A Travellerspoint blog

Kyrgyzstan

30th May (continued)
We had a short 30m walk to the Kyrgyzstan border post and were stamped into our 5th and final stan.
This is their flag.

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The population of Kyrgyzstan is relatively small, roughly five million. The country is land locked and shares borders with Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Over 90 percent of the country is covered by often-arid mountains. The scenery was again lovely. It was so green and there were a lot of nomadic people with their caravans.

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Along with some permanent looking homes.

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We travelled another 200km to Karakol. This town was founded as a Russian military outpost in 1869; the population surged during the 1880’s when thousands of Chinese Muslims (Dungans) settled here, fleeing persecution in China. The name of the town has alternated between Karakol and Przhevalsk several times over the past century. The Russian explorer, Nikolai Przhevalsky died here in 1888 of typhoid while preparing for an expedition to Tibet, thus the city was renamed in his honour. After local protests, the town returned to its original name in 1921, then again to Przhevalsk in 1939 and finally restored to Karakol in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union.
We headed straight to dinner at a local family’s house where we had salad, soup and yummy dumplings. We then checked into our hotel. Travel time had been 13 hours today so it had been a long but adventurous day.

31st May

As we checked in to the hotel late last night, we had no idea what the hotel or views looked like.
This is our hotel.

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We were lucky enough to get one of the front ones with a balcony. This is the view we had.

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As we had a late start today, we decided to have a wander around town. We headed to two parks.

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The first one had a couple of monuments. The first was a statue of Lenin.

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Then there was a lovely monument with a horse. We are not sure of its significance.

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We then headed to Victory Park which is a memorial for World War 2.

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There were large busts of what we assume were heroes.

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There was also another monument which was quite colourful.

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We then visited the striking Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral. The Karakol Orthodox church was a highlight. It was the first church in Karakol and was built when the city was founded, in 1869. Its purpose was to serve the troops stationed in Karakol, which it did until it was destroyed in an earthquake in 1889. A new wooden church was built on the same spot over the course of six years and was consecrated in 1895. Upon its completion, the spire of the new Holy Trinity Church was the tallest building in Karakol, at 26 metres tall. The church was active until 1917, when it became property of the state, and was used as everything from a theatre to warehouse. In 1947, the church started holding services again, but in the 1960s was again used for other purposes. After independence in 1991, the building was returned to church authorities, who started repairs and reconstruction of the damaged interior and exterior. Today, the church is one of the more famous sights in Karakol.

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The rear of the church.

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There was also a pretty wooden mosque built by Chinese artisans for the local Dungans between 1907 and 1910. Completed in 1910, the mosque was built to serve Karakol's community of Dungans (Chinese Muslims who fled persecution in the 1880s). Designed by a Chinese architect, the building is constructed entirely without nails and much of its imagery, including a wheel of fire, reflects the Dungans' pre-Islamic, Buddhist past. Instead of a minaret the mosque has a wooden pagoda. Despite being closed by the government from 1933-43, the mosque continues to be used as a place of worship. These days worshippers are not exclusively Dungan and include a large Kyrgyz contingent. The 'Dungan Mosque' has therefore become simply 'The Mosque' to the locals.

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In the afternoon we travelled 30km to the Valley of the Flowers and Jety-Oguz where we hiked in the canyon. Jety-Oguz is the name of the stunning group of rock formations which guard the entrance to the valley. The “seven bulls” are quite red and rise out of the greenery.

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There is an unusual mosque there too.

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Once in the valley, the scenery was lovely as we walked alongside the river.

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We came across some of those unusual fat bottomed sheep.

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On our way back we even had to get out of the way as stock came up the path.

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We passed several honey gardens that had been set up. There were bees everywhere.

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We also stopped to see a Golden Eagle. He was beautiful and quite big. Shane took the opportunity to dress up and hold him.

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1st June

This morning we headed to our next adventure and enroute we visited the Museum of Nikolai Przhevalskii.

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He was one of the great explorers of Central Asia. There was a map showing the extent of his travels and a collection of artefacts.

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His monument was lovely. There are 10 steps for the 10 years that he was funded for his exploration. There are 22 sections to the monument for the 22 years of his total exploration and it weighs 365 ton for 365 days of the year.

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He wanted to be buried by Issyk Kul Lake.

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For those of you who have been to Monarto Zoo and seen the Przhevalskii horses, they were named after this famous explorer.

Our next stop was at a burial site from around the 2nd century BC. We climbed to the top and there was a crater in the top where it has been raided and any articles removed. This was a burial site for an individual and their horses to take them to their new destination.

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We then headed to the Semenov Gorge. It is approximately 30km in length. Flowing through the gorge is Ak-Suu River, which begins as a glacier. We went for a hike in the gorge.

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It is amazing how any old item gets used. There was a chassis of a truck for a bridge.

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An old truck body for an animal shelter.

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There were some families set up there. They had blue plastic over their yurts for water proofing.

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They were milking a mare.

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We then drove two hours along the northern shore of Issyk Kul. Issyk Kul is a lake in the northern Tian Shan mountains in eastern Kyrgyzstan. It is the tenth largest lake in the world by volume and the second largest saline lake. Issyk Kul means warm lake, although it is surrounded by snow capped mountains, it never freezes. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, so it was difficult to see the mountains.

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About 40 km from Issyk Kul is the town of Cholpon-Ata. It is a resort town on the northern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. During the Soviet era it was frequented by vacationers brought there on mass from other parts of the USSR. We had lunch here and while there we went to see the open-air site with about 2000 petroglyphs dating from around 800BC to 1200AD.

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As you can see there were literally thousands of rocks. It was fun to go searching for the petroglyphs.

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We then continued another two hours to Chon-Kemin Valley for an overnight stay in Ashu Village. This valley measures almost 80km.

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We had lovely rustic accommodation. Including an amazing piece of art.

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They had lovely quilts on the wall in the room.

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2nd June

This morning we took a walk around the small streets near Ashu Village and got to experience traditional Kyrgyz village life.

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We also went down to the local sports ground, which was pretty much a weeded area with white stones around it. This was where we were to experience a variety of nomad games that they play and see how good their horseman ship was.
We turned up for a 10am start but no-one was around. All of a sudden there was a herd of men on horses flying across the countryside from nowhere.
The first demonstration was on horseman ship. They had to try and pick up a red rag from the ground while their horse was galloping pretty fast.

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They then had a game of tug of war.

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They then showed us Er enish which is a game where a horseman tries to pull his opponent from his horse, so he touches the ground. When the referee calls the beginning of the match, the opponents grab each other with the aim of pulling the other from his horse. Winning requires not only strength, but also dexterity and endurance from the rider and the horse. These are valuable skills for men and horses, and so er enish competitions are valuable ways of helping men hone their abilities.

