Silk Road 26: Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Oct 2019

By Ali Karim
This post is part of a series called Silk Road Uzbekistan Oct 2019

Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Oct 2019

Oct 13, 2019

After a few nice days in Dushanbe, it was time to move onto our next destination, Uzbekistan.
Our plan had been to fly from Dushanbe to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, as we were tired of being on the road. So we researched flights, and found that direct flights from Dushanbe to Tashkent operated only once a week with Uzbek Airways (Tajik Air had ceased operation a few years previously) and the next flight was 4 days away. The other option was to fly Turkish Airlines back to Istanbul, stay overnight, and then next day to Tashkent. Both options were not good, so it was back to the road 🙁 . We researched getting from Dushanbe to Samarkand (UZ) via the border at Panjakent (TJ), and we found a good recommendation on TripAdvisor for Ramzanali who drove people in both directions. So I called the number and fortunately, he spoke some English. He said he was at Panjakent and was driving back to Dushanbe the next morning with a customer, and would be able to drive us to Panjakent that same afternoon. That was too late for us, so I asked if he had an option for us to be driven to the Uzbek border the next morning, and he said he had a cousin, Faizali, who could do that, but Faizali did not speak any English. But he would be available on the phone for any translations. No problem; we agreed on 500 Tajik Somoni (less than US$50) for this 240km drive the next morning.

The next morning after breakfast, at 10AM, Faizali was promptly waiting for us outside the hotel. We got into his sedan (a mid-size car) and started the drive to Panjakent. Plan was to get to the border, cross the border into Uzbekistan on foot, and then catch a taxi on the other side to Samarkand. The drive was on good paved roads, some images along the way are below

Samarkand, Uzbekistan Good roads, mountainous terrain
Good roads, mountainous terrain

Because of the mountains, there were multiple long tunnels along the way; one was 2.2kms long, another was 4.4kms; Soviet engineering. The ventilation inside the tunnels was very poor, so vehicle exhaust fumes stayed trapped inside, making the drive through the tunnels quite unpleasant.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan Dramatic location of farming settlement
Dramatic location of farming settlement in a deep valley
Samarkand, Uzbekistan Holes in the mountainsides were actually small scale mines
Holes in the mountainsides were actually small scale mines
Samarkand, Uzbekistan Beautiful landscape
Beautiful landscape
Samarkand, Uzbekistan Varied landscape
And varied landscape
Samarkand, Uzbekistan Small rural settlement
Small rural settlement; note the stone houses in the middle
Samarkand, Uzbekistan Zeravshan river was a deep turquoise color, from dissolved minerals
Zeravshan river was a deep turquoise color, from dissolved minerals

We stopped at a small town called Ayni for gas and bathroom stop. Hanging around, and near the gas station were many men, all dressed up in identical long black fur coats, with a colorful scarf tied around the waist, and wore the Muslim caps. I tried to take some pictures of this unusual gathering, but Faizali suggested I not do that. Curious, I asked him to call Ramzanali to find out what was happening. Apparently, this was a funeral gathering for someone important, and so I did not take any pictures. Most interesting customs; you live & learn.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan Very interesting landscape
Very interesting landscape
Samarkand, Uzbekistan Picturesque towns along the way
Picturesque towns along the way

Faizali drove quite fast, and with one stop in Ayni for gas/bathroom, and one more jungle bathroom break, we arrived at the town of Panjakent, near the Uzbek border, in 3hrs and 15 mins, a ride that normally would have been 4hrs at the speed limit.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan Town of Panjakent
Town of Panjakent

The border crossing was about 15kms west of Panjakent

Samarkand, Uzbekistan We finally arrived at the border crossing into Uzbekistan at Panjakent, Tajikistan
We finally arrived at the border crossing into Uzbekistan at Panjakent, Tajikistan

We paid Faizali his 500 Tajik Somoni, and since we had no Uzbek money, Faizali changed us US$50 into Uzbek Som at 9,000 Soms for 1 US$, and I stuffed this princely sum of 450,000 Uzbek Som stack of banknotes into my pocket. We took our bags, said goodbye, and crossed an opening in the fence into no-mans land. We walked 25m in no-man’s land to the Tajik immigration post, where our passports were stamped after our visa’s were examined. We then walked another 25m to the Tajik customs post, where we were cleared; we then walked another 25m to the Uzbekistan Immigration and Customs; where our online pre- purchased visa’s were checked, and we were welcomed to Uzbekistan 🙂 . We made it in one piece 🙂

