On the road in Uzbekistan

From the Silk Road, pomp and too much Plov


The best trips are like life - A starts with an approximate idea of ​​where B, C and D are, but how to get there or what to expect on the way is a big question mark. Even if you are traveling on the Silk Road in Uzbekistan, which was once the most popular trail of the caravans, today by educated travel groups.

Formula 1 slope to Samarkand

It is nine in the morning when I am standing at the airport in the Uzbek capital Tashkent. "Taxi, miss? Good price! “I know the good prices of airport taxis. "Samarkand shared taxi $ 50!" I listen. Samarkand is one of the supposedly oldest cities in the world and one of the most beautiful on the Silk Road, and that's where I want to go. For $ 25 - which is acceptable for a good 300 kilometers and a four to five hour drive - I'm there. We drive to the Tashkenter bus station, where a buddy of the driver is waiting in a white Toyota. In fact, 90 percent of the cars in Uzbekistan appear to be white. An elderly lady with a lovely grandmother's face sets up in the back seat, whom I greet in my basic Russian. She answers in fluent English. "You can call me Sarah. I have been living in the US for over 20 years, but now I am at home and visiting my daughter and her family. ”Sarah, Uzbek name Sayyora, is 70 years old and works in the United States as a nurse, which helps her Supported daughter and grandchildren at home. Scherzod, the lean driver with sunglasses, jumps behind the wheel and off we go - for the worst taxi ride of my life.

Where caravans used to transport not only silk, but also glass, gemstones, gold, ceramics, porcelain, furs and other goods through Asia , we will soon be traveling at 180 kilometers an hour, where maybe 80 are allowed. Sarah hangs relaxed on my suitcase, is still recovering from a groin hurt, while Scherzod, who is not even buckled up, transforms the partly holy country and dust road into a Formula 1 piste. "He's in a bit of a hurry, we started late," Sarah excuses the young man who doesn't speak a word of English, just Uzbek and Russian. My feet instinctively feel like a brake pedal when Scherzod holds the horn down and hits the car in front without braking until two bumpers slip a millimeter, and Scherzod hesitantly decides to use the brake. I cling to my seatbelt and watch drivers turn the narrow, two-lane roads into three-lane roads again and again. We fly past other cars at millimeter intervals without there being a scratch on the paint.

At 11.30 a.m., Sarah conducts the piste hero to a roadside restaurant. "There is the best fish here!" Fish? This is the last thing I expected in a sealess and generally quite arid country, but there is supposed to be a river next door. We get a huge plate of deep-fried fish, homemade tomato sauce, fresh pide - typical, round bread - and a tomato and cucumber salad. The three of us pounce on it until there is nothing left but bones, then we pray. "We only thank God after the meal for the good food and for everything he does for us and our dead," explains Sarah.

After the sumptuous meal and the previously almost sleepless night on the plane, my eyes soon close. Every time I fly forward and wake up during one of Scherzod's last minute braking maneuvers, we are so close to the person in front that I can see his stubble in the rearview mirror. I give my life to Scherzod's driving skills. At some point we arrive in the fairytale Samarkand, which at first glance doesn't seem fairytale at all - rather as a normal big city with bumper traffic, screaming drivers, outlets, pharmacies, countless veterinary practices - "the people here love their pets", Sarah explains to me - as well oversized billboards. Sarah will spend a few days with a friend, but relieves me of the promise to visit her and her family in Tashkent when we are both back. Then it's time to explore the Samarkand of my dreams.

The most beautiful place in the world?

I got the best spot - on the stairs high up in the middle, like in front of a huge movie screen, and a great film is running in front of me. As ordered, all the lights come on and dress it in dim, yellow light: the mighty Registan Square, the most beautiful square in Samarkand and perhaps from all of Central Asia. With three protagonists - former madrasahs, Koran schools, an ensemble unique in the world.

It is inconceivable that there was only a clay court and a caravanserai in its place until the 15th century. Until the Timurid lord Ulugh Beg and grandson of Amir Timur had the first Ulugh Beg medrese towering on the west side. Timurids were the Muslim rulers under Timur, whose name you can't avoid in Uzbekistan: in the 14th century he was an Islamic military leader and emir who built the Timurid dynasty and brutally subjugated many regions of Central Asia, but also art and literature promoted. Samarkand, Bukhara and Kesch were his navel of the world, which had to be pimped up in a Timurid style with a Persian touch. To this day, Timur is still a kind of national hero in Uzbekistan.

