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The Golden Road to Samarkand

The Caravan Sarai was an incredible hotel, a gem, an ace you might even say.

We woke up the next morning to find the most luxurious breakfast waiting for us. It seemed the feasting would not be ending any time soon here in Uzbekistan, and we were fine with that. The breakfast arrived in a number of courses of small plates, Russian tea house style, until the entire table was just covered with food.

There was fresh Lepyoshka, butter, various jams and preserved fruits, yoghurt, steaming hot blinis (Russian pancakes), fried eggs, buttery baked pastries filled with nuts and dried fruits, nutty and sharp cheeses, and thinly sliced sausages. It was splendid, and quite filling. As we lounged around drinking another few carafes of coffee, we read aloud from the Uzbekistan guide book that Shoney had lent us.

As we ate, we could not help but notice how ornately decorated the interior of this hotel was, with the walls completely covered with hand carved filigree.  There was even wireless Internet… on the way at least, but as was the continuing trend here in Uzbekistan, Internet would be tough.

We headed out the door, climbed on the cycles and began wheeling. We rode in search first of water, past this example of the amazing signs they use to display the house numbers in Samarkand. We eventually found a Produkti where we were able to buy water. Little did we know, however, that carbonated water was much more popular here than the still stuff, and it would be from this point forth difficult to find. But for now, we just inadvertently bought sparkling water, which exploded, fizzing everywhere, and tasted vile with overtones of carbonic acid. But it was hot and dry, so drink it we did.

We were soon approached by a crowd of Uzbek fellows, all of whom were interested in learning more about us. When they discovered I could speak a little Russian, we found ourselves pulled into quite the little pow wow, with all the surrounding vendors and shop keepers coming out to chat. They asked the most fascinating questions about America. These were mostly focused around Muslim America. Are there Muslims in America? Can Muslims in America possess a U.S. passport? Can they live in any city, or only certain ones? Can a mosque broadcast the call to prayer in an American city?

The answer to that last question, I had to admit I did not know. I felt that they probably could, given that churches can ring loud bells and play blistering recordings of chimes and choirs. But I had to admit to them I’d never heard the C to P in America.

Speculation as to the correct answers to any of these questions is, as always, invited in the comments.

Eventually, once the third kid to take my Speed TR around the dusty block for a ride came back with the thing, it was time to go, and we did our best to politely excuse ourselves.

The first thing we rode past was a giant domed and tiled compound, which we inadvertently approached from the rear, having been traversing the area by means of back alleys.

Wooshed by it, placing it on the list of places to revisit, and heading back into the alley, where we stopped to chat with a fellow washing his car.

From there we made our way back around to the front of the ornate edifice, riding down a large cobblestone tourist development road. When we stopped to drink water on the side of the road, we were surrounded again by such a massive crowd of people that we were forced to hand out all our remaining business cards, and then write our names and e-mails down for those who did not get cards. In the end, the pressure of the crowd was just too great and we had to excuse ourselves, heading out in search of a quieter place to have a drink.

Remembering quickly how foul the carbonated water tasted, we stopped our drinking and headed on down the road, picking up speed and beginning to really cover ground. The roads here were even newer and smoother than they’d been in the capital, and we found ourselves making very good time.

We were just whipping along, waving at people, and enjoying the fantastic signage for local businesses. All around us people we going for it, like this chap transporting tons of burlap sacks full of produce with his Lada.

Finally, tired of the carbonic acid water, we stopped to buy some of the good still stuff.

That purchase rolled into a 45-minute conversation with the owner of the shop about whether or not he could get a green card in the U.S., and whether I could help him to do so. I told him I would be supportive in any way I could, but that it was not going to be easy, and that it would take a lot of time.

We wheeled on from the water joint, and turned off onto an uphill unpaved road that took us to a little brick village. The village showed signs of recent habitation, but seemed almost completely deserted as we rode through, all the residents apparently at work in town, or hiding behind closed doors.

From the village, we continued back down to the main road and made our way around the city on what one might call the Samarkand Beltway.  Before too long, we found ourselves dumped into a giant fruit and vegetable market, which we took a moment to peruse, tempted as always by the dynias.

From there we headed to the Registan, the biggest and most famous tourist spot in all of Samarkand. It takes that title for good reason. It is very, very impressive.

We’ve been to a lot of places, dear reader, and will go forth and say: this one is worth seeing. It could go head to head with the Taj Mahal any day.

Just look at this:

We spent a few hours wandering through the place. Poking our heads in and out of its many bejeweled courtyards. At one point we were approached by a police officer, we were afraid might be there to hassle us, but he was in fact trying to sell us a private tour of one of the minarets at sunset. We told him we’d consider it and moved on.

Suddenly it was time to eat again, and so we headed back out on the bikes in search of food.

Not far from the Registan, we ended up finding a truly amazing place, where we ordered some Uzbek soup and a few shashlik.

All of it was amazing.

As we ate, we struck up a conversation with the people at the table next to us. Most of them had either partial or totally gold teeth. That was when I realized it: Uzbek people have a thing for gold teeth. Everywhere we went, people were rocking the mostly gold smile. It was incredible.

I tried to look past all the bling in these guys’ grills, and answer their many questions about America. How much is gas in America? How much is bread in America? Is it safe at night in America? Are the women beautiful in America? How many are blond? How many have black skin?

We wheeled next back to that glorious and beautiful Samarqand train station to buy our tickets on to Bukhara. The lines were not long; I was only cut three times; and the economy class tickets were dirt cheap, so it took relatively little energy to execute that mission.

Back on the bikes, we decided it might be worthwhile now to try and find an ATM machine. So we continued to wheel, asking people from time to time where we might find a machine which emitted dollars (to change on the black market, of course).

Everyone seemed to know of a different place that might give us dollars, but most of the leads petered out in either dead ends or ATMs that only gave сум. People were more than happy to help, to give us elaborate directions, and to generally chat for extended periods of time.

One group of men outside a credit union insisted on taking the Speed TRs for a little ride before letting us strike out.

We continued to wheel on, past this giant wedding, for which the families had rented a fleet of Mercedes Benz sedans.

We struck out too, here at the National Bank of Uzbekistan, which had no dollars for us. In fact no сум either.

Somehow we ended up next inside an accounting office, using their computers and chatting about AsiaWheeling, web design, and the world of Internet consulting with one of the managers there.

He claimed he knew the only place in town that would give us USD, and directed us to wheel down the street, but to hurry for they would close soon. We thanked him and hopped back on the cycles.

When we got to that bank, they apologized to us, explaining that it was the end of the month they were closing the books, and instructing us to come back in four days. Shucks.

As we wheeled back to town, we spotted a very fancy looking hotel, which we thought just might have an ATM. We ran inside and sure enough it did, and it served USD! But only for Visa cards… We had only MasterCards, so we left empty handed.

We headed back to the Caravan Sarai and dug into our secret supply of emergency USD, changing them with the manager of the hotel for pretty close to the black market rate.

After seeking a quick and delicious dinner of more salad and shashlik, we corresponded into the night and retired in preparation for the next day.


  1. Dane | November 23rd, 2010 | 2:52 am

    Really digging that shot of you, Woody, with our man in the cyan and purple striped shirt.

  2. Sadiya | May 30th, 2011 | 2:29 am

    wowwieee!!! awesome pictures

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