We lugged our rather large bags to the train station at Tashkent to board our train to Samarkand. (Note for next trip: travel light! Balancing big strolleys and self over sleet covered paths is not fun.)
Uzbek trains are quite comfortable and the locals travel like us – with loads of luggage. They also have in-train entertainment. So we got to see Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Double Impact in Uzbek while a young couple on the seat next to us played Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” [listen] on their mobile phone. It didn’t stop me from sleeping but Nisha was clearly disturbed by this clash of cultures.
Samarkand was also snowed in when we arrived. Our hotel overlooked the Gur-e-Amir (we insisted on getting a room with a “view”) and we trooped off to see the mausoleum despite the snow. Samarkand’s monuments have always been captured in bright summer daylight. Seeing the Gur-e-Amir through snow was a rare and beautiful experience.
Nisha remembered a store from her last visit (when on a tour with Explore) where she’d picked up etched wooden tiles. When we got there, we were told the store was closed. Undeterred, we found out the owner’s number, pulled him out of his warm house and got him to open the store. Once he got there, in our now signature style called “gentle raiding”, we checked out everything he had.
Our nosy efforts paid off when we found a hidden stash of intricate delicate ceramic motifs etched on wooden tiles. The store owner’s brother was an artist who specialised in this craft. The patterns were inspired by tilework on the Gur-e-Amir, Shah-i-Zinda and Registan. They are absolutely stunning and are coming home with Nisha.
Two hours later, we were out with our selected pieces. The store owner was a little (!) miffed at being hauled out of his house – but now seemed to look happy. It is possible he was just glad to see us go. It does take nerves of steel to deal with us. As Nisha says, Zahid (our guide) has the patience of a saint. He keeps up with us, doesn’t abandon us when we bargain hard, has picked up a smattering of Hindi and has a zen-like aura even when we put him up to impossible schedules.