The central Tillja-Kari madrasah is home to a mosque - and proof that Tillja Kari means 'covered with gold': when you enter, it sparkles from all the walls and the ceiling. The inner courtyards of the other two madrassas, with the cells of the Koran students, from which carpets, hats, scarves, postcards and other souvenirs spring up, are less spectacular. And yet - the exterior and interior facades, which are artistically decorated with colorful bricks and Moasaik panels, give an idea of ​​why Samarkand was once described as "the most beautiful face the earth has ever turned to the sun". And why Registan Square is the favorite place for photo shoots of newlyweds. I watch how a young couple can be photographed on lucky day - the bride in an artistic, turquoise-patterned dress with a meter-long train, the groom in a kind of striped bathrobe with matching striped bollard pants and rubber boots.

I continue walking to the partly restored Bibi Khanum mosque, supposedly built under Timur from 1399 to 1405, which has a very similar architectural style to the Madrasahs on Registan Square. This largest mosque in Central Asia is said to be equal in size to the Milan Cathedral. In his high spirits, Timur wanted a building that would surpass all the monuments and buildings he had seen during his campaigns in foreign countries. When I sit down on a bench to recover from the midday heat, an older woman joins me. "This is my son," she introduces me to a young man in Russian. I would like a picture of you and me. May he do one? ”She snuggles up to me in her long, colorful dress and we are immortalized in front of the holy place.

With the dead and the living

The smell of spices and freshly cooked food lures me into the souk next door, where retailers offer fresh fruit and vegetables, tea and kurut - milk balls that taste like milk that has been forgotten, hardened milk and a popular snack.

Behind the bazaar, in the distance, the necropolis Shah-i Zinda, translated 'living king', from the 11th century with the turquoise domes of its mausoleums sets itself apart from the azure blue of the sky: the best-of mausoleum architecture from Samarkand, also as' Graves' street. I reach the mausoleums in a different way than usual: instead of squeezing myself through the entrance portal with the bus tourists, I follow the recommendation of my guide and walk through the adjacent, supposedly largest Muslim cemetery, where the dead people's faces printed on large tombstones give me a stiff look follow. I will soon regret the decision - the information in the book must be out of date because the gate to the mausoleum complex of Shah-i Zinda is locked. Next to it, two smoking men chill and I ask about the entrance. One of the two answers in quick Russian. At my questioning glance, he jumps up, climbs on a wall next to the fence and lifts his leg as if to jump. He tells me to do the same to him. I am already standing in front of the oldest tombs of the complex from the 14th century, made of terracotta tiles. One of the graves belongs to Tuman Oko, a wife Amir Timurs, others are partly nameless. But everyone amazes me with their magnificence, with their sapphire blue tiles shining in the sunlight - specially selected for Timur's female relatives - and the partly equally artistically decorated interiors. Again and again I put my head back to see the end of the meter-high tombs.

The taxi driver who drives me to the Samarkand Bukhara Carpet Workshop and whose stomach clamps the steering wheel so that it hardly moves is much less handsome. We chat in Russian, English and French. "I learn >

There would be a total of 300 to 400 employees, some of whom also worked from home. "Many women only want to work until they get married, others continue afterwards and are happy to escape the housework and the children for a while," says Khalida. The wafer-thin silk threads slide through the female fingers on the looms, and new nodules are always created, which ultimately result in a large carpet.

Which is actually the end of the story - before that, millions of silkworm dolls first produce silk from which you make threads and dye them with natural colors. Some of the coloring plants grow in the garden: "Dye madder for beige and brown tones, pomegranate for pink and red colors, indigo for dark, light blue and green tones and the asparagus flower for yellow and orange." It takes a while until a carpet is completely finished Year. "We are the only workshop in all of Uzbekistan where you can watch the production of the silk carpets", Khalida praises her father's work.

After I have once again briefly dwelt among the living, there is time for another mausoleum: that of Gur Amir, Amir Timur's own mausoleum. I wave a taxi over to where two women are already sitting and talking loudly to the driver in Russian. "Where are you from?", They want to know, and with my stupid >

Except for a few locals who came to pray, there is no one there. Engine noise faintly penetrates the interior of the mausoleum with its ornate and gilded marble slabs and a radiantly beautiful dome ceiling. Here, even the superlative of 'sumptuous' is not enough for an accurate description. Behind equally beautifully decorated marble grilles are the cenotaphs - empty tombs to commemorate the dead - of Timur and his sons and other important members of the clan. Timur's cenotaph stands out from the ensemble like a black sheep - because it is made of black nephrite, while all others are made of light tones.

