Samarkand and Beyond

Linford at the Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand
Linford at the Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand [Used without permission: Ed]

The Bibi-Khanym Mosque is one of the most important monuments of Samarkand. In the 15th century it was one of the largest and most magnificent mosques in the Islamic world. By the mid-20th century only a grandiose ruin of it still survived, but major parts of the mosque were restored during the Soviet period

After his Indian campaign in 1399 Timur (Tamerlane) decided to undertake the construction of a gigantic mosque in his new capital, Samarkand. When Timur returned from his military campaign in 1404 the mosque was almost completed. However, Timur was not happy with the progress of construction, and immediately had various changes made, especially on the main cupola.

From the beginning of the construction, problems of structural integrity of the structure revealed themselves. Various reconstructions and reinforcements were undertaken in order to save the mosque. However, after just a few years, the first bricks had begun to fall out of the huge dome over the mihrab. The scale of Timur’s plans pushed the building techniques of the time to their limit, and the building’s integrity was not helped by the rushed nature of its construction.

In the late 16th century the Abdullah Khan II (1533/4-1598), the last Shaybanid Dynasty Khan of Bukhara, cancelled all restoration works in Bibi-Khanym Mosque. After that, the mosque slowly deteriorated and became a ruins gnawed at by the wind, weather, and earthquakes. The inner arch of the portal construction finally collapsed in an earthquake in 1897. During the centuries the ruins were plundered by the inhabitants of Samarkand in search of building material, especially the brick of the masonry galleries along with the marble columns.

A first basic investigation into securing the ruins was made in Soviet times. Late in the 20th century, the Uzbek government began restoration of three dome buildings and the main portal. In 1974 the government of the then Uzbek SSR began the complex reconstruction of the mosque. The decoration of domes and facades was extensively restored and supplemented. During these restorations, a band of inscriptions revealing Surat Al-Baqarah (The Cow) of the Quran was added to the main sanctuary iwan (a vaulted portal opening onto a courtyard) of the mosque. As of 2016, work on the mosque restoration was ongoing.

How Far Have They Got?

Map of progress so far.

Charity Update

Many thanks to those that have donated.

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Week 8 Summary: Waiting at Samarkand

This map shows the weeks ride.

This week: 412 miles, 5,367ft and 33:10 hours riding

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Accumulated totals: 4668miles, 85,528ft and 355:35 hours riding

Day 52: Sunday August 4th: Ride & Paddle

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Route Day 52 – August 4th

Fly-through Map of Day 52.

We spent a pleasant evening site walking around the City of Bukhara looking at the temples and Mosques. All very impressive. It was good to look at some architecture rather than the desert and the contrast between the modern city and the old city was amazing. Later we choose an authentic Uzbekistan restaurant and had a great meal. Linney & I are feeling a lot better and Keith is nearly there.

Had a bit of a lie in in this morning: breakfast at 08:00 though we were all up just after 6 after a really good nights sleep. The phone rang a just after 7 saying that breakfast was ready. It was a really good spread; best we have had since we left Europe so we all had a good fill and filled our pockets up with the fruit and biscuits.

We were on the road just after 08:00 although we knew we had to stop fairly early to fill up and water. With Linney’s expert map-reading skills and picking a hotel on the right side of the city we were soon out on the open road. However the road was bad and we had a fierce head-wind. We knew we would face this for the first 25 miles or so. We stopped after about 18 miles as it was pretty hard going for tea and soft drinks. The guy did try and sell us everything in the cafe and he even came out with a tray of kebabs; we politely said ‘no thanks’.

Hay-cart probably on the wrong side of the road. Not bothered!
Hay-cart on the wrong side of the road. Not bothered!

We still rode into the head-wind but thankfully the road was getting better. We had heard that when we turned east the wind would be in our favour; no chance! We rode on all feeling the strain but just pushing through. Then we came to an avenue of trees and some welcome shade. It was like someone turning the power back on, it gave us a boost. Before we knew it we stopped at a little cafe for samosa, soft drink, a local chilled fruit drink and the new ice-cream and water-melon (probably the most refreshing fruit in the world).

Dale and Keith get wet inside and out
Dale and Keith get wet inside and out

Linney informed us we had roughly 32 miles to go. With the road improving and the wind finally coming into our favour, the shout went up ‘do we want to stop!’ All of us were nearly out of water so it was a ‘yes’. Keith spotted a paddling pool in a cafe over the other side of the road, so it was a no brainer, we had to stop there. Before I had got the water and soft drinks, Keith was in the pool. I quickly followed but would not be photographed in there till I had a beer. That was soon rectified when Linney said we have less than 10 miles to go and it’s a Sunday; happy days.