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And finally, the best part of all was the game of Kok-Boru, in which they use a headless goat carcass. Yes, that’s correct a real goat carcass. It is also called dead goat polo. The meat gets nice and tenderised for them to eat afterwards.

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Kok-Boru is the highlight of any traditional sporting event in Central Asia. Two teams of horsemen fight for possession of a dead goat, which they then manoeuvre into raised goals to earn points. The gameplay was exciting and often violent, even though it was supposedly only a demonstration. Kok-boru builds teamwork among players and toughens both men and horses, which would have been necessary for hunting and war. The game starts with the teams lining up at the edge of the field, they then circle their goal.

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Then of course they shake hands.

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They then approach the middle of the field, where the referee has placed the goat on the ground.

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Players must then fight to grab the goat off the ground while the other team tries to gain possession of the goat by force. See what you make of all these photos.

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They then have to carry it to their team’s goal and throw it in.

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They even fall off when it gets really rough.

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They were pleased to pose for photos after the game.

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They showed us how the carcass is carried while they are galloping up the field.

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After lunch we set off for Bishkek. Along the way we stopped at the Burana Tower. It is a large minaret in the Chuy Valley. The tower, along with grave markers and the remnants of a castle and three mausoleums is all that remains of the ancient city of Balasagun, which was established by the Karakhanids at the end of the 9th century. The tower was originally 45m high but over centuries a number of earthquakes caused significant damage. The last major earthquake in the 15th century destroyed the top half of the tower, reducing it to 25m.

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There were lots of marvellous tomb stones.

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When the Muslims arrived, they were not allowed to have faces only writing on theirs.

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We then arrived in Bishkek. This town was formerly Pishpek and Frunze and is the capital and largest city in Kyrgyzstan. In 1825 the authorities established the fortress of Pishpek in order to control local caravan routes. In 1860 Russian forces destroyed the fortress. In 1868 a Russian settlement was established. In 1926 the Communist Party of the Soviet Union renamed the city Frunze, after the Bolshevik military leader Mikhail Frunze. In 1991 the Kyrgyz parliament changed the capitals name back to Bishkek. The city is situated at an altitude of about 800 metres. The city has a lovely backdrop of mountains that rise to 4,855 metres. Due to the weather we could not see them.
While in Bishkek we visited the Ala-Too Square. It was built in 1984 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Kyrgyz SSR, at which time a massive statue of Lenin was placed in the square. It was known as Lenin Square until independence in 1991. In 2005 the square was the site of the largest anti-government protest. After several weeks of unrest, over 15,000 people gathered. Two people were killed and over 100 were injured when the protesters clashed with government officials. In 2011 the Manas Monument was erected to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the nation's independence, the statue portrays the main protagonist of a national epic written in an 18th-century Persian manuscript. It is 17 m tall equestrian sculpture holding a sheathed sword with his left hand.

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We also got to see the changing of the guard.

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I love their big hats.

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During the unrest the protesters took over control of the square and stormed the White House forcing Kyrgyzstan’s first president to flee the country and later resign from office. The names of the people who died are listed on a plaque on the fence.

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This monument was right next door.

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Opposite the square are old soviet buildings that hold government offices. They have brightened them up with the billboards on them.

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This monument was in another square we visited.

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The statue of Lenin was moved in 2003 to a smaller square in the city.

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This is their Parliament building.

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We also visited Victory Square.

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3rd June
Today we farewelled the 5 Stans. Our flight left at 5am in the morning so we were up at 2.30 to head to the airport. What a fantastic time we have had and so many highlights. That’s us signing off from another great adventure.

Posted by shaneandnicola 15:23 Archived in Kyrgyzstan Comments (1)

Kazakhstan

28th May (continued)
We flew to Almaty in Kazakhstan. It was beautiful flying over the snow-capped mountains.

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Kazakhstan is the world’s nine largest country and the most developed of the “Stans”. It was the last member of the Soviet Union to declare independence from Russia in 1991.
This is their flag.

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Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan. It is a major commercial and cultural centre. It is located in the mountainous area of southern Kazakhstan in the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau at an elevation of 900 metres. It was the capital of Kazakhstan until 1997.
After a short break at the hotel we headed straight out to do some sightseeing.
Panfilov Park is named after the Panfilov heroes. 28 soldiers from Almaty who died fighting the Nazi’s outside of Moscow. General Panfilov managed to delay the advance of the enemy towards the capital, but his infantry did die in combat eventually. The huge memorial statue in the park shows the 28 soldiers but is a memorial to all the Kazakh soldiers who died in the first and second world war.

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It then leads into Victory Square

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The Ascension Cathedral also known as Zenkov Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox cathedral also located in Panfilov Park. It was completed in 1907. The cathedral is made out of wood but without nails. It is 56 metres tall and is claimed to be the second tallest wooden building in the world. The cathedral survived the 1911 earthquake with minimal damage.

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The inside is being renovated but we got to see a small part of it which was amazing.

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This was the church with a side view. You only see the crosses on top of the church from the side.

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29th May

We had a busy day of sightseeing in Almaty today. We learned about the history of Kazakhstan at the Central State Museum. This was first established in 1931, the museum displays significant historical, archaeological, political and cultural artefacts and is one of the largest collections in Central Asia. There are 120,000 exhibits.

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We then strolled through Republic Square. This is the main square in the city. It is 580 metres long. The square opened in 1980 as the new main square and for rest of the period until the collapse of the Soviet Union, served as a place for mass demonstrations, celebrations, festivals, military parades, rallies and festivals. In 1986, an infamous uprising known as Jeltoqsan occurred in the square. Where a crowd gathered to protest over Kunayev's dismissal. The events lasted from 16 December until 19 December 1986. The protests began as a student demonstration and attracted thousands of participants as they marched through the Square. As a result, troops entered the city, violence erupted throughout the city and around 200 people were killed.

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This is the Independence Monument adorned with a statue of a Saks Warrior and a flying winged leopard, a symbol of modern-day Kazakhstan.

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Almaty Central Mosque is one of the largest mosques in Almaty and Kazakhstan. It was built on the site of the old mosque that caught fire in 1987. It was completed in 1999.

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We even stopped in at a chocolate shop as we could smell chocolate and were told that there was a chocolate factory.

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We then went to the Green Bazaar. It is called that because in the past it was traditional to sell vegetables there. It is well known and sells the widest range of goods. We made a stop at the meat section as this always makes us curious. This time they had isles for each type of meat. You can see the horse picture for the horse meat area.

