Here I was on a short holiday at Landour and a few hours after arriving there, was stuck in a traffic jam. I thought I had left traffic jams and noisy cities behind me in Mumbai, but the honking, the slamming of car doors and the fact that my vehicle hadn’t moved an inch in the last 15 minutes brought a sense of déjà vu.
My car driver had switched off the engine and gone off to investigate what was holding the traffic up. It had started raining by then and after waiting impatiently for some ‘progress’, gave up and started looking around. School had just got over and the narrow road was filled with school children returning home and were having to do it by squeezing between the vehicles stuck in the traffic jam to find a ‘route’ to get through.
Then I turned left and looked out of my car window into this.
The morning of June 26th dawned grey and bleak and wet in Mumbai. It was a Monday and normally, I would have had a touch of Monday morning blues. But on that day I woke up feeling very happy and I bounded out of bed for I would soon be on a flight heading out of Mumbai for a short holiday in the hills. It was a break that I was looking forward to after weeks of chasing deadlines and more deadlines at work.
The countdown to this holiday in the hills had begun in early May when I accepted an invitation from Rokeby Manor at Landour in Uttarakhand to stay with them and explore the area. I had the travel details all planned out — fly to New Delhi from Mumbai, take the overnight Nanda Devi Express from New Delhi to Dehradun, and then make the short road trip to Landour from there. On my return journey, I would spend a couple of days with my friends in Dehradun, before taking the Shatabdi to New Delhi and then a flight to Mumbai.
Yes, I had it all planned out. I applied for leave from work, booked the necessary air and rail tickets, and informed Rokeby Manor of my itinerary so that they could make the necessary arrangements of picking me up and dropping me to Dehradun. All I had to do now was to wait (rather impatiently like a kid) for the holiday to begin.
And the holiday began with the cab ride to the airport. It normally takes an hour and a half to the airport from my residence, but being particular about arriving early, I left home a full three hours before the check in counter closed at 12.15 pm for the flight at 1.00 pm. I didn’t know when I set out that morning that Murphy’s Law was at work for me, in the sense that “everything that can possibly go wrong, will go wrong”.
My first view of Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan was at 2 am on a September morning in 2015 when my flight from Delhi landed. Of course, I saw nothing except lights !
An hour later, after having cleared immigration and customs, I was out and had my ‘second’ look at Tashkent on the short drive from the international to the domestic airport where I was to take my connecting flight to Nukus. The street lights revealed clean and broad tree-lined roads and a deliciously cool and crisp night air — a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of Mumbai and Delhi. A few hours later I saw Tashkent again, this time in daylight and again from the air. A green and lush city spread out below me and I could see only a few buildings breaking through that cover. I looked forward to returning to Tashkent and exploring if before boarding my return flight home.
10 days later, I was boarding the Afrosiyob bullet train at Samarqand for a super smooth and fast ride to Tashkent. But once there, I wasn’t as excited as I was expecting it to be. Maybe it was the prospect of my Uzbekistan trip coming to an end or maybe it was because the hotel I was staying in Tashkent goofed up my booking, or maybe it was because I didn’t get a decent vegetarian dinner that night. Or maybe it was all of the above.
The strange, reluctant mood spilled over to the next morning as I set off to meet Natalya, my guide, rather half-heartedly. On the way, I came across a building with colourful artwork painted on one of its walls. I can’t tell you what a mood changer that sight was and quite suddenly I was ready to explore the Tashkent🙂
When I first came across the term ‘Silk Paper” in one of the many museums at Khiva, I was intrigued as to what it was.
Was silk paper a special kind of silk that looked and felt like paper? Or was it the other way around where paper felt and looked like silk? Or was the term used to refer to the silk money of Khorezm? The answer, I found out later, lay somewhere between all this and a little beyond.
While in Samarqand, I took a break from visiting the many monuments there to go see a silk paper factory in a village called Konigil. Located about 10 km from Samarqand on the picturesque banks of the River Siab, the Meros Silk Paper Factory is a family run unit that has been in operation for about 12 years. During my visit there, not only did I get to know what silk paper was all about, I also saw the process that went into producing them, and got the opportunity to pick up some souvenirs !
Samarqand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, and is spread over three sites — the ancient settlement known as Afrosiab; the Timurid portion; and modern part of the city. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001, Samarqand is a contemporary of Rome and celebrated its 2750th birthday in 2007.
Located along the Great Silk Road at the crossroads of routes leading to Persia, India and China, Samarqand has drawn people from fields and from all over. It also attracted the itinerant travelers like Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta and purposeful conquerors like Alexander the Great and Shaybanid Khan alike. The former came out of curiosity; the latter to plunder or rule over its vast wealth. Samarqand drew me in as well, a modern-day traveler. If you have been following my Uzbekistan journey on this blog, then you will recall that it was a picture of a blue dome in Samarqand that had sparked of a desire to visit it.
I was in Samarqand for two days and got a glimpse of a fascinating past filled with myths, legends and historical events. I also saw many blue domes and many more works of art (see photograph below) that were in different shades of blue. The amount of blue was enough to dub Samarqand as the blue city and use that title for this blog post as well !🙂 .
The Registan Square in Samarqand is the city’s, and perhaps Uzbekistan’s, most recognised monument. In a way, it is to Uzbekistan what the Taj Mahal is to India. So it was not surprising that the Registan Square was the one place I was looking forward to visiting the most even before I set out for the trip in September 2015.🙂
It was early evening when I arrived in Samarqand after a beautiful drive through the Zarafshan mountains from Shakhrisabz. As the car drove through the city towards the B&B I would be staying in, my first impressions were of an elegant and beautiful city filled with monuments. I kept an eye out for the Registan Square and even thought I glimpsed it, but could not be sure as the one way roads made me feel like we were going around in circles !
Once at the B&B, I was delighted to find from the very handy map given there that the Registan Square was just a 5 minute walk away. So after freshening up and some tea, I followed the directions on the map and within minutes was at the Registan Square. The sun had almost set and my first glimpse of the iconic monument complex was at twilight.
Time stopped still as I took in the magnificent sight before me and I think I had tears in my eyes as well. Over the next 2 days that I was at Samarqand, I would visit the Registan Square often, and each time it would be an overwhelming experience.