We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.
This is a verse from the poem The Golden Journey to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker. After reading it as a teenager, my interest in one day traveling the ancient Silk Road to Samarkand began to grow. It inspired some serious wanderlust.
A decade later, I booked a flight to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. From there I traveled west to Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, and then far from the beaten path into the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. This trip took place in September 2014.
On my first day in Tashkent, I came across this statue of Amir Timur. Better known to the west as Tamerlane, he was the warlord ruler of the Timurid Empire. Behind him stood a giant concrete block of Stalinist architecture. Two symbols of this region - ancient and recent, Islamic and secular, Middle-Eastern and Russian - coming together to represent the biggest influences on the Uzbekistan of today.
I loved walking along the leafy boulevards of modern Tashkent, taking rides on the Soviet-era subway system, and enjoying a beer in one of its outdoor park bars. However, there was a heavy security presence. Soldiers checked my documents and scanned my bags each time I entered a subway station. Uzbekistan is a strictly-controlled police state.
The stunning blue tiles of ancient warlord ruler Tamerlane’s capital and Flecker’s poem, the city of Samarkand, are still made from clay and by hand to this day. Marveling at such beauty, it’s easy to forget that in the process of spreading his empire, he is said to have killed more than seventeen million people.
From atop the Friday mosque's minaret, I could gaze upon sun-baked mud roofs spreading out into the distance, blue-tiled domes rising above a mud-roofed sea, the heads of camels bobbing in between houses, traders milling though streets. I felt I'd traveled back in time a thousand years. Certainly at least 100 years, for I knew this is the ancient Silk Road I'd read about in Flecker's poem as a teenager.
Thanks for taking a look! I hope you enjoyed my architectural tour of Uzbekistan. I thoroughly recommend going. It's safe for travel and the people are wonderfully friendly!
It's not too late to get an entry into our latest Weekly Theme contest. This week it's titled How To Take Good Architectural Photography and will be judged by PhotoBlog superstar member Helen Hooker. Best of luck everyone!