We started our day at the Ulugh Beg Observatory in Samarkand. This is an ancient observatory of an old prince that was far more interested in the stars and science than he was conquering foreign lands. His observatory, built in the 1420s, calculated the length of a year with his accuracy only being off by less than 30 seconds. After Ulugh Beg was put to death by his own son his observatory was razed to the ground and forgotten about. Only the underground part was rediscovered centuries later. That’s what you’re looking at here. We paid the 30,000 som for the English tour and it was well worth the money. First off, it’s only $3 and second, he was highly knowledgeable and we learned a lot. I recommend it.
Next, we went to the “Tomb of the Prophet Daniel.” I put that in quotes because #1 you have to believe such a person actually existed in the first place and #2 a simple Google search will come up with at least nine different tombs all claiming to be the tomb of the Prophet Daniel, and yes, all the same one. It’s the same thing as when we went to see the burial place of Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, in Ireland. I’m sure what I’ve typed here is heresy and someone’s gonna put a fatwa out on me but I still like to see this history. Was Daniel a giant? Why is his tomb so long? The teacher in me is forcing me to tell you to look it up. Not really. It’s just late at night, I’m tired, and I’m too lazy to type it up and it’s a simple google search away. Teach yourself something funny. Go!
Next, we went to the Afrasiab Museum at the Afrasiab archeological site. It was amazing! If you’re into history, you really must go! The site dates back to the 2nd century CE and was discovered in 1965. Their pride and joy piece is a large four wall mural. This museum was one of the best, if not the best, we have seen so far in Uzbekistan, no, I’m going to say the best. But remember you’re reading a world history teacher’s blog here. There’s my kid looking ever so excited to be brought to yet another museum.
Next it was time to eat. We wanted to see the the Siab Bazaar just because it’s been fully operational since the middle ages, so we walked over and found a restaurant to eat at near there. We found a place that was obviously a tourist trap but we were hungry so we stopped anyway. They had a simple straight forward menu: shashlik (barbeque), laghman(noodles), salad, bread, tea. Yeah. We were right. It was more expensive than it should have been, but whatever, it was clean, it was good, we’re on holiday, and the server was friendly. We felt better after getting some food in us too. The name of the place was Kyzyl Chaixona.
Now we were ready to move again. We went to the 15th c. Bibi-Khanym Mosque. It is in various states of restoration and we loved it. One of the buildings is in a terrible state of disrepair, one you can see has had some work done to it, and one is almost completely restored to its original glory. We also bought some art from a this guy. It takes him six days to complete one piece and he sells them for $20 USD.
While were there we we ran into a large group of local teens and their English teacher. I’m not exactly sure what they were doing there but they were eager to talk with us! They asked us lots of questions about American culture and were often surprised by our answers. They kept talking about how big the salaries are in the US but we kept mentioning how expensive the cost of living is. For example, a 20oz bottle of Coca-Cola only costs fifty cents here, an ice cream costs twenty five cents, a taxi ride across town is less an a dollar. Sure! Their salary may be less, but so is their cost of living.
It also blew the teacher’s mind when we told him ivy league schools are only about making connections. You don’t really get a better education at Harvard than you do at, say Kennesaw State University. The difference is at Harvard you might be going to school with Bill Gates’ kid or niece and you win all the connections that will help you later in life. The guy was blown away! He was like no way!! I thought things like that only happened here!!! We said nope. They happen in the US too.
We also had a small world experience while we were there. We met a professor of journalism at a university in Almaty! He speaks fluent English, we exchanged numbers, and said we’ll all hang out when we get back to town.
Next we went to Bibi-Khanym’s Mausoleum. I’ve had a thing for the dead since I was a kid. In the US people get really disturbed by it, but in the rest of the world it’s totally acceptable to go on tours like this. We did our whole mummy tour of Italy a couple years ago, there are ossuaries in France and ossuaries in Czechia, the mausoleums here are a major tourist attraction. No one here looks at me like I’m a freak when I say I’m heading over to see the mausoleums tomorrow.
The last thing we did today was see Uzbekistan’s first president, Islam Karimov, the authoritarian tyrant’s mausoleum. There are so many pictures and statues of him everywhere I was surprised there weren’t a bunch of flowers being laid by his grave like they do for Mao in Beijing. I did see old women praying to him. I wish I could have snapped a picture but there were no photograph signs clearly posted and the police had their eyes on me. Of course, I snapped some pics when I could but I missed the old ladies praying at Karimov’s tomb.
I lied. The last thing we did today was have ice cream. We had a jam packed day. We were on the move from 9 in the morning to 8 at night. Tomorrow it’s the Samarkand paper factory where they still make paper by hand and it has a 2,000 year guarantee.