The New York Times journalist Charly Wilder wrote an article about her trip together with her husband along the Silk Road, including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
“My husband, Roham, and I were at the two-thirds point of a trip I’d been dreaming about for years: following a section of the Silk Road through the Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, a part of the world that for centuries was a cradle of civilization — the holy grail of empire-builders from Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan — but that, until recently, has been difficult, if not impossible, for Westerners to visit” - writes the traveler journalist in her New York Times article.
She says that for generations the region’s Buddhist and Zoroastrian temples, ornate mosques and madrassas, ancient bazaars, and breathtaking natural landscapes were hidden behind the Iron Curtain.
Charly describes the beginning of their journey, which starts in the capital city of Uzbekistan – Tashkent, further continuing the trip to the ancient and holy city of Bukhara. Charly Wilder compares Bukhara to Baghdad, describing it as an intellectual lodestar of the Islamıc world, highlighting that the city was a center for trade, scholarship, religion and culture, stretching back to millenniums. She also mentions the great poets Ferdowsi and Rudaki, who composed their best works in Bukhara, as well as Avicenna (Abu Ali Ibn Sino), father of modern medicine, who wrote the treatises imprinting centuries of scientists and philosophers from Cairo to Brussels.
“The trip from Berlin had not been easy, but two days of low-cost air travel hell were forgotten the moment we stepped out at dawn into the 17th-century Lyabi-Hauz plaza. Two blue-tiled madrassas flanked a vast stone reservoir, along with a Sufi cloister and a teahouse, all of which stood empty and blanketed in mist, silent but for the screeching of birds in the mulberry trees” – says the author describing the famous Lyabi-Havuz of Bukhara city.
“We slept for a few hours at Lyabi House Hotel, one of several bed-and-breakfasts in Bukhara housed in 19th-century Jewish merchants houses, and then headed for the Po-i-Kalon religious complex, the city’s architectural highlight. Located south of the ancient Ark citadel, Po-i-Kalon includes the exquisite 12th-century Kalon Minaret, one of only two buildings in the city spared by Genghis Khan. For centuries, condemned criminals were thrown from the top, leading to the minaret’s nickname: the Tower of Death. Some believe the ornate diamond patterning of its kiln-fired brickwork is the inspiration — via Marco Polo — for the Doge’s Palace on San Marco square in Venice”.
“In a kind of trance we walked the town’s maze of blue-domed mosques, mosaic-tiled courtyards and former caravanserais (essentially inns where travelers could rest with their animals), all threaded together by ancient arcades only partially defiled by tacky tourist development. Between two domed bazaars, where locals now hock handicrafts of variable quality and authenticity, we visited the Maghok-i-Attar, Central Asia’s oldest mosque and a palimpsest of Bukharan religious history: a 16th-century reconstruction of a ninth-century mosque built atop the remains of a fifth-century Zoroastrian fire temple, which was itself built on top of an earlier Buddhist temple. Then we decamped to the 350-year-old Bozori Kord Hammam to be steamed, scrubbed, massaged and rubbed with honey and ginger by various members of the Iranian-Uzbek family that now owns it”.
Further, the author writes about their dinner at the sunset, where they had a table on the terrace of a restaurant called Minzifa, overlooking the sun-bleached domes and rooftops of Bukhara. Charly Wilder goes into the details and pre-history of the local cuisine, mentioning that is was shaped by diverse culinary cultures, from East Asia to the Mongolian steppe to the Persian Gulf.
“A salad of Chinese cabbage, cucumber, onion and beef in a soy-sesame chile dressing was followed by plov, or rice pilaf, the Persian-influenced Central Asian staple that probably originated in the culinary methods of the Islamic golden age, pollinating national rice dishes from Spanish paella to Indian biryani. Rice is browned with meat — usually, lamb or mutton — then stewed in a caldron called a kazan with onions, garlic and carrots, and spiced with cumin, coriander, barberries or raisins, marigold and pepper. Minzifa’s version was delicate and flavorful, an ideal lead-in to well-charred shish kabob of lamb and beef, washed down with the ubiquitous Central Asian green tea” – that is how the traveler journalist expresses her impressions about the local food.
The treasures of Samarkand
After finishing their trip to Bukhara, the couple moves to Samarkand, pointing out that the sleek high-speed train line has drastically reduced travel times in the country, running, as of 2018, all the way from Tashkent to the Silk Road city of Khiva in the west.
“Cotton fields flashed by in the blue of the morning until we finally reached Samarkand, a city as old as Rome or Babylon, whose architectural riches surpass even Bukhara’s — many built by Timur (also known as Tamerlane), the Turco-Mongol conqueror of the late Middle Ages who made it his capital”
At the Ulugbek Observatory, one of the first and finest in human history, Charly and her husband gaze down into a trench at the remaining quadrant of the great meridian arc that allowed early astronomers to measure time and celestial objects with breathtaking accuracy.
From the Registan, Samarkand’s ancient central square with its triptych of madrasahs, the travelers walk to the forgotten-feeling Old Jewish Quarter, then headed to the Shah-i-Zinda necropolis, a vast labyrinth of blue-tiled, honeycomb-vaulted mausoleums where pilgrims and tourists wander in awed silence among the mosaic and majolica.
“The sites were extraordinary, but even more than Bukhara, Samarkand suffers from overdevelopment of its tourist attractions. Shah-i-Zinda was aggressively restored in 2005, and pushy souvenir-sellers now clog the beautiful, holy madrassahs of the Registan”.
The journalist’s trip to Uzbekistan with her husband ends the next morning, where they take a taxi out of Samarkand and deeper into the lush Zerafshan Valley, passing cotton and wheat farms and fields of blood-red poppies, until they reach the Tajik border.