When travelling we have stayed in some wonderfully picturesque campsites. It’s safe to say that parking on the street in Samarkand did not fall into that category. The authorities in Uzbekistan require that you register your stay in the country every few nights so you are compelled to use the services of a hotel. Not that the one we were parked outside was that bad, it allowed us to sleep in our vehicle and agreed to register us for a small fee it’s just that it did not have that dramatic wilderness feel of our campsites of the last few weeks.
But then we were not in Samarkand for wilderness but instead we were at the heart of the Silk Road and the heart of the empire that Amir Timur built in the fourteenth century. And at the city’s heart was one of the most impressive sights in Central Asia or the Islamic world, The Registan. Our parking spot may have been a bit noisy but you couldn’t fault its location. We could glimpse one side of The Registan from our window and when we went out that evening we were able to admire it lit up in all its glory.
After having had a wonderful week in the Pamirs we had turned away from the Afghan border and headed further into Tajikistan. As the roads improved so did the volume of the traffic and the crazy overtaking. We thought it was going to be a lot harder to find places to camp but on our first evening we turned down a side road, and after asking the nearby locals if it was ok, parked up for the night a short walk from a reservoir.
The next day we decided to bypass the capital Dushanbe and instead headed back up into the mountains, this time the Fan Mountains to spend a couple of nights by the side of beautiful Iskander-Kul. As we wound our way around the lake we came across the President’s summer house situated in a lovely spot with a view over the lake. He didn’t seem to be in residence so we were sure he wouldn’t mind if we parked for the night just down the road from him.
Heading down from the mountains the lowlands of Tajikistan were hot and the land was been intensively farmed. We headed into the second largest city in the country, Khojand and found a place to park by the river. The parking spot wasn’t much but it came with a bonus, a large car wash so we were able to remove the weeks of dust that had accumulated on the truck. That night we headed into town to sample Tajik kebabs.
The next day was an early start as we were crossing the border into Uzbekistan. We had heard a number of horror stories regarding the crossing and how they could spend hours searching your vehicle and were particularly concerned with any medicines you brought in. Leaving Tajikistan was very easy with the biggest concern being whether we had enjoyed ourselves but the guard on the gate to Uzbekistan was surly and made us wait while he decided whether to open the gate or not. Not a good sign. In the end entry into Uzbekistan was costly but straightforward. The guards did search the truck but not extensively and with good humour. They only gave a passing glance to our extensive medical kit. We would have been through the border in an hour except for the fee for a vehicle of over 6 tonnes to enter the country, a whopping $665. We had heard about this possible charge but had hoped it wouldn’t have applied to us. We spent an hour arguing with the customs officials that surely we must be exempt and it only applied to commercial vehicles. They were very helpful making a few calls to see if there was any way around it. We are fairly sure it was a legitimate charge as they showed us the relevant regulations which we could just about understand with our bad Russian and when we did pay it was at a bank and we received very impressive receipts! There was even a list of 27 countries whose vehicles are exempt and we asked the customs officer to read the list to us. I got hopeful when he started reading a list of EU countries, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany etc but when it came to the UK it was not there. No this was not just a Brexit effect, France wasn’t on the list and nor were Italy or Spain. We heard how a Frenchman had spent 2 days at the border arguing before paying so in the end what could we do but pay. We couldn’t go back as we no longer had a valid visa for Tajikistan.
With that behind us it was time to head to Samarkand and the wonderful night view of The Registan.
Samarkand though is not just about The Registan, it’s a large city and we spent most of our time around the historical part. Gilly and I had visited 21 years ago and whilst the sights were the same the roads around them had changed. It had been smartened up and the roads with the traffic had been moved further away from the sights.
We had a wonderful mornings sightseeing visiting the Shah-i-Zinfandel, an avenue of grand mausoleums followed by the Bib-Khanym Mosque.
From there though it was time for us to take a full tour of The Registan in the daylight. Whilst it was full of souvenir shops they could not detract from the dramatic beauty of the Madrasahs and of the impressive square they made with the three of them together. It must have been quite a site for the caravans when they rolled into town after weeks in the desert all those centuries ago.
One other thing we hadn’t expected in Samarkand was to meet some other overlanders in trucks. The hotel we were parked at was full of long distance cyclists and when we arrived there was another overland truck already parked there. They left the next morning but later that afternoon a Belgian/French family pulled in. As they had 4 children this proved to be great company for Alisha and Lucy even if they only knew a few words of each other languages. We fared much better as Nicholas and Johanna spoke English well. After not having met many overlanders in Asia it was great to have some to talk too about the journey ahead, they were heading to Australia so we each had tips to share on the journey in front.
We had two lovely evenings with them going out to enjoy local Uzbek food. And on the last night we all had to come back for one last view of the simply magnificent Registan.