I listen to the murmur of the prayers, who don't fold their hands but open them in front of their faces as if they wanted to receive alms. Soon time will drive me back into the bustle of the city, because the journey continues.

In the city of poetry and fairy tales

I have already booked my train tickets via the Internet and am standing in front of the Samarkand train station, which you can only get in after showing your passport and ticket. In order to quickly get to my next destination, the oasis city of Bukhara, I decided on the fastest thing that is brewing on Uzbekistan's tracks: the ultra-modern Afrosyiob train, which has only been running since 2011 and takes just under an hour and a half from Samarkand. I feel reminded of Japan when I get in: every fully air-conditioned wagon has its own train attendant, who checks the tickets when boarding and takes orders for free coffee or tea inside.

With 250 kilometers per hour I go to Bukhara, where the owner of the booked inn picks me up. As in Samarkand, the guest house is a family accommodation with a courtyard from which the rooms branch off.

Whether I prefer Samarkand or Bukhara, I can't find an answer to that during my stay. Bukhara is still considered to be the great cultural center of the East, which produced outstanding scientists, philosophers and poets. It is not surprising that the historic center has been under UNESCO protection since 1993, when the next morning the first walk out of the maze of streets in which my accommodation is located leads past countless mausoleums and madrasas.

You stumble across the Lyabi-Hauz complex, a square with an artificial water reservoir, framed by mulberry trees, two madrasas - including the largest in the city, Kukeldash - and another religious building, just like an oasis in the desert. Restaurants and cafes have spread their tables around the water. Just like in Samarkand, the madrasas in Bukhara are used for souvenir sales. A group of local women listens to a guide, they have stolen the sandals and socks from German men.

I let myself go, I'll be back in the streets soon. Enjoy Bukhara away from the tourist hustle and bustle, where people live in simple mud houses, some half decay, others just finished. A seductive scent of the typical Uzbek pide that I follow and support flows out of a bakery - instead of in front of the sales counter, I end up in a dark room full of junk. Heat hits me from the right and I look into a sweaty face. "Would you like bread?" Calls the man, whose naked torso is shining with his face. He and a colleague keep kneading dough and pushing the flatbread into an oven next door. In the back room an old man is watching TV and watching football. "We make about 800 loaves of bread a day," the baker tells me, before bagging up a hot one for me.

The heart of the old town beats at the Poi Kalyon complex with numerous trade domes, market buildings, but above all with the Kalyon minaret from 1127 - Buchara's landmark - with the Mir Arab Madrasah and the Kalyon Mosque. In order to visit the most beautiful buildings in peace, it is necessary to wait until one group of tourists is washed out and scurries in before the next, because this is the only way to not only take a quick look at the mesa and mausoleums in all directions, but to feel the place. Mir Arab is one of the holiest places of Islamic culture in former Soviet territory, dates from the 16th century and was dedicated to Sheikh Abdallah Yamani, also called Mir Arab. Opposite Arab is the Kalyon Mosque, which served as a department store during the Soviet era, but has been open to prayers again since 1991. I step into the sweeping courtyard, surrounded by 208 pillars and 288 domed vaults, the pillars symbolizing Solomon's judgment. On my first visit, the tour guides try to drown themselves out in front of crowds of sweaty tourists in different >

Bukhara also has a Registan Square, but compared to Samarkand it is like a vicious circle around which the cars honk every second, but it also has something special to offer - the Ark Citadel, a blocky mud brick building and a kind of Eiffel Tower from Bukhara ,

The exact history of the citadel is unclear, one suspects its origin in the 5th or 6th century AD. Most of what remains is from the 16th century. You get the best overview from a viewing platform with a glass lift directly opposite, you enter the interior through the mighty west gate from 1742. It is as if the almost 800-meter-high walls were incorporated and protected from the hustle and bustle of the world outside. Nobody let themselves be seen in the wallpaper here, in contrast to the diagonally opposite Bolo-Hauz Mosque, where you can see the most valuable from the street.