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We had to ask what these were. They hold jam in them.

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We stopped at a stall that sold mares milk and camels milk. Shane decided he would try camel milk. I might add, he had no after affects.

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In the afternoon we drove 15km to Medeo where we saw the famous skating rink set in a stunning valley location. It sits 1691 metres above sea level and is considered to be the world’s largest high-mountain skating rink. It consists of 10.5 thousand square metres of ice and utilises a sophisticated freezing and watering system to ensure the quality of the ice. It was fully renovated in 2011 for the Asian Winter Games and became a major training base for the ice skaters of the USSR. Unfortunately, being summer it wasn’t in use for skating, however sometimes it is used as a carting track.

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30th May
We had an early start today as we were heading for Karakol. The drive to the Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan border was 210km.
Before hitting the border, we visited the magnificent Charyn Canyon. The canyon is located in the Charyn National Park. It has been described as the Grand Canyon’s little brother. The canyon is 150 km long and in places up to 300 metres deep. Over 3 million years ago both wind and water sculptured Charyn’s red stone to form todays fantastic shapes. One area of interest is the Valley of Castles due to the pillars and rock formations. We descended into the canyon for hike to see them.

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We hiked 3 km through the canyon to the river.

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We couldn’t find much wildlife but did see this bird.

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We then scrambled up the canyon.

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By doing that we had time to take a look from the top.

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We then continued on to the border and the scenery changed completely from the desert canyon.

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We were pretty amused by the horses using the bus shelter for shade.

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There were also some amazing cemeteries along the way.

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A lonely donkey in the middle of the road.

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The roads went from pretty good to pretty bad.

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We then arrived at the border which was in the middle of nowhere.

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Border formalities went fairly smoothly, although we had to unpack the bus and open our suitcases on the Kazakhstan side. But the guards were friendly enough.
This concluded our short stay in Kazakhstan.

Posted by shaneandnicola 17:17 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (2)

Tajikistan

24th May (continued)

We entered Tajikistan via the Oybek border. This small country has soaring mountains, valleys and pristine lakes.
This is their flag.

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Once across the border we drove to Khujand. It was only 70km away. We were now close to the mountains.

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The border between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan is a lot more friendly these days. There are these pictures everywhere showing the 2 presidents confirming how friendly they are towards each other.

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Khujand was formerly known as Leninabad between 1936-1991, and is the second-largest city of Tajikistan and the capital of the northernmost province of Tajikistan, now called Sughd. Khujand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, dating back about 2,500 years. It is situated on the Syr Darya at the mouth of the Fergana Valley and was a major city along the ancient Silk Road. It was founded by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. We stopped at the river to get some views. This is the mongol mountains behind the city.

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We visited Pushkin Square also known as Victory Square.

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We then passed the Timur Malik Fortress. Timur Malik was a governor who constructed a fortress just below the city. He entrenched himself in it with a thousand loyal warriors to hold off the Mongols.

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Saw another photo of the president.

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Next was the Historical Museum of Sughd. It had a wide range of artefacts related to the history of the Sughd region of Tajikistan.

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We then went to Khujand Registan Square.

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This is the Panjshanbe Bazaar which is on one side of the square.

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We were impressed by the stately columns holding up the bazaar. It was lovely and colourful. The bazaar has a main pavilion and many stalls, tents and shops. Construction of the pavilion took place in the middle of the 1950s-60’s. The interior has both Soviet and oriental styles. On the ground floor we found fruit and vegetables, bread and spices.

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This is the fatty backside of a special type of sheep they have here. I will try and get a picture of a real one at some stage.

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These are the other buildings around the square.

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In front of the square stands a memorial to the soldiers of World War 2.

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The Arbob Palace was the former headquarters of a Soviet collective farm. It was built in the 1950’s and modelled on the winter gardens of Peterhof, St Petersburg. Outside the building is a procession of fountains and rose gardens. Inside, there are three wings. The building had particular significance in 1992, when it was the site for the meeting of the Tajik Soviet which officially declared independence from the Soviet Union.
There were heaps of water features but unfortunately due to Ramadan they were not working.

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There was a group of youths walking around who spoke some English so once again we had a photo with them, and of course they did some selfies.

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We then went and checked into our hotel. This is it from the other side of the river.
It is called the Parliament Hotel. It is only about a year old.

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Once again, the rooms were massive, in fact we had 2 big rooms this time.

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This is what the surrounds of the hotel looks like.

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I took this photo from our hotel window of Shane relaxing by the river.

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25th May

Before heading out of Khujand, we headed for the biggest Lenin monument left in Central Asia. He is made of aluminium.

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There was also another monument there.

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While we were there our Tajik guide Neos talked about his life under soviet rule. He still had his book that he used to get stamped each week.

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We also passed the Monument to Ismoil Somoni. He was the 10th-century founder of the Samanid dynasty

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As we left town there were quite a few rice paddies being prepared.

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We then drove to Panjikent via Istaravshan town. Located in the northern foothills of the Turkistan mountain range, Istaravshan is one of the oldest cities in Tajikistan, having existed for more than 2500 years. In the first two centuries AD it was an important city with walls 6km long. Later it became a staging point on the Silk Road.
Views of the city.

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We visited the Mugtepa Fortress. The site of this fortress was stormed by Alexander the Great in 329 BC. A modern reconstruction of one of the citadels medieval gateways dominates the site.

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Kok-Gumbaz, which served as both a mosque and a religious school was built in 1436 by ‘Abd al-Latif, the eldest son of the astronomer king Ulugh Beg and great-grandson of the conqueror Timur (Tamerlane). Its name refers to an original light blue dome, destroyed with much of the structure from earthquakes in this seismically active area.

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You can see the mosque stands out in the city. I took this photo from the fortress.

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We also visited the Sar I Mazor mosque. The original mosque was only very small and was built in the 16th century.

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The tree is over 800 years old.

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This is the mausoleum that is there.

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They then built a second mosque which was beautifully decorated inside.

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They are now building their third mosque on the site which is so much bigger than the other two.

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Everyone was very friendly there and there were lots of inquisitive kids. They all wanted their photos taken.

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This mum was really proud of her baby.

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We went to a local bazaar where we got to see local metalworkers and woodworkers.

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Some of the goods they have made.

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There are lots of tolls on this road, this is the first country in the stans where we have encountered toll roads.

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We then stopped at the statue of Romulus and Remus. In Roman mythology they are twin brothers whose story tells the events that led to the founding of the city of Rome. They were raised by a wolf.