Samarkand, Uzbekistan Uzbek side of the border; taxis lined up on the right ready to take one to Samarkand
Uzbek side of the border; taxis lined up on the right, ready to take one to Samarkand

Once in the Uzbek side, we were inundated by taxi drivers offering to take us to Samarkand, a short 45 min drive away. They started at $25 for the taxi, but I had read online that this was a scam, and the actual price should be $5 total. Not bad. So I started negotiating with them and they reluctantly came down to $20 telling me it was not possible for $5. In the meantime, Dilshad had walked on past this group of taxi drivers bargaining hard with me, and agreed with another driver for $5 🙁 . All my negotiating skills down the drain…. This other taxi was actually a shared taxi, so the rate should have been less that $5, since he took on two other passengers, a lady and her daughter. You win some, you lose some 🙂

Samarkand, Uzbekistan Our taxi from the Uzbek border to Samarkand
Our taxi from the Uzbek border to Samarkand, with Dilshad happily settled inside

So off we went in this minivan with the other family to Samarkand. Since we had not stopped anywhere for food on the Tajik side, we were hungry, so I asked the taxi driver to stop for some Samsa’s which we had read were good in Uzbekistan. Soon, he stopped at a roadside bakery and I got 5 Samsa’s; one for each of us.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan Baked samsa’s, nice and hot. However, they were filled with fatty meat, something that did not appeal to me.
Baked samsa’s, nice and hot. However, they were filled with fatty meat, something that did not appeal to me.
Samarkand, Uzbekistan Rolling out the dough for more samsa’s for the evening at the roadside bakery
Rolling out the dough for more samsa’s for the evening at the roadside bakery

After dropping off the lady and her daughter along the way, we finally arrived at Samarkand, and since the driver did not know where the B&B was, I gave him the tel number for the B&B we are staying at that we had booked the previous night, the Samarkand Safar. He called but there was no answer. Several times. Since I had an address, and since I finally had mobile data and TMobile service, I guided the driver using Google Maps to where the Samarkand Safar was supposed to be. Talk about the blind leading the blind; I had no idea where I was, in a totally strange country, did not speak the local language, leading a driver who did not speak or understand English, to a place neither of us had been to before 🙂

We made it to the Samarkand Safar, which was an old house converted to a B&B run by a nice family. Here, we met Farkhad, a young man (son of the family) who ran the B&B, & spoke English, and when we told him about the calls we had made to him with no answer, he said that they had lost electricity, and so the landline phone did not work 🙁 . I paid the taxi driver and we settled into this B&B, freshened up and had some tea. By this time, it was dark and dinner time and we were hungry, so we asked Farkhad to recommend a place nearby. He told us to try the Samarkand Restaurant the next street over, which he said was decent but not exceptional and not to his taste. Others were further away. So we walked a little to the Samarkand Restaurant which was one block away.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan Samarkand Restaurant looked quite grand with decent traffic
Samarkand Restaurant looked quite grand with decent traffic

We walked inside and saw a large hall inside, with nice live music and many well-dressed people inside. It looked like there was some kind of celebration party going on and assumed it was probably a private event. So of course we had to try our luck since this place was lively; and when someone in charge approached us, I gestured to him that we were 2 people, and to our surprise, he led us to a small table and seated us. We had expected to be told that this was a private event, and we were casually dressed compared to the well dressed people around us. The man brought us a menu (in English) and that is when it dawned on us that this was not a private event, and that people dressed up to go to a restaurant, and there was live music and lots of families here. Very nice; reminded us of the time we gate crashed a party in Turpan, Xinjiang, China. Some images below in the restaurant.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan Many tables with well-dressed ladies in the large hall, with private rooms for dining along the edges and upstairs
Many tables with well-dressed ladies in the large hall, with private rooms for dining along the edges and upstairs
Samarkand, Uzbekistan Enjoying the music
Enjoying the dancing

Patrons enjoying the dancing and music

Samarkand, Uzbekistan Fashionable ladies enjoying the evening
Fashionable ladies celebrating the evening
Samarkand, Uzbekistan Our meal here with drinks, salad, lamb chops and BBQ fish, Nan, followed by ice cream and chai came to $14. And it was good. My kind of place 
Our meal here with drinks, salad, lamb chops and BBQ fish, naan, followed by ice cream and chai came to $14. And it was good. My kind of place 🙂

After staying longer enjoying the music and dancing, we left this wonderful restaurant, and walked back to our B&B for a good night’s rest. Plan was to explore Samarkand the next couple of days.

