My favorite part about staying in hotels/hostels is the free breakfast. I always make sure to stay at one that offers it. At the City Hotel in Samarkand there was quiche, hard-boiled eggs, fruit, fresh jam, coffee, and tea. It all looked like it had been specially cooked just for me. Warm, welcoming and homemade. It was a far cry from the cereal dispensers and individual waffle cookers of most American chain hotels. I sat alone, filling my cheeks like a chipmunk. I’ve learned that the trick to cheap travel is making the most of your free hotel/hostel breakfast. I certainly have mastered the art of food hoarding. My mother would be proud. Next to me a group of French couples sat, if not criticizing my barbaric eating, most likely discussing their itinerary for the day. They looked planned, and I wondered what all I wanted to do. I finally settled on calling Sherry and asking him to drive me around again. In Uzbekistan, it’s relatively cheap to hire a driver and a lot of people have them. The sites around Samarkand are spread out, and I enjoyed his company, so for around 60,000 so’m ($20) he agreed to drive me around the city.
The night before I had a brief glimpse of the old city of Samarkand, Afrasiab. It had been destroyed by the Mongols and Ghingis Khan and now doesn’t appear to be more than a giant mound of dirt with the faint outline of a city that once existed. It’s riddled with trash and I probably would have looked right past it if I hadn’t done a bit of reading before hand. I secretly want to be up with my history knowledge (but I have the worst memory and I’m always so envious of people that know historical facts) I’m trying… My inner childhood dreams of being an archaeologist got the better of me and I decided I had to find a way to walk through or I guess more on the old city. Sherry took me to the new museum, I breezed through it quickly, partially so I could feel like I did something intellectual, but mostly so I could exit the exhibit and explore Afrasiab hill:
As I walked I started to feel flies buzzing around my head. I looked down and noticed small brown pellets everywhere. I had remembered a student saying poop in Russian. I called to Sherry, several steps ahead of me, and said “Kaka?”. He looked at me, probably wondering why I couldn’t speak a lick of Russian but could come up with the word for poop, and nodded yes. Little did he know, “Kaka” seems to be quite universal. I think I had grown fond of him because he always seemed to be laughing at me. As we reached the top of the hill I saw the reason for all the “Kaka” and flies. Sheep. What I thought would be an incredible historical site, immaculately excavated, turned out to be a hill with sheep and trash. It was actually more exciting than I could have imagined though. I felt like a lone explorer and if I had the right tools, around any corner would be some ancient artifact. I left with a few pieces of what I’ve convinced myself are old pots, but are probably nothing more than stones.
From the old city Sherry took me to Gir-Emir Mausoleum, where Amir Timur, his sons and grandsons are buried. It was originally only built for Timur’s grandson, who died during a military campaign. He had been considered to be the successor of the throne. The incredible tile work on the outside is only a tease for the beautiful carvings, ornamentation, and colorful red, blue, violet, and yellow stained-glass windows on the inside. Every headstone is made from marble, only Timur’s is from a solid block of dark green jade. If you look closely you can see a small crack down the center of the headstone. The legend is that Iranian shah Nadir ordered the jade to be removed and used in a sacred building in Iran. However, in his sleep Nadir saw Timur’s spiritual leader, who commanded him to return the stone. Scared, in the morning Nadir ordered the stone to be returned. On the way back to Samarkand, the jade fell in a river and broke into two pieces. The stones were eventually returned and the two pieces joined together again.
As we left Gir-Emur for the train station, I asked Sherry if anything we had done over the past two days interested him. He told me he didn’t understand what I was so excited about, it was just old pots and buildings. I’ve always been so eager to chase the romanticism of discovery and exploration in far off parts of the world. Though, while looking out over Gir-Emur one last time, my mind returned to images of home. Sherry showed me his home, and among the old pots and buildings, he showed me the importance of slowing down and opening your eyes to the beauty and stories in your own backyard.