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We then continued on towards Panjikent through the Shakhristan Gorge. We had lunch in a local restaurant. While we were there, we watched a herd of sheep come through. These sheep have extra big behinds that are all fat. We have seen it being sold in the meat markets.

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We then drove four hours to our next home. The scenery was amazing.

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There was lots of snow on the top of the mountains and a lot of it was fresh.

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There was a 5km long tunnel built by the Chinese.

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Some of the roads were on the side of cliffs and there were a few rock falls.

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This was the funniest thing we saw all day. Have mosque will travel!!

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At one of our stops there were lots of villagers cooking up yoghurt to make their dried products.

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We stopped at one of the stalls but weren’t game enough to try anything.

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Unfortunately, it poured with rain for the last part of our journey, so it was hard to see too much.
We then arrived in Panjikent which is in the Zerafshan Valley. The ruins of the old town are on the outskirts of the modern city. This small city has a population of around 35,000. It was a major city established in the 5th century by the Sogdians.

26th May

We awoke this morning to sunshine. This was the view from our room.

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This morning we looked around Panjikent.

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We explored the Rudaki Historic-Ethnographic Museum. This was opened in 2001 with a majority of the collection from archaeological excavations throughout Tajikistan.

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This is his statue.

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We then visited the statue of Haikali Devashtich who was the last king of ancient Panjikent.

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Panjikent has the remains of an ancient Zoroastrian civilisation that is still being excavated today. 2500-year-old walls stand in the ruins of old Panjikent. It might look like random hills in a field at first but after exploring we were able to identify former walls and buildings. Remember the city is 2500 years old, so the fact that anything remains at all is amazing.

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There were lots of poppies and wildflowers in amongst the ruins.

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The yellow flowers were really unusual.

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I found this bird sitting on some of the ruins.

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From the top of the ruins we could see new Panjikent.

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While we were walking back to the vans this old car came along. Neos walked out into the middle of the road and flagged them down so we could have a look. The man was proud to show off his car. It is 50 years old and the motor is in the boot.

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We also drove out to the ruins of Sarazm. It is an ancient town which dates back to the 4th millennium BC and is today a UNESCO World Heritage site. They have put shelters up to protect the ruins they have uncovered.

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We were lucky enough to see archaeologists at work.

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While wandering around by myself I found these little creatures heads popping out of holes in the ground. They are long tailed marmots.

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There were people living nearby who were happy for me to take their photos.

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After lunch we farewelled Panjikent. We continued for around 7 hours on to Dushanbe. We had to back track for some of the way today. This was a good thing as due to the rain yesterday we had missed a lot of it. The scenery was spectacular and changed quite a bit.

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We then slowed right down as there was stock all over the road and it had created a traffic jam.

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We then turned off the main road and had to travel 26km on dirt road to visit Iskanderkul lake. We first had to cross a bridge that was being repaired.

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Once again, the scenery was stunning.

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Iskanderkul is a mountain lake of glacial origin. It is at an altitude of 2,195 metres on the northern slopes of the Gissar Range in the Fann Mountains. Triangular in shape, it has a surface area of 3.4 square kilometres and is up to 72 metres deep. It was claimed to be one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in the former Soviet Union. It was named after Alexander the Great.

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We the back tracked to the main road on the way we were lucky enough to see a herd of yaks.

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Once back on the main road the scenery continued to impress us.

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There were lots of tunnels.

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We then arrived in Dushanbe which is the capital and largest city of Tajikistan. Dushanbe means Monday in the Tajik language. It was named this way because it grew from a village that originally had a popular market on Mondays. With soviet era pastel buildings and public squares contrasted with the hinterlands of mountains and rural villages it is one of the most charming capitals in Central Asia.
It had been a 12 hour day, so we headed straight to a late dinner then settled into the hotel.

27th May

The hotel we are staying in is a bit confusing. Our key cards say Sheraton, the front of the hotel says Hilton but then the wifi and the sheet over the front of the hotel say H hotel. Anyway, besides that, it is a lovely hotel and nice and secure. They even have a security guard on the gate checking under cars with a mirror.

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We had a lovely view of Dushanbe from our room.

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We then headed out to see some of Dushanbe. We stopped to look at the Opera Theatre which was built in 1939.

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Right next door was the Stalinabad Hotel. This was the first 3 storey building in Dushanbe which was also built in 1939. During the war the hotel was used to nurse the injured soldiers back to health.

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We visited the National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan.

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We got to see quite a few objects that had been found in Sarazm where we visited recently. The most interesting thing in the museum was the 13m buddha lying in the Sleeping Lion traditional pose from the Buddhist Monastery of Ajinateppa. It is made of clay, so the excavation process was difficult.

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This is an original picture of how they found the remains.

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We visited the monument of Ismoil Somoni which is situated on Ozodi square. The height of the monument is more than 25 metres. This monument was placed in 1999 in honour of the 1100 anniversary of the state of the Samanids. The monument is richly decorated with gold and looks impressive. Abu Ibrakhim Ismoil was the Amir from the Sasanids dynasty, the founder of the state in Central Asia.

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Opposite the monument was Parliament House.

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We walked down the beautiful promenade with lots of fountains, towards the Tajikistan monument.

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This is the National Library. They have over 1000 computers in there for public use.

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We then took a stroll through Rudaki Park. It had meticulous landscaped gardens, beautiful fountains and statues. There was a monument to 9th century poet Rudaki.

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This is the Palace of Nations.

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This used to be the highest flagpole in the world, but it has apparently now been beaten by Saudi Arabia. It was in a lovely park.

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The National Museum was right next door.

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We stopped at Kohi Navruz. The complex building began construction in 2009 and was fully completed in September 2014. From the very beginning the complex was planned as the biggest national tea house in Central Asia but is in the process of turning it into a museum. Unfortunately it was not open so we could not go inside.

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We visited another bazaar but again it was quite different.

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We had a walk around the botanical gardens.

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Then we found a squirrel. He had a hairy tail and hairy ears.

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We then travelled on to Hissar and visited the Hissar Fortress. This used to be a palace of one of Bukhara Emirate becks. The fortress with 1 m walls and loopholes for guns and cannons towered on a high hill's slope and was carefully guarded. Inside there was a pool and a garden. The only remaining part is a monumental gate made from burned bricks with two cylindrical towers with the arrow-shaped arch between them. They have recreated what it would have looked like.

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One of the original walls.

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Opposite the entrance to the fortress was the Kukhna madrasah which was built in the 17th century. This madrasah prepared scholars and clergy representatives. They learned the Koran, Arab language and history of Islam. The madrasah taught up to 150 pupils. The madrasah is a brick building with an entrance portal crowned with a dome. Next door are the remains of the Caravanserai where they slept with their camels.

