An early start on Saturday morning saw us begin a 308km journey by train from Tashkent to Samarkand, with the sun already beaming down, we were all wishing for air conditioning and much to our relief, there it was. Seated cabins were shared between six of us and for most of us it was the first time being on a train like this one, with TV, private cabins and narrow corridor connecting them all. As we set off each of us started to fall asleep and before we knew it we were arriving in Samarkand, ahead of a day of sight seeing. We were picked up by coach and once again pleased to feel the air conditioning, after a short drive we were at our first stop and were given a brief talk regarding the history of the building. From here it was time for lunch. One thing that is hard to miss in Uzbekistan is the amount of food you are given at each meal time, normally consisting of breads, soups, broths and more meat than I’ve seen in my life!
When lunch was over, we made our way to the next destination on the tour, Registan Mosques and Moseleums, which for me was one of the most beautiful places we have visited on the trip so far. The symmetry and sizes of the madrasahs were breathtaking and the detail put into each one was an amazing sight to see. After stocking up on cold water we visited a further mosque and observatory and before long we were back on the coach starting a five hour drive to Bukhara. It was 11pm before we reached the comfort of our hotel in Bukhara for the night, as we pulled up in the pitch black, we jumped out, relieved to stand and dropped our bags into our rooms, before going out for dinner at a local rooftop restaurant. Tired but hungry we kept our spirits high and soon found ourselves in our rooms, tucked up in bed ready for a day of more sightseeing. Breakfast was at 8am and by 9.30am we were leaving the hotel, even though a few of us were carrying injuries and illnesses. As the door opened the 44 degree heat hit us and the non existent breeze was not helping. With our tour guide leading the way we had a short walk to the Ark of Bukhara, a massive fortress, initially built and occupied in the 5th century AD, it acted as a military structure, encompassing a town, with royal courts. With the heat starting to affect a number of people in the group, we took a few water stops before continuing the tour.
Prior to coming on this weekend trip to Samarkand and Bukhara, like Tashkent none of us knew what to expect, but it was clear to see the differences between the more southern cities of Uzbekistan, compared to Tashkent. While Tashkent is a much more modern city, with what seems a stronger Russian influence, Samarkand and Bukhara have a much more Middle Eastern and in some cases traditional feel to them. Regardless of any of these factors, all three cities have there own unique trademarks and personally Samarkand consisted of the most unforgettable architecture and atmosphere. With the day drawing to an end and our train back to Tashkent approaching, I think I speak for all of us when I say these cities were worth the long journeys and extreme heat.
Now onto less beautiful things. I could tell you how I found the ten hour night train journey bearable and reasonably comfortable. At least that’s what I could tell you if there had been air conditioning, but since there wasn’t, I can’t say anything like that. Instead all I can say is 44 degree heat, top bunk, small room with four people stuffed into and a shortage of water. I’m not one for the dramatics, so believe me when I tell you it was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. While some managed to get some sleep, I managed to not even get an hour, rather I was sat in my bunk, wishing ten hours of my life away and hanging my arms out of the small slit like window, trying to find some small amount of relief. I don’t think much more needs to be said about this experience, let’s not dwell on the negative. It was ten hours and much to my surprise I lived to tell the tale. Having said all that though, I’m pleased I had the experience, and now I look back I just find myself laughing at it.
With more than half the trip done, the last four days are still to come and the excitement and anticipation is still as strong as ever.