So far, in our journey through Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and now Uzbekistan), Uzbekistan seems the most progressive (I finally had mobile service and mobile data that actually worked well); and most welcoming of tourists. A very welcome change after the past 2 weeks in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

A little about Uzbekistan from Wikipedia. What is now Uzbekistan was in ancient times part of the Iranian-speaking region of Transoxiana and Turan. The first recorded settlers were Eastern Iranian nomads, known as Scythians, who founded kingdoms in KhwarazmBactriaSogdia (all 8th–6th centuries BCE), Fergana, and Margiana (both 3rd century BCE – 6th century CE). The area was incorporated into the Iranian Achaemenid Empire and, after a period of Macedonian Greek rule, was ruled by the Iranian Parthian Empire and later by the Sasanian Empire, until the Muslim conquest of Persia in the seventh century. The Early Muslim conquests converted most of the people, including the local ruling classes, into adherents of Islam. During this period, cities such as Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara began to grow rich from the Silk Road, and witnessed the emergence of leading figures of the Islamic Golden Age, including Muhammad al-BukhariAl-TirmidhiIsmail Samanial-Biruni, and Avicenna. Central Asia as a whole, was decimated by the Mongol invasion in the 13th century. Thereafter, the region became dominated by Turkic peoples. The Turco-Mongol conqueror Timur (Tamerlane), who in the 14th century established the Timurid Empire and was proclaimed the Supreme Emir of Turan with his capital in Samarkand, which became a center of science under the rule of Ulugh Beg, giving birth to the Timurid Renaissance. The territories of the Timurid dynasty were conquered by Uzbek Shaybanids in the 16th century, moving the center of power to Bukhara. The region was split into three states: the Khanate of KhivaKhanate of Kokand and Emirate of Bukhara.

Central Asia, bar Afghanistan, was gradually incorporated into the Russian Empire during the 19th century, with Tashkent becoming the political center of Russian Turkestan. In 1924, national delimitation meant constituent republics of the Soviet Union, like the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, was created. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it declared independence as the Republic of Uzbekistan on 31 August 1991.

Uzbekistan has a diverse cultural heritage due to its layers of history and strategic location. Its official language is Uzbek, a Turkic language written in a modified Latin alphabet and spoken natively by approximately 85% of the population. Russian has widespread use as an inter-ethnic tongue and in governance. Uzbeks constitute 81% of the population, followed by Russians (5.4%), Tajiks (4.0%), Kazakhs (3.0%) and others (6.5%). Muslims constitute 79% of the people while 5% follow Russian Orthodox Christianity and 16% of the population follow other religions or are non-religious. A majority of Uzbeks are non-denominational Muslims.

Following the death of its 1st hard authoritarian president, Islam Karimov in 2016, the second president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, started a new course, which was described as a A Quiet Revolution and Revolution from Above. He brought in reforms and opened the country to trade with the rest of the world; and tourism is a major source of revenue today. Relations with the neighboring countries of KyrgyzstanTajikistan and Afghanistan drastically improved.

We explore Samarkand next

Our journey so far

Samarkand, Uzbekistan Krygyz travel
Krygyz travel
Samarkand, Uzbekistan Tajikistan map till Dushanbe
Tajikistan map till Dushanbe
Samarkand, Uzbekistan Dushanbe to Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Dushanbe to Samarkand, Uzbekistan
This entry was posted in Asia, Silk Road Uzbekistan Sept-Oct 2019, Uzbekistan

38 thoughts on “Silk Road 26: Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Oct 2019

  • Nailla Devraj December 22, 2020 at 9:54 am Reply

    Great pics

    • Ali Karim December 22, 2020 at 11:17 am Reply

      Thanks Nailla

  • A j December 27, 2020 at 5:07 am Reply

    Hello Ali , merry Christmas and happy newyear. You guys are very adventurous. I wish I could do the same . God bless

    • Ali Karim December 27, 2020 at 11:06 am Reply

      Thanks AJ, for the feedback and the blessings. The adventure of the unknown, and of different environments/cultures/norms/peoples/languages keeps us going 🙂
      We hope to do this until we no longer can…..