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We had a lovely dinner tonight. We went to a Soviet Tea House.

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28th May
We had a late check out and headed to the airport as today we are leaving Tajikistan.

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Posted by shaneandnicola 10:41 Archived in Tajikistan Comments (3)

Uzbekistan - Part 2

21st May

We had a whole day in Samarkand today exploring some of the most significant sites.
We wandered through Registan Square. Translated from Uzbek, “Registan” means a sand place. In the ancient times, this central square was covered by sand. The territory was not initially surrounded by madrassah. In that period, authorities of the city gathered people at the square to announce khan’s orders, held celebrations and public executions, and collected the army leaving to war. In the past, one could see many trade rows around the square, where artisans and farmers sold their goods. All main roads of Samarkand led to Registan where it was always noisy and lively. Various rulers during their reign would change the main significance of the square, but since those times and up to now, Registan has always been the centre of the city social life. There are three madrassahs on the square: Ulughbek, Sherdor and Tilla-Kori, that are the main sights of the city. They were erected by two rulers at different times. Unfortunately, there was some restoration going on.

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We then visited the 3 sites. Firstly, Ulughbek Madrassah. The heir of the great state of the Temurids, a well-known mathematician and astronomer Ulughbek, assumed the authority in 1409. In year 1417, he gave an order to build the madrassah that would later be renamed in his honour. It was the first built on the Registan Square. The word “madrassah” stems from Arabic and literally means “teaching and learning place”. In 1420, the construction of the madrassah ended. On the outside, the building, located on the western part of the square, was done in the form of a rectangle; inside there is a square yard.

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Next was Sherdor. In 1612, Yalangtush Bahadur was appointed the emir of Samarkand. He was the governor-general of the Bukhara khans and by that time, he was already ruling feudal principalities. He was known as a skilful politician and an educated commander. Being a ruler of the city, he decided to construct another madrassah on the Square of Registan opposite the building erected by Ulughbek. According to the project of architects, the new madrassah was supposed to be located on the eastern side of the square and be a mirroring reflection of the existing building on Registan. However, the exact mirroring did not work as the architect did not take one thing into consideration – 200 years had passed since the construction of the Ulughbek madrassah, and the building had shrunk into the ground and the level of the square itself had risen to 2 metres. As a result, the new madrassah turned out to be taller. However, it is rather difficult to notice this difference visually. Construction lasted until 1636. Upon completion, the madrassah was named in honour of the ordering party. However, the name was not popular, and the building was renamed to Sher-Dor. The name comes from the images on the portal: two big golden tigers carrying a sun on their backs and heading after white fallow-deer which are at the entrance. Sher means tiger (lion) and the name is translated as “adorned with tigers”. This later became a national symbol of Uzbekistan.

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Then finally, Tilla-Kori. Ten years after the construction of the Sher-Dor madrassah, the ruler of Samarkand Yalangtush Bahadur planned to build another building that was supposed to complete the ensemble. The construction began in 1646, in the northern part of the Registan Square, on the place of the caravan-sarai. The architect decided that the new madrassah should be another copy of already existing buildings, though would be located in the centre. The construction of the Tilla-Kori madrassah lasted more than 14 years and finished in 1660. The main façade of the building is done in two levels; the central portal is silted with a five-ended deep niche with two entrances leading to the inner closed yard. There is a blue-domed tower of the mosque to the left of the portal, with two minarets standing on both sides of the frontal part. The name “Tilla Kori” was given thanks to its décor. Artists had used the painting method of “kundal” for decoration that contained mostly gild. Among all three madrassah, there are richly decorated walls that leave you impressed with the abundance of golden colour. Tilla Kori means “gilded”.

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There was even a woman posing in a traditional wedding dress.

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We then wandered through a market which was really colourful. You could taste things as you wandered around.

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They even made nougat.

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The Bibi-Khanym Mosque is one of the most important monuments of Samarkand. Construction started by Timur in 1399 and was completed shortly after his death. In the 15th century it was one of the largest and most magnificent mosques in the Islamic world. By the mid-20th century only a grandiose ruin of it still survived, but now major parts of the mosque have been restored.

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The Shah-I-Zinda includes mausoleums and other ritual buildings of 9-14th and 19th centuries. The name Shah-I-Zinda (meaning "The living king") is connected with the legend that Kusam ibn Abbas, the cousin of the prophet Muhammad was buried there. He came to Samarkand with the Arab invasion in the 7th century to preach Islam. Popular legends speak that he was beheaded for his faith. But he took his head and went into the deep well (Garden of Paradise), where he's still living now. The Shah-i-Zinda complex was formed over eight (from 11th till 19th) centuries and now includes more than twenty buildings. We thought this place was amazing.

The entrance

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This is where people can pray before heading to the mausoleums.

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The steps leading to the mausoleums.

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The walk amongst the mausoleums.

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Before dinner we headed out for a wine tasting experience. It was only $10 USD to participate so Shane thought he would try the local wines.

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He was quite proud of the fact that he drank all the tastings as not many did.

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The wines

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On the way back to the hotel we visited the Gur-e-Amir mausoleum which we will be visiting tomorrow, but it was lit up so we got to see it by night.

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22nd May

It’s Nicola’s birthday today, so after a few birthday wishes we headed out for more exploration.
Our first stop was Konigil village located about 10 km out of town. They are famous for their mulberry papermaking.

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We visited the workshop and watched how they made silk paper. The original silk paper was made from silk fibres, but today it is made from the bark of mulberry trees which are the trees that feed silkworms from whose cocoons silk is extracted. First, they strip the bark off.

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Then they boil the fibres, so they become soft.

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The next process is then manually done through a water wheel. The water turns the wheel which then moves the big logs which pound the pulp.

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Then they mix it with water and lay it out flat on mesh mats. It then starts to look like paper.

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Once fairly dry they lay them flat under a big stone.

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They then use shells or horns to shine the paper.

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The finished product.

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Somewhere along the way, this traditional paper-making process disappeared until it was revived as part of UNESCO’s Silk Road Project a couple of decades back. We felt privileged to be able to see the skill involved. We had a wander around the complex and they had some water features that were just for show. What a way to utilise old pots and jugs.

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They also make linseed oil, again using the water wheels to squeeze the linseed.

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We then visited the Ulugh Beg Observatory. Built in the 1420s by the Timurid astronomer Ulugh Beg, it is considered by scholars to have been one of the finest observatories in the Islamic world. The observatory was destroyed in 1449 and rediscovered in 1908.

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This is the museum.