And yet this mosque, the only relic from the Middle Ages, with its upstream water basin, in which the lanky pillars of the terrace are reflected, is an oasis of calm in the hustle and bustle. Even further from the shot is Samanid's mausoleum in the middle of the Samanid Park with stalls selling ice cream and cotton candy. The perfect cube made of artistically worked bricks stands out from the green of the park and is reflected on the dim lake in front of it. This city's oldest 10th-century Islamic monument marks the tomb of the founder of the Samanid dynasty and tombs of some of his family members.

The heat also makes me lazy, I drag myself back into the alleys, which are still lacking the asphalt, and start looking for the choir minor medrese with its four turrets, which is not missing on any Bukhara postcard. Some houses smell of fresh bread or fried food, children kick a ball over the dried up mud, and a group of men sits around a chess board in a square.

They look up briefly, wave. I'm not sure where Chor-Minor is, the men ask. "Where are you from?" Someone wants to know in Russian, then he shakes my hand and pulls me towards him to give me a kiss on the hand. "You are very beautiful!" A few meters later I stand in front of the four towers with their turquoise domes shining in the evening sun.

In the end, what I feared happens: I get lost in the streets, can't find my accommodation anymore. But sometimes it is real luck if the app fails and I am forced to speak to people instead of walking past them with my head bent over my cell phone. A middle-aged man who is jogging with his goat on a leash in flip-flops and jeans does not know my accommodation, a young woman asks if I would like to stay with her instead. I run and run, pass the man and goat for the second time, we chat. He advises me to ask the tourist police, who have a kind of kiosk on several corners. But I am wrong a little further and at the end I stand in front of my inn where I least expected it.

Of the moon, stars and outhouse

The next morning I take a taxi to the Sitorai Mohi-Hosa Palace from the early 20th century, the former summer residence of the last Emir of Bukhara, whose name means 'stars meet the moon'. A bright building with many European architectural features awaits with a magnificent throne hall and colorfully decorated ceilings, but the tea pavilion is the most relaxed with a view of the garden.

How I get back from the residence to the city is also in the stars, because there is no taxi far and wide and the next street is a few kilometers away. I ask a man leaning against his white car, and of course he has a brother who works as a driver and is ready ten minutes later. I still have time until my train goes to Tashkent and accept the offer to go to the mausoleum of Bakhauddin Naqshbandi, the unofficial patron saint of Bukhara and founder of the most important Sufi order in Central Asia, which makes the mausoleum the most sacred place in the city. The tomb is part of a large complex of tombs and shrines to which crowds of believers make pilgrimages and pray in front of the black tombstone of the revered.

Soon the gentle murmur of the faithful will be drowned out in my memory by the rumble of the train - this time not a fixed Afrosiyob, but an ordinary Sharq train, the Intercity of Uzbekistan. Instead of spacious open-plan cars, there are stuffy compartments in which the windows do not open and there is no air conditioning. The corridors are covered with carpets that immediately get stuck under the suitcase rolls, the compartments as well, and the small table has been lovingly covered with a cloth tablecloth. I share the oxygen in the compartment with five others, while desert-like wasteland flies past the window. Everything on the train reminds me of my childhood when there was a smell of softened tar in the carriages in the summer and when I went to the toilet I was fascinated to see how the excrement landed on the rails rushing past. Six and a half hours separate us from the capital, a local fan fans up and her husband moistens a handkerchief every five minutes to press it against her forehead. The relief is written all over our faces when the train chugs into the capital's train station almost on time.

Again I live in a family-run guest house, receive a friendly welcome at 11:00 p.m. and get a large, stylishly furnished room with a queen-sized bed. My landlady speaks fluent English when she serves me breakfast the next morning and at the same time prepares her little daughter for school. "I send my little ones to a Russian school, where they are already learning Chinese," explains the proud mother, and that where the kids grow up with Uzbek and Russian at home. "I will also teach them in English that they should be able to learn literature in the original >

Tashkent, the new city

If Samarkand and Bukhara were a foray into the past, everything is new in Tashkent - because the city, with its four million inhabitants and thus the largest in Central Asia, was destroyed in 1966 by a devastating earthquake. A monument is dedicated to the terrible day, the Monument of Courage from 1976. A cube burst in the middle shows a clock with the time of the accident, 5.23 am, and a bronze sculpture symbolizes a father who wants to protect the woman and child from the danger ,

Almost everything was created in Tashkent, translated 'stone town', in the typical Soviet style after the earthquake, but a little old glory can still be seen in the Hazrat Imam complex, the historical, spiritual heart of Tashkent. The Hazrat Iman Mosque from 2007 and the most important building, the Muyi Muborak Library, translate 'holy hair' at Hazrat Iman Square. Inside there is hair, which supposedly belonged to Prophet Mohammed - but also the world's oldest Quran, created 19 years after Muhammad's death.

