Trip Tips: Perception versus reality on the reconstructed Silk Road

Thu Dec 26, 2013 7:22pm EST
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By Peter Ward

SAMARKAND (Reuters) - I had a smile on my face as I strode across the tarmac of Samarkand airport, for I had arrived at last in the city I had toiled for four years to recreate as a novelist.

My expectations of seeing everything I had researched about one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world - it was founded in 700 B.C. by the greatest traders of the