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This is what the observatory would have looked like.

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The entrance to the observatory.

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This is looking down inside the observatory.

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The complex.

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We also visited the ancient settlement of Afrosiab, which was named after the legendary Turanian king. It is situated in the Chupan Ata Hills and was occupied from 500BC to 1220AD. It occupied more than 200 hectares. River bluffs on the north and east and deep ravines in the south and west protected it. During the Achaemenids period, the city was encircled with a massive wall having an internal corridor and towers. It was destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century. There was an archaeological museum there.

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We then stopped at Xoja Doniyor (St Daniels) mausoleum. On the shore of Siab, a small tributary of Zerafshan River, there is a sacred place, which keeps the relics of Daniel, the Old Testament Biblical Prophet. Another version says that there are the relics of Daniyol (or Danier), an associate of the Arab preacher Kussama ibn Abbas. But all versions agree that Danier is the Saint and pilgrims from all the three world religions come here to worship him, Christians, Jews and Buddhists.

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The mausoleum and inside it.

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Up the top was a cemetery.

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About 2 kilometres from the Registan is the Gur-e Amir mausoleum, Gur-e Amir is Persian for "Tomb of the King". This architectural complex with its azure dome contains the tombs of Tamerlane, his sons Shah Rukh and Miran Shah and grandsons Ulugh Beg and Muhammad Sultan. Also honoured with a place in the tomb is Timur's teacher Sayyid Baraka. The earliest part of the complex was built at the end of the 14th century by the orders of Muhammad Sultan. Now only the foundations of the madrasah and khanaka, the entrance portal and a part of one of four minarets remains. This is the one we saw last night.

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There were a lot of women from Samarkand visiting the mausoleum. They were very friendly and happy to have photos with us. In fact, they begged for Shane to be in one with them.

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Inside the grounds.

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Inside the mausoleum.

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Another memory of Samarkand.

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This is a monument of Emir Timur. He was a great conqueror of Central Asia who lost no battle and subjugated the lands from Turkey to India.

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They use electric trams around the city.

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It was then time to head to the train station.

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The train station was lovely and so clean.

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We boarded a train to Tashkent; it was a bullet train. It took 2 hours to get there.

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They had a speedometer in the carriage.

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We eventually arrived in Tashkent which is the capital of Uzbekistan.

This was my birthday cake that evening. It was not only pretty to look at but it was like a Jaffa mousse.

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23rd May

Tashkent was rebuilt after the 1966 earthquake. It has a modern layout dominated by Soviet era inspired architecture.
We spent the morning visiting Tashkent’s old town sites. We visited Barakh-khan Madrasah which was built in the 16th century by Suyunidzh-khan, Ulugbek’s grandson. It became the location of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Central Asia. It is also the place where the rich library of oriental manuscripts is found. The Barakh-khan Madrasah library is used to keep the world-known Koran of Caliph Osman written in the mid-12th century.

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Khazrati Imam Mosque was also here. This was constructed in 2007 on the initiative of President Islam Karimov.

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One of the apartment blocks in the old part of town.

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Next stop was Chorsu Bazaar. This too is located in the centre of the old town. Under its blue dome all daily necessities are sold. Chorsu is a Persian word meaning “crossroads” or “four streams”. This place was unbelievable.

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We first had a walk around the meat section. Very little refrigeration here.

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Horse sausages.

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This tasted quite interesting. It was very much like meringue.

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Lots of sugar sweets a bit like toffee.

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The fruit and veg looked really fresh and colourful. We have loved the tomatoes over here, they have so much flavour.

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The bread was fresh and still hot, so we had some.

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They bake it fresh on site.

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There were so many varieties of eggs.

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This stall sold dried curd treats.

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Carting their goods.

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We then moved through the outdoor eating area. There were some foods we recognised but certainly some we didn’t.
We recognised the kebabs and plov.

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We had to ask what this was, it was minced horse meat and noodles.

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Then who knows what??

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We met this lovely old man. Our guide interpreted for us. He was 89. We gave him a little koala and his face lit up. Although he looked confused when we were trying to explain what a koala was and even more confused about where Australia was.

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We then walked to the metro train station. We had heard a lot about the metro and the detail of the platforms. They were really clean and beautifully decorated.

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Here are some examples of some of the other platforms.

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Once off the train we walked to Amir Timur Square. Right in the centre of the square is a monument to the statesman Amir Timur, who managed to find a centralised united state composing of 27 countries in the vast territory from the Mediterranean Sea to India. The monument plinth is engraved with Timur’s famous motto “Power in Justice”. The square was originally founded in 1882 and originally called Konstantinovsky Square. In 1994 it was renamed to honour the great Timur. The famous Uzbekistan Hotel in the background.

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The most famous architectural monument located on the Square is the Tashkent Chime. From the moment of its construction in 1947, it became the symbol of Tashkent. During World War 2 a resident of Tashkent participated in battles in Germany. They brought the famous clock mechanism from a place called Allenstein and presented it to Tashkent on behalf of their regiment. They built the clock tower for this mechanism.

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We then had a walk down Broadway.

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There was even a food truck.

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We visited the Museum of Applied Arts. This was founded in 1937. The museum currently displays over 4000 exhibits including woodcarving, ceramics, embroidery and jewellery.

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This is the earthquake memorial which is dedicated to the Tashkent earthquake which occurred in 1966. It is the Monument of Courage and is dedicated to the men and women who rebuilt their flattened city following the earthquake. It is in the form of a granite cube displaying the time (5:22am) of the first tremor while an Uzbek man.

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This is the State Opera and Ballet Theatre named after Alisher Navoiy. The history of the theatre started in 1929. In 1939 it was renamed to the Uzbek State Opera and Ballet Theatre, and in March of 1948 it was united with Russian theatre and called the State Opera and Ballet Theatre named after Alisher Navoiy. Later, in 1959 the theatre obtained the status of Academic theatre and in 1966 – the status of Bolshoi Theatre.

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We then returned to our hotel which was a pretty swanky hotel.

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This is our room. We couldn’t believe it when we walked in last night. It is 60 square metres.

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24th May

Today we set off on an overland adventure to Tajikistan. We set off early as we were not sure how long it would take to get through the border. Here is another soviet apartment block.

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Once out of Tashkent it was nearly all farming apart from a big reservoir. We drove across the top of the dam.

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We had one last stop in Uzbekistan. While we were wandering around this little town, we found a bakery. He was putting the bread in the oven, literally stepping inside so he could smack it against the wall to cook.

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We finally arrived at the Uzbekistan border.