A lot of handicrafts and fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts and everything that seduces the palate or dresses men and women can be found on the huge Eski Juvi market under the blue-turquoise round roof.

But not only the market is oversized, the squares of the capital are too - the so-called Friendship Square with the huge Uzbek flag and the People's Friendship Palace from 1981, a concert hall with over 4,000 seats. Just as striking as the colossal building is a monument made of cast iron figures, a man and a woman, who gather a lot of children around them. "This is in memory of the Second World War, when homeless children were brought to Tashkent and fed by people, because at that time Tashkent was considered the city of bread," explains the travel guide.

On the other hand, I meet a good old acquaintance at Amur Timur Platz - Timur on a horse, where Stalin and Marx previously stood on the pedestal. All of the city's main streets lead from this square. Main streets with many blue domed roofs, an idea by Timur who wanted to capture the peaceful blue of the sky. Tashkent's largest square is Independence Square full of monuments and fountains, including an impressive water feature with 500 water jets with a golden globe on a pedestal in the background. Behind the square is the now invisible border between the old and the new Tashkent - the new district was once reserved for Russians only, and no one from Old Tashkent was allowed to cross the border.

Today it is no longer a problem to be mobile in Tashkent. On the contrary - you could take the subway all day without leaving the underground vaults with 29 stops, because Tashkent offers some of the most beautiful metro stations in the world. "In 1977 the first subway line opened in Tashkent," says the city guide, "during the Soviet era, when the population grew to over a million people." It was the first subway line in Central Asia and was modeled on the Moscow Metro. At Amur Timur Platz, for example, the theme of the October Revolution dominates the metro station, which is equipped with elegant lights in light tones. The subway at Independence Square is even more lavish with chandeliers on the ceilings, while another station is dedicated to the great Uzbek poet Alisher Navoi. There is also something for fans of aerospace - the Kosmonavtlar subway station in honor of the great cosmonauts.

But what I find most exciting in Tashkent is watching people: in the park near the 375-meter-high television tower, a bridal show is announced in the late afternoon, right in front of the Museum of Victims of Soviet Oppression. I watch brides in lush white dresses and their wedded friends climb the stairs in front of the monument. It is logical that they do not all look as if this is the happiest day of their lives - arranged marriage is still common in Uzbekistan, but young people are now able to at least look at different candidates, according to the city guide.

Wherever you look in Tashkent, the city is dominated by bulky Soviet buildings, above all the city's first hotel, Hotel Uzbekistan, opened in 1974 with eleven floors and 495 rooms. The windows look like bars, but according to the city guide, this typical mosaic style has a practical purpose: the buildings stay cool in summer and warm in winter.

It's also cozy and warm in the Plov-Center near the TV tower, where Uzbekistan's national dish is cooked in raw quantities every lunchtime - around 50 kilos of rice come in an oversized pot, plus a massive amount of beef, fat horse sausage, raisins and yellow carrots. In order not to forget so much oil that the face of the cook is reflected in the oil residue on the floor. People eat at long tables in a kind of large canteen, where locals and foreign visitors greedily attack their plates.

The best for last

When I think of Tashkent, I don't think of the squares or monuments, not even the postcard-compatible subway stations. I think of Sayyora and how we actually manage to see each other on my last evening. Again I give my Russian my best to negotiate a taxi price, but in the end the driver tries to double my button - especially when he sees the pretty house Sayyora used to make her better money in the US with her sour money Loved ones invested at home. The 70-year-old and her daughter Rano stand expectantly on the street and Sayyora hugs and kisses me as if I were her granddaughter who had returned after a long absence. The taxi driver falls out of the car and shouts in Uzbek at the two women - who answer in a similar tone. The taxi driver follows us with our fists raised as we go to the house and I prepare to use my self-defense skills. Sayyora pushes me into the yard in front of the house and her daughter slams the gate in front of the driver's nose. Problem solved.