themselves.

The same feeling can be had at Timur's prezzy to Allah that is the Bibi Khanym Mosque. Once again you walk under insanely big arches to get to the courtyard and the turquoise domes it holds. This is actually a tried and tested trick from the God Squad all over. Cathedrals in Europe use the same method. The name of the game is to get you feeling all small and awestruck before a nice session of endoctrination. Illusionists and con artists know the importance of prepping the punters.

I must confess it worked with me. The awe and feeling tiny part, not the religion bit. That's patently nonsense.

A more contemplative experience can be had at the Shari Zinda in the cemetery which is a street of tombs and mausoleums for Timur's family, mates and lackeys (Timur and his offspring get their own separate and astonishingly discrete mausolem). The quiet atmosphere and the absence of absurd bigness let you contemplate and appreciate the delicate architecture and beautiful mosaic work.

Kudos to the artists and artisans who have create something so esthetically pleasing in spite of Islamic proscriptions on depicting, well, pretty much anything. These people were doing abstract art long before a bunch of poncy beret wearers decided to claim that putting random shapes on a canvas was significant. It also looks far better.

Mind you they do sometimes make the odd infraction to Allah's strange rules. I saw a few birds inside some tombs and one of the Registan's gates has a couple of lions/tigers on it. Lions if you believe the King who commissioned it, tigers if you believe your eyes. I suspect that the tendency for rulers of these parts to behead people willy nilly meant that if if he said lions where orange and had stripes then few would be bold enough to disagree.

There is also a bazaar here but to be honest I cam getting a bit bored of them. They are great for wandering and people watching but when you have to get a few necessities they start to be a tad tiring. Imagine going to a supermarket but having to go to the till each time you choose an item and having to bloody negotiate it.

Next stop, Bukhara

Take care,



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