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Posted by shaneandnicola 06:53 Archived in Uzbekistan Comments (1)

Uzbekistan - Part 1

15th May – continued

The border crossing into Uzbekistan went smoothly. We no longer need visas. This only recently changed so we were unsure how things were going to go but there were no problems and we got through quickly. Anyway, we are now in our next stan.
Uzbekistan is a land-locked country which shares borders with Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan in the south. Its population of 26 million is mostly made up of Uzbeks (75%), Russians (6%) and Kazakhs (4%). Most of the country is flat, made of steppes, deserts and semi-deserts with limited reserves of fresh water, the only relief is the Amu-Darya River. The Silk Road brought wealth and innovation here and in the 6th century AD, Western Turks brought Islam and a written alphabet, followed by Genghis Khan’s invasion. The 14th century brought unity under the ruthless warrior, Timur. This is their flag.

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After a one-hour drive, we arrived in Khiva. Khiva is a small city with around 40,000 people. Some archaeologists believe it was founded around the time Christ was born and was said to have been discovered by Shem, the son of Noah. The town certainly existed by the 8th century, as a minor fort and trading post on the Silk Road branch to the Caspian Sea and the Volga River. In the early 16th century Khiva was made the capital of the Timurid Empire, becoming a busy slave market until Russia wrestled the region from Timurid grasp in the 19th century.

16th May

We had 2 days in Khiva to explore this ancient city and it surrounds. Our hotel is right outside the West Gate.

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The inside of the hotel is lovely. There are rugs everywhere that you can just sit and relax on.

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The city is made for walking and was easy to get around.
Here is Shane at the West Gate which was reconstructed in the 70’s as the original had been destroyed.

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We first went and changed some money. We felt rich. 1 USD was around 8300 Som.
We wandered within the ancient city walls called the Ichon-Qala. This was the first site in Uzbekistan to achieve recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. The town is surrounded by brick city walls, with four gates at the cardinal points.

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The first thing you see as you enter the West Gate is Kalta Minor Minaret. This fat, turquoise-tiled minaret was started in 1851 by Mohammed Amin Khan, who according to legend wanted to build a minaret so high he could see all the way to Bukhara. Unfortunately, the khan dropped dead in 1855, leaving the beautifully tiled structure unfinished. It was still magnificent.

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We visited Kukhna Ark Fortress. Construction of the fort began in the 12th century, making it one of the oldest buildings in Khiva. There is written evidence that the modern citadel was built in 1668, and the complex grew to hold an arsenal, warehouse, guardhouse, jail, a large kitchen, stable and official offices. Of the buildings that once stood, you can still view the official reception hall, the ornate mint, mosque and harem.

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Next was the Islom-Hoja Minaret. This is one of Khivas newest Islamic monuments, it was built in 1910 and is the tallest structure in Khiva, visible from anywhere in the city. Its height is 56 metres with a base diameter of 9.5 metres.

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Of course, we had to climb it. It was quite dark in places and the spiral stairs were quite steep and you needed to take big steps.

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Beautiful views of the old city.

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This mausoleum has the tomb of Makhmud Pahlavan, a famous poet and warrior of the 14th century. The complex was only built in 1701, according to the inscription on the stone gates. The dome of the mausoleum is covered with blue glazed tiles with glittering gilt top. Originally, the mausoleum was small and modest, but it quickly became a pilgrimage site.

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Then the 19th century Tash Hauli Palace decorated in fine china blue tile work. This palace was built in the 1830s, as a royal residence by prominent Khivan ruler Allah Kuli Khan. The name of Tash Hauli translates to ‘stone house’. Apparently, it was built in around eight years by thousands of Persian slaves.

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This is the harem.

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This is other parts of the palace.

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Almost in the centre of the Ichon-Qala, is the large Juma Mosque. It is interesting for the 218 wooden columns supporting its roof – a concept thought to be derived from ancient Arabian mosques. Six or seven of the columns date from the original 10th-century mosque, though the present building dates from the 18th century.

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The Juma Minaret is part of the mosque.

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Some of the views as you wander the streets.

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We stopped for a lovely lunch where they were making their own bread. They use a hot kiln to bake it.

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The finished product. They use special stamps for the bread.

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Later in the afternoon we walked along the north-western section of the Ichon-Qala wall. The 2.5km-long mud walls date from the 18th century and were rebuilt after being destroyed by the Persians.

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The Ichon-Qala views from the wall.

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On the way out I spotted this photo opportunity.

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Before dinner tonight we went and saw a folklore show.

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Shane got up and joined them.

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In the short time we have been in Uzbekistan we have been surprised at the number of people that have greeted us with golden smiles. Here gold teeth are a common ornamentation. It has long been considered a symbol of wealth. This smiling musician was happy to show off his teeth during the performance.

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The walls were lit up with this sign.

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17th May

Today we headed out of Khiva. We passed through Urgench and crossed the Amu Darya River into the Kyzylkum desert. The Kyzylkum Desert is the 15th largest desert in the world. Its name means Red Sand in the Turkic language. We visited two desert fortresses located on the western side of the Sultan Ulz Dagh Mountains. Dating from as far back as the 2nd century we explored Toprak Kala Fortress.

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This is an excavated ancient town and was the former residence of the Khorezm Khan. The ruins comprise of the castle, towers and dwellings.
You can see how thick the walls were.

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Parts have been newly covered with mud to protect the old bricks.

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They have even excavated a balcony.

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There are donkeys and carts everywhere around this part of the country.

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We also visited Ayaz Kala. This complex of three ruins is found on the edge of the Kyzylkum desert. The high mud brick walls served as protection from nomadic raids.

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We then had to hike up to the top.

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You can see why they built it up on the hill.

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We walked around the rest of the ruins.

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We found this little lizard. It was only about 6 cm long.

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We found a colourful grasshopper.

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We came across this camel on our walk back down.

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We then had lunch courtesy of a nomadic family.

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We ate in a yurt.

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We had dimlama. It was boiled cabbage, carrot and potato with some meat. It was really tasty, and of course their traditional bread.

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This was their kiln.

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We returned to Khiva for our last night there.

18th May

Today we travelled to Bukhara and crossed the Kyzylkum Desert. Most of the desert lies in the territory of Uzbekistan, with only a small portion of it extending to the territory of Kazakhstan. The desert occupies an area of 300 thousand square km and is bordered by the Syrdarya river from the northeast, by the Amudarya from the southwest, by the spurs of the Tien Shan and Pamir-Alay mountain ranges from the east, and by the Aral Sea and the Aralkum desert, a desert that has formed on the bottom of the former Aral Sea, from the northwest. The largest portion of the desert is comprised of sand partially covered with vegetation, with some small areas of bare sand. We even had some rain which is really unusual in this part of the desert.

