An interview with April: Travelling the Silk Road
Sightseeing in Samarkand
Our Flights Manager, April, travelled to Central Asia to join one of our groups in Uzbekistan on our Silk Road to Samarkand tour. Here’s what she had to say about her trip.
Can you give a brief overview of the trip?
The Silk Road to Samarkand was an inspiring and memorable experience encompassing dazzling monuments, wonderful Uzbek cuisine and interesting culture. On this 15 day tour you will visit four of Uzbekistan’s main cities which are Tashkent, Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. You are transferred by private vehicle between cities and spend time sightseeing in and outside of each place.
Can you describe a typical day in the city?
Each day, after breakfast, we were met by our friendly guide and set off from our hotel for a day of sightseeing. The first day of each location was spent exploring the city in the company of a local guide. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the history and culture of their homeland and really brought the past to life for us. The time sightseeing was interspersed with our lunch stop, a visit to a local bazaar and, where possible, we stopped at a craft work shop. The day ended with a couple of hour’s free time followed by an evening meal at a local Uzbek restaurant.
What were the main sights in the Silk Road cities?
In Tashkent we toured all the most important monuments including the Kukeldash mosque - an impressive piece of Islamic architecture featuring intricate mosaics and a beautiful garden located near the Chorsu Bazaar. In Khiva the main sights were all located within the Ichan Kala architectural complex featuring the vibrant Kalta Minor tower; famous for being fully covered with glazed tiles of several colours.
Bukhara which is regarded as one of the most evocative cities in the world houses the Bolo Haouz Mosque also known as the Forty Pillar mosque because of its elegantly carved wooden pillars that hold up the beautifully painted coffered ceiling. In Samarkand one of the most memorable sights was the Guri Amir Mausoleum, a masterpiece of medieval craftsmanship known as being the prototype of much Mughal architecture found in India such as the Taj Mahal.
Guri Amir Mausoleum in Bukhara
Did you have time to explore other places?
We had lots of opportunities to discover sights outside of the main cities and explore what else Uzbekistan had to offer. One of my favourite excursions was spending the day in the Kyzylkum Desert, one of the largest sand deserts in all of Asia. There were some very photogenic sand dunes here as well as a salt lake at Shur Kul which is renowned for its medicinal properties, everything about this desert day was just fascinating. We also visited the ruins of ancient fortresses and had lunch in a nomadic yurt camp with a local family – a really enjoyable experience.
Did you have any free time?
We had a free day in Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand to explore the city on our own. We used this time to return to our favourite monuments, spend time with the very friendly locals and browse the busy, colourful markets filled with hand-embroidered fabrics, nuts, spices and great souvenirs. We were never stuck for things to do with many sights in walking distance of our hotel.
What did you think of the Uzbek cuisine?
The food and drink were of a very high standard. We ate mostly in local restaurants so we were able to try authentic Uzbek food. Fresh, handmade Uzbek bread accompanied every meal which was great as we had seen this bread being made at the local markets. We enjoyed a variety of salads along with a hearty main meal. The chefs catered extremely well for any special dietary requirements.
What did you think of the Uzbek culture
We got a real authentic feel for the culture on our visit to the El Merosi theatre, where we watched a wonderful performance demonstrating the traditional costumes of Uzbekistan along with classical Uzbek music. Each costume represented different historical periods, from the Bronze Age to the present day, giving us a colourful view into how the culture has developed over the years - It was a really entertaining show.
Another part of the tour where I gained a further understanding of Uzbek culture were on the drives we took between the great cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. An exciting part of the tour in their own right giving us a sense of the journeys taken by the Silk Road traders in ancient times and offering a variety of transport in Uzbekistan from modern cars and motorbikes to beaten up Soviet style cars and carts pulled by donkeys.
What was your highlight?
One of my personal highlights was spending time at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ichan Kala, Khiva. An incredible walled city with many architectural masterpieces including ornate mosques, mausoleums and madrassas.
If you want to follow in April’s footsteps along the ancient Silk Road then find out more about this fantastic tour here.