After the refreshing swim we lounge in the water with a beer. Soon we rolled into Navoi and quickly located a hotel. Again we had a bit of a problem paying, but the owner took us into the city to get some dollars and we were all sorted.

Day 53: Monday August 5th: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

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Route Day 53 – August 5th

Fly-through Map of Day 53.

Last night we ate adjacent to the hotel in a bar restaurant which had pretty good food and it was just a short stroll back. It was good to have some good quality WIFI, so we all made good use of it.

With breakfast at 7 we were all ready to roll by 7:30. We got out of the city quickly and soon we were on the highway to Samarkand. We were unsure if we would go all the way today as it depends on our planned spares delivery. We knew they were in Uzbekistan but not sure where.

Water-melon stop
Water-melon stop
Linford in new shirt
Linford in new shirt

We had a little stop at 20 miles for a cup of tea and then rode on against an ever increasing wind. We stopped for a bowl of yak soup and tea for lunch. Still no news on the delivery so we just took it easy until the 80 mile mark.

We had another bowl of soup (nicer this time), with bread and chips washed down with a couple of cold beers. Then on to the fun! There was a possibility of a hotel about a mile away. So we went for it. As we turned into the lane all the fruit-pickers made a big fuss of Linney: he just rode through smiling. We came to some big gates where gate-keeper let us through, then on into the grounds through a vine covered avenue. It all looked very weird. One guy stopped me and asked what we wanted. When I said ‘a room’, he seemed to understand. He took us inside. We all looked at each other. Was it some sort of hospital  or asylum?

At the asylum
At the asylum
Dale, locked in for the night
Dale, locked in for the night

The guy in charge said it was not a hotel, but we could stay. He instructed Jack Nicholson to take us to another building. We parked our bikes and handed over our passports to a nurse! Then we got shown to our room. No mention of costs yet.

We all had a shower and then went out as Linney thought he had noticed a shop earlier. He did but it was closed, so we just bought a fresh water-melon and borrowed a knife from one of the inmates who followed us to make sure she got it back. We had an early night after our melon feast with a view to getting away sharply in the morning though we have to get our passports back so that may delay us.

Day 54: Tuesday August 6th: Samarkand

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Route Day 54 – August 6th

Fly-through Map of Day 54.

Well we all survived! We were up at 6 and then spent an hour trying to to get someone to locate our passports. May be we were not going anywhere. Eventually we  found a guy who was the “English teacher” (bit of a theme going on here) and he said ‘room 35 at 7’. It turned out to be more like 7:30. No problem. For a free nights sleep beggars can’t be choosers.

Escaping the Asylum
Escaping the Asylum

We quickly got away. They were lovely people but the place was eerily weird and we’re still not sure what was going on.

On the road to Samarkand
On the road to Samarkand
Arriving in Samarkand
Arriving in Samarkand

Once on the roads we knew we had only 22 miles to Samarkand: just a little pedal. When we were far enough away and brave enough to stop we pulled over to a nice little cafe, for dougnuts, fried eggs and coffee. We also booked a hotel in Samarkand whilst we were stopped and then completed the final 16 miles with ease.

We booked into the hotel, showered and freshened up, and then went into the city for a bit of sightseeing and parcel tracking  with a haircut also on the agenda.

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The Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand. Built by Tamerlane in the 15thC, destroyed by an earthquake in 1897 and restored by the USSR.
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The Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.
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The Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.
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The Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.
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The Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.
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The Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.
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The Bibi-Khanym Mosque in Samarkand.

We all look smart in our new haircuts! We had already had a little look around the Registan Square so we headed west to look at the other sights and the architecture.

Dale gets a haircut
Dale gets a haircut

Day 55: Wednesday August 7th: A Day Off

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A day off cycling around Samarkand

Fly-through Map of Day 55.

First day off the bike today since 23rd June. The plan was to have a lazy breakfast, do a bit of bike maintenance, go to the local bike shops, and then do a bit of sightseeing. We still had not heard about our spares arriving.

Cycling around Samarkand
Cycling around Samarkand

It did feel a bit strange, getting on the bikes without all the baggage, and I also noticed that the drivers do not give you so much room! We cycled up to the first bike shop it was in the local football stadium. We found the stadium OK but no sign of a bike shop. I spoke to some players hanging around and they said he was having a day off today, same as us.