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The drive was 480km and took around 9 hours. The road conditions varied. A considerable part of the road was smooth concrete.

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However other parts were narrow and rough with lots of trucks coming and going.

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We eventually arrived in Bukhara. This city has a long history spanning 2500 years and was an integral part of the Persian Empire for centuries. It was a major medieval centre for Islamic theology and culture. It still contains hundreds of well-preserved mosques, madrassas, bazaars and caravanserais, dating largely from the 9th to the 17th centuries. In fact, there are more than 350 mosques and 100 religious’ colleges within the city. It was part of what came to be called the “Golden Road”, the meeting point of the northern and southern branches of the silk road, and hence a great centre for commerce, religion and culture.
We booked into the Sasha & Sons hotel. What a lovely spot. It was down a quiet laneway.

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There were little courtyards.

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This was our room.

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We then headed out to dinner where we ate on a roof top. The sunset was lovely.

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19th May

Today we had the day to look around Bukhara. The centre of Bukhara was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.
We visited Labi Hauz which translates to ‘at the pond’, it is one of the central squares of Bukhara situated in the southeast part of the city.

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Nadir Divan-begi Madrasah

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Magoki Attori is considered the oldest surviving, and perhaps the first mosque in Bukhara dating back to the 9th century.

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During redevelopment they came across ruins of an old Caravanserai. There were also baths there.

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There are four medieval (16th century) trading domes in Bukhara. Their scale is impressive even now. We walked through them throughout the day. They now have lots of souvenir stands in them.

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We visited the Poi-Kalyan Ensemble. This consists of three structures.

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The city’s most famous landmark, the Kalon Minaret, which dates back to 1127AD. It is said that when Genghis Khan attacked and destroyed the rest of the city, he left the minaret standing, supposedly because he was struck by its beauty. It stands at 47m tall, there are 14 ornamental bands and 10m deep foundations.

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From a historical and architectural point of view Kalyan Mosque is the main place in the town.

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As you walk through the entrance it is beautiful inside.

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Construction of the Miri-Arab madrasah dates back to the 16th century, it has two big blue domes.

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No, this lady is not walking a baby. She is selling bread, the pram was packed full of it.

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The Ulugbek Madrassah. This was built in 1417 as a centre for science and astronomy. It could seat up to 80 students with many graduates becoming eminent scholars and poets.

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Opposite was the Abdulaziz-Khan Madrasah.

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The Ark of Bukhara or Citadel of the Ark. This fortified residence of the rulers of Bukhara also housed palaces, temples, barracks, offices, the mint, warehouses, workshops, stables, an arsenal, a prison and nowadays a museum. It was built around the 5th century.

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It has massive fortress gates with two-storey towers by its sides. It was used as a fortress until it fell to the Russians in 1920.

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Inside we visited the Throne Hall.

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Other parts of the ark.

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We couldn’t help but laugh at this car. We have never seen one of these before.

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As we wandered around people wanted to have their photos taken with us.

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For lunch we had Plov. It was rice, beef, carrot, onion, raisins, garlic, spices and peppers. There were also quail eggs. It was so tasty.

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Throughout the day we also visited a carpet and fabric manufacturing demonstration.

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The spice stalls were really colourful.

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20th May

Today we journeyed to Samarkand. Before departing Bukhara, we visited the Bolo Hauz Mosque. The name means “The Mosque of the Bala Lake” which refers to the octagonal pool located in the public forecourt lined with stone steps.

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It was built in 1712. It is noted for the profuse colours and carvings on the wooden columns of its porch and its ceiling. The joinery of its painted ceiling features extraordinary craftsmanship with the use of suspended weights, semi-circular arches and balusters.

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The inside was just a beautiful.

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Next stop was the Samanid mausoleum which is located in a park just outside of Bukhara.

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The mausoleum is considered to be one of the most highly esteemed works of Central Asian architecture, and was built between 892 and 943 AD as the resting-place of Ismail Samani - a powerful and influential Amir of the Samanid dynasty.

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Our next stop was just 6km away at the Summer Palace. The palace was first built by the third-to-last Emir of Bukhara, Nasrullah Khan. Nothing is left of that original palace, except for the name and the location. Nasrullah Khan was a mad and cruel khan, but he loved his wife dearly. When she died in childbirth, he named the palace after her. He likened her beauty to the moon, her name was Sitorabony. Thus, it became Sitora-i Mokhi Khosa Saroy, the palace of a star like the moon.
According to legend, the Emir requested the aksakals (white beards) of Bukhara to recommend a location for his summer residence. They told him to quarter a lamb and hang the pieces at the 4 corners of the city. The piece that had been hung in the north was still fresh after some days and therefore the site was chosen as the coolest area for a summer palace. Nasrullah Khan’s grandson, Abdul Ahad Khan, rebuilt the palace in the mid-19th century.
This is the front gate.

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You then walk through the outer courtyard which was formerly the emir’s wine cellar and servants’ quarters. You then walk through a big archway.

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The first courtyard contains the Reception Hall and a grand veranda.

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As you enter the Reception Hall you come across the White Hall.

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As you continued through the rooms the colours in the walls and ceilings were incredible.

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Behind the main palace buildings, an octagonal guesthouse for foreign visitors stands. It now holds an exhibition of national costume.

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This is a view of the conservatory.

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This is the harem.

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This was the emirs viewing platform.

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We then drove 60km to Gijduvan. The town’s artisans are well known for their distinct style of pottery which is turquoise in colour. Their skills have been passed down from father to son over the generations. They gave us a demonstration on how they still hand make their pottery.

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Then how they paint it.

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They start them young.

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This is the grinder where they make their glaze. They still use donkeys to do this.

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This is where they fire the pottery.

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We met a group of school children in there who wanted to practice their English. They wanted their photo taken with me; their schoolteacher took a photo.

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We then continued for 260km which took around 4 hours to Samarkand. Along the way we had a laugh as they use lots of cut outs to help with managing the roads.

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With a population of approximately 400,000, Samarkand is the second largest city in Uzbekistan. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia. There is evidence of human activity from the late Paleolithic era. Some theories propose that it was founded between the 8th and 7th centuries BC. The real glory of Samarkand began in 329BC when Alexander the Great conquered and destroyed the nearby capital, Macaranda. According to local history Alexander visited Samarkand and thought it was beautiful and majestic. The city was ruled by a succession of Iranian and Turk rulers until Genghis Khan conquered Samarkand in 1220.

Posted by shaneandnicola 04:50 Archived in Uzbekistan Comments (0)

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