It is one of the oldest cities in the world and before Tash¬kent, it used to be the capital of Uzbekistan. Samar¬kand still remains a picturesque place, full of ancient architectures. Now it belongs to Uzbekistan and is 310 km from the capital Tashkent and 278 km from Bukhara. Alexander had conquered Samarkand in 329 BC and the Greeks used to call it 'Marakanda'.
One morning, we took a taxi from our hotel to Reg¬istan, the centre of Samarkand. Uzbekistan is compara¬tively a cheaper country for Bangladeshis and anywhere you go by taxi inside the city, the charge is below €1 (ap-proximately Tk100).
The name Registan means a desert and perhaps the centre of Samarkand may have been a sandy place once, but for the last five hundred years, it has been the won¬der of the world for its three splendid medressas.
At first glimpse, the Ulugbek Medressa, the Sher-Dor Medressa and the Tilla-Kari Medressa looked similar to me with their gigantic blue doors. However, each build¬ing was built in different times. Tourists can climb up the minaret by paying additional fees.
The Ulugbek Medressa is the oldest of them all and it was finished in 1420 AD under the supervision of Ulug¬bek, the grandson of Amir Timur. Legend has it that he used to teach Mathematics here. Not only that, subjects like Astronomy, Philosophy and Theology were also taught here by scholars from all over the empire.
Inside each medressa, there is a large square, full of souvenir shops. At the corners are some tea and coffee shops. While sipping on a cup of tea, I looked around and wondered about the place that was full of stunning struc¬tures.
The Tilla-Kari Medressa's dome is covered with gold and the Sher-Dor Medressa has a giant gate with designs of tigers (or lions) on it.
From Registan, we started walking through the green parks towards the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, which was built shortly before Timur's death. This building used to be one of the biggest mosques in the world with a height of 41m. Timur's favourite wife Bibi Khanym had built it for him as a surprise after he returned from India.
The mosque is now in a poor condition because it was built in a hurry and back then, construction works were not very advanced.
According to legend, the architect who built the mosque had fallen in love with Bibi Khanym and de¬manded a kiss from her. When Timur heard it, he imme-diately executed the man and ordered for all women to cover themsleves with veils.
Then we went to see the Shah-i-zinda (tomb of the liv¬ing king) which is probably the second most scenic place in Samarkand. This shrine complex was built over eight centuries and now consists of more than twenty build¬ings. In those days, the richer and more famous people had grander tombs built with marble and jade.
The mausoleum complex had beautiful tile works which are preserved with great care.
For visiting the main attractions of Samarkand, you will need at least two days because one day would be too short, but you can easily spend a week in this city of marvel. One of the last places we visited was the Gur-e-Amir mausoleum, where Amir Timur, along with two of his sons and grandsons (including Ulugbek) and one of his teachers, are buried.
The whole complex did not have any precious metal work but the first Uzbek President Islam Karimov decid¬ed to gild the dome and the wall, which now glisten un¬der the light. We were fascinated to the see the grave of Amir Timur, a man who was loved as well as despised by many. When his 'Timurid' period was over, Samarkand was occupied by Uzbek nomads.
The buildings crafted during the Timurid period are strcutural wonders with double or triple domes which had vaults underdeath to provide extra support. The is¬lamic decorations were also unique.
Ghenghis Khan and his Mongolian army had destroyed many of the ancient architectures in Samarkand and it was Timur who took great initiatives to revive the city and its splendor. Timur gave orders to build shops and develop the city roads and these were to be executed immediately.
Famous traveler Ibn Battuta had described Samarkand as "one of the greatest cities with perfect beauty". But he had also noticed how great ruins of palaces were scattered near the river and how the city had no gates or walls.
Timur's grandson Ulugbek had also continued to de¬velop the city. He was more famous as a scientist, mainly an astronomer and he probably built one of the best as¬tronomical observatories of central Asia. He was how¬ever, not very successful as an emperor and was later assassinated by his relatives.
During our stay in Samarkand, we often visited Restau¬rant Samarkand, which is a big, fancy, palace like restau¬rant with elegant designs. Their dishes are delicious and the portion sizes are great. The kebabs were always freshly made and although not spicy, they tasted amazing.
One time we ordered a lot from the menu but were sur¬prised when the total bill was no more than $5-$7 per per¬son. We would often visit there because we really liked the experience and the steaming plates of scrumptious items.
If you visit this place, do not forget to order their pi¬laf, especially if you are a biriyani lover. It is said that the Mughals invented pilaf, which is the ancestor of our beloved biriyani.
As a traveller, I have been to many cities but the rail station in Samarkand is perhaps one of the cleanest rail stations I had ever seen. Not only that, the ticketing pro¬cess is also very systematic and quick.
The people in the city are very friendly and we always spotted groups of people with broad smiles who looked content with their lives.
After it is issued, the Uzbekistan e-visa is valid for 90 days. Visitors can have a single entry, double entry or multiple entry visa, which is for short stays (30 days total).
Once you fill out the form online, you have to pay the fee. There is no need to visit an office. Once the visa ap¬plication is approved, you will receive the approved visa in an e-mail. Children under the age of 16 will not require a visa, they need valid international passports.