So we moved on to the next one, with Linney doing the map reading, through the centre of the city. All good fun, horns blaring, tyres screaming, us smiling. After the city centre we found a group of “bike shops”; none had the stuff we wanted, though one did have a front pannier bracket on a new bike, I tried to buy it, using all my charm, but I think my charm has left me since yesterdays haircut!

We went next door to the bicycle repair man (Monty Python sketch)! It was a bit like Dad’s back garden. It was a free for all! We ended up with some stuff we could strengthen our brackets with.The guy even drilled a few extra holes in some for us.

Pilov lunch in Samarkand
Pilov lunch in Samarkand

Later we had a meal out off the city communal bowl of Pilov (a local rice dish a bit like Spanish Paella). It was really nice. Then bit of sightseeing, a tour of the market and back to the digs to fit the supports to the panniers.

Wandering around Samarkand
Wandering around Samarkand

Day 56: Thursday August 8th: Distant Mountains

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Route Day 56 – August 8th

Fly-through Map of Day_56.

We were back on the bikes today after our rest day. Unfortunately the spare parts did not arrive in time [other theories: they rode too quickly, they run out of patience or they assumed the postal services were run by camels: Ed], apparently the pannier stuff is in Moscow and the tyres are in Tashkent! So we have had to make do and mend: nothing can go wrong.

With the bikes all ready we had breakfast at the hotel then set off around 08:30. Like always it was a bit difficult getting out of the city, but we were soon heading for Jizzakh. We stopped on the outskirts for water top ups and a bit of chat with the owners.

Water-melon stop
Water-melon stop

The road was pretty good but we knew we had a head-wind for most of the day so it was just a matter of pushing through it. The scenery was changing: first through fruit orchards, apple trees mainly [this is the part of the world where the apple was first domesticated: Ed], it made a really pleasant change from the desert and, in the distance, you could see the mountain ranges through the hazy sun: all making for different riding.

Distant mountains
Distant mountains
Irrigation water-wheel
Irrigation water-wheel
Into the mountains
Into the mountains
Into the mountains
Into the mountains
Hotel? With camel statues.
Hotel? With camel statues.

We stopped for a coffee and a soft drink, Keith said ‘No coffee? What sort of cafe is this?’, the guy just smiled at him and said we have char, so thats what we had. The head-wind was getting a bit stronger but we were making reasonable progress and with the knowledge that within the next 10 miles or so we should be finished with the climbing.

On the road
Dale, on the road
On the road
Linford, on the road
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Linford in the hotel pool – training

Day 57: Friday August 9th: Another Border Approaches

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Route Day 57 – August 9th

Fly-through Map of Day 57.

After yesterday’s swim training in the hotel pool and a relaxing meal in the hotel restaurant we retired to bed pretty early.

Breakfast was at 7, but we were up checking the bikes before hand (obviously not good enough). Had breakfast then tried to pay the bill, its never that easy in Uzbekistan, had to pay in Som, not dollars, so it meant a trip to the bank after all. It took me nearly half an hour to go through the passport hotel checks, I thought the guys would be waiting for me, however they had Linney front wheel off to change the inner tube. We then went to the bank, never easy even in the UK, we did not get going till 10:00 but at least we had some cash.

Once we got going we started to make good time on relatively good roads and with a nice tail-wind. We stopped for lunch after 3 hours of good cycling and had a nice meal in a rustic place. We all had the rice dish and tea.

Just after we left Linney spotted a small cycle shop and he managed to get another spare inner-tube so that was good. With a late start and over 80 miles to do we pushed on Keith taking the front. Before long he was nowhere to be seen. Linney and I kept a reasonable pace but could not see Keith in the distance. Before long the road forked; the left hand side going to Tashkent and the right side heading towards Bekobod – our intended destination. As the junction was a bit tricky Linney & I were unsure if Keith had taken the correct route.

As we pushed on with less than 15 miles to go we were sure Keith would have pulled over, but there was no sign of him. We even got stopped by some army patrol guys in the border zone. We tried to ask them if they had seen another cyclist but could not get them to understand.

With less than 5 miles to go we pulled over at a junction and decided to wait, just got our ice cream when we received a pin drop from Keith at the hotel; good stuff so we rolled in behind him, pretty good really as it meant Keith did all the booking stuff.