  • Sadru Jivraj December 27, 2020 at 10:54 am Reply

    Truly fascinating places. Wish I could be there.

    • Ali Karim December 27, 2020 at 11:14 am Reply

      Thanks Sadru; glad you are enjoying.

  • Benita Naidu December 27, 2020 at 10:55 am Reply

    Fabulous pics as usual Ali Karim !!
    The different shades of mountains are exquisite.
    Bravo.

    • Ali Karim December 27, 2020 at 11:14 am Reply

      Thanks Benita. Indeed, the landscape was beautiful

  • Vineeta Salvi December 27, 2020 at 10:57 am Reply

    Hi Ali and Dilshad

    I really admire your courage and adventurous spirit.

    “We took our bags, said goodbye, and crossed an opening in the fence into no-mans land. We walked 25m in no-man’s land to the Tajik immigration post, where our passports were stamped after our visa’s were examined. We then walked another 25m to the Tajik customs post, where we were cleared; we then walked another 25m to the Uzbekistan Immigration and Customs; where our online pre- purchased visa’s were checked, and we were welcomed to Uzbekistan 🙂 . We made it in one piece 🙂”

    Wow that’s just incredible. Great Stamina Strength and Faith! Way to go!
    Thank you so much for sharing.

    Best wishes for a wonderful fun and Happy New Year! May your safe and interesting travels (and blog) continue throughout 2021 and well beyond.
    🤗💙🙏🏽
    Vineeta

    • Ali Karim December 27, 2020 at 11:02 am Reply

      Hi Vineeta,

      Thanks so much for your nice feedback; really appreciate it
      You called us adventurous; some call it foolishness

      Adventure keeps us alive and curious always 🙂

      • alkarim ibrahim January 26, 2021 at 1:25 pm Reply

        I am assuming 25m is for 25meters, correct?

        • Ali Karim January 27, 2021 at 1:09 pm Reply

          Yes, correct

  • Shamshudin Visram December 27, 2020 at 7:48 pm Reply

    Very interesting!

    • Ali Karim December 27, 2020 at 8:00 pm Reply

      Thanks Shamshudin

  • Meharban Karim January 6, 2021 at 11:06 pm Reply

    Such wonderful pictures always. This picture of Uzbekistan is the best.

    • Ali Karim January 7, 2021 at 6:18 pm Reply

      Thanks Meharban for the feedback. So glad you enjoyed the blog and pictures

  • Amir & Roshan Mulji January 7, 2021 at 6:14 pm Reply

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Ali Karim January 7, 2021 at 6:18 pm Reply

      Most welcome Amir

      • Ali Karim January 7, 2021 at 6:19 pm Reply

        Thanks Mr Walji. So happy you are enjoying our travels through our blogs 🙂

  • Badru Walji January 7, 2021 at 6:15 pm Reply

    Very interesting and informative. I wish I could do it. Keep us posted.

    • Ali Karim January 24, 2021 at 12:40 am Reply

      Thanks Mr Walji; glad you found the blog interesting and informative.
      Stay tuned for more interesting views and experiences in Samarkand and Uzbekistan

  • Mahamud Jinnah January 24, 2021 at 12:31 am Reply

    You are very adventurous crossing a border on foot.
    Google maps did save the day for you in finding that B&B. What would we do without it.
    How did we manage in the days before Google…..
    That restaurant scene was amazing-so many people together-enjoying music and dancing. A great simple life that has disappeared here.

    • Ali Karim January 24, 2021 at 12:38 am Reply

      Thanks for the feedback Mahamud.
      Indeed, how did we manage before Google. How fast we forget 🙂

  • Nagib paroo January 24, 2021 at 11:48 am Reply

    So beautiful and informative. Love it. Mr Ali u are very good Thanks

    • Ali Karim January 24, 2021 at 12:03 pm Reply

      Thanks so much Nagib; so glad you enjoyed the blog

  • Rajab Ali January 24, 2021 at 3:43 pm Reply

    Thanks for sharing. Excellent update!!!

    • Ali Karim January 27, 2021 at 1:08 pm Reply

      Thanks Rajab, so glad you enjoyed it

  • alkarim ibrahim January 26, 2021 at 1:25 pm Reply

    This is very close to me as I had participated in the “The Silk Route” stage play in Florida as The Monk and learned a lot about the history of the Famous Silk Road.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Zubeda Virani February 6, 2021 at 1:50 pm Reply

    Hello Ali,
    I had my comments planned.. then read
    Vineeta’s comment to find she had expressed my thoughts already.
    Reread her response.. I so agree🙆🏻‍♀️.
    You two are incredibly brave to discover these parts of the world which have so much history, beautiful landscapes, people, kindness shown to outsiders etc. I enjoyed the blog and felt I remotely took the trip with you. My comments were too long to add after your blog so have chosen to add mine via email to both of you.
    I will forward the journey to my YYC Siblings who will enjoy reading it as much as I did.. The photography is superb.
    Be well and be safe.. Zubeda 👌🙏

    • Ali Karim February 6, 2021 at 4:24 pm Reply

      Thanks Zubeda, for the kind words and feedback.
      So glad you are continuing to enjoy my travel blogs; and thanks for sharing with your family; hopefully, they will enjoy too.

  • Shine Bata February 6, 2021 at 1:51 pm Reply

    Thanks Ali,
    I appreciate and enjoy your blog very much.
    My love to Dilshad.
    Regards

    • Ali Karim February 6, 2021 at 4:24 pm Reply

      Thanks Shine; so happy you are enjoying the blogs

  • Zahir Dharsee February 6, 2021 at 8:28 pm Reply

    Hi Ali – again what an interesting and educational write up. You both are very fortunate and adventurous to do such a trip. As I was reading the write up, a number of thoughts came to mind. First, the name of the border town of Punjakent. The first four or five letters in the name intrigued me as I thought this has something to do with the number five as we say Panj for five in Kutchi. Sure enough I googled the name and this came up – “Ancient Panjakent was a small but flourishing town of the Sogdians in pre-Islamic Central Asia. It was known as Panchekanth. It means five towns (villages) in Persian. The ethnic and territorial name “Soghd/Soghdian” or Sughd/Sughdian was mentioned in history as early as the Iranian Achaemenid Dynasty (6th century BC).”. So my hunch was correct, and so you now also know where the name Punjab (land of five rivers) comes from.

    Second, your reference to a “Jungle Stop” for natures call reminded me of my African trip over five years ago, when driving across Tanzania and Zambia, the driver at making a roadside Jungle stop would say in Swahili something – “Haya Shiba/Weka Dawa”.

    Third, the Samarkand restaurant dancing video clip reflects that these people enjoy life and are progressive in outlook. The women are well dressed.

    Fourth, I think it was in the early 1990’s, after the old Soviet Union had collapsed, that Uzbekistan, and I think it was in Samarkand, that an Aga Khan Award for Architecture prize giving ceremony was held. So you can say you have visited an exotic and remote country which hosted this Award ceremony.

    Hope you find this feedback useful.

    Take care

    Zahir

    • Ali Karim February 6, 2021 at 11:49 pm Reply

      Wow Zahir; very interesting analysis and reflections; thanks so much for the feedback.
      So happy that you enjoyed reading the blog on Samarkand.
      Indeed, we are blessed and fortunate to be able to do such interesting trips.

  • Pingback: Silk Road 27: More Samarkand, Oct 2019 - Ali Karim Travelog Asia

  • Iqbal Talib March 24, 2021 at 11:17 am Reply

    Amazing Ali. Great job as always. Very professional, very well written, great pictures, and lots of fun. How many miles (kilometers) have you traveled so far?

    • Ali Karim March 30, 2021 at 9:52 pm Reply

      Thanks Iqbal; appreciate the feedback.
      So far, we have clocked 2,300kms on the journey from Bishkek till Samarkand. More still to come as we continue touring Uzbekistan.

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