We had a quick shower and then out on the bikes to the local restaurant about 2 miles away for a few beers and a well earned meal.

[Sadly no photos were forthcoming for this day – I think they fell foul of copyright regulations: Ed]

Day 58: Saturday August 10th: Trouble at the Border

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Route Day 58 – August 10th

Another border crossing day. We broke with tradition and went with Dave’s kit, more about that later. [wtf: Ed]

Once again we are celebrities as we are the hotel’s first tourists. It’s only been open 6 months and it’s been mainly contractors from the new factory. Therefore we had the customary photo shoot before leaving. Keith had also done the due diligence on the border crossing – all good – more about that later also.

Approaching the Tajikistan Border post
Approaching the Tajikistan Border post [probably: Ed]

So we left in good spirits, knowing the border crossing was about 5 miles away. We threaded are way through the town and market and then we had guys saying ‘no you will not be able to cross’, but on we went, only be told we could not go through; ‘only locals not tourists’. It was not what we wanted to hear. We showed him our visa with a smile but it was still no go. Bit of a theme going on here. We had a little bit of a re-think on the side of the road. It’s 27 miles to the next border. Let’s go!

Sluice!
Sluice!

On the way Linney was riding no-handed as he re-routed us. It’s a big day but we may be able to manage it depending on how the border crossing goes. So we just went for the crossing full steam ahead. The roads weren’t so bad and we hit the border in good time.

We had a drink and then started the well-rehearsed process. We were soon through the Uzbekistan side and into the Tajikistan side. On we went. It was really chaotic. We did meet a local tour guide in the queue and he told us they let the tourists go first. In truth it’s just a free for all and we just stayed close by him.

Keith was first at the check and after about 15 mins they told him to go and take a seat. We were about four persons back in the queue. I went next and sailed through. Then Linney was through after a comment about how nice his hair was; he has admirers at every crossing!

We waited for Keith. Eventually the tourist guide came over and said there was a problem with the date on Keith’s visa. He gave Linney his number and said give him a call if we need an interpreter. Keith came out and said they will not let him through. We had a little chat. Not an option; all through or none through. I gave it one last chance and went back and asked to see a border crossing guy. I explained we had a typo on the visa which was a wrong date; it looked like he might buy it until the original guy came over and said ‘No’. We will have to re-route. [apparently Keith’s visa had an entry stamp dated the 16th, not the 6th. Wait 6 days and it’ll be fine. Fortunately the geography is kind and it was simple to re-route and avoid Tajikistan altogether and stay in Uzbekistan – see the map above: Ed]

So back we went to Uzbekistan. Within half an hour as we were riding we had a plan; ride till as late as we can, camp, then another big ride tomorrow and we’ll be back on track. Nothing can go wrong.

We stopped around half three for a bowl of soup, soft drink, and a quick beer; it was hot. We then pushed on, Linney doing his research no-handed said we had a possible hotel at 75 miles but that made for a massive day on Sunday. We said let’s just see how we feel, so we carried on.

Cows approaching
Cows approaching
Cows and Cow-Herders
Cows and Cow-Herders

Just outside the town of Almalyk I hit a massive pot hole and got a double puncture. With Formula 1 speed we had them done in no time (naturally accompanied by the normal swearing and cursing); no sheep were to blame this time [see the Durness tour: Ed].

We stopped at the first hotel Keith noticed but it was not a hotel but a wedding venue. We sent Linney in but we still could not get a room. Then we went to the only proper hotel in town. This was also fully booked with the weddings.

Plan B: eat then get a some food for the morning and camp. By the time we had eaten and got our stuff from the supermarket it was dark. So it was lights on and find a place to camp. We did about another 9 miles through the town of Ohangaren, picked some cold beers up and selected a lovely site on the outskirts of town. We set up camp, had the beers, and then bed. It had a tough day.

Barking dogs, trains and prayers theme for tomorrow. [I think Dale was raving by this point: Ed]

[Also I totally blame the border failure on a) the wrong shirt and b) the Slide Away bear not wearing the Tajikistan badge: Ed]

Everyday and ALL the Details

Overland To India

See how Ben and Jess are getting on as they take a more southern route across Asia to India. You can catch up with them here. An excerpt is below.

They have now reached Georgia (the country not the US state obviously) and have cycled 3000+ miles.

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Jess and Ben on the road from Turkey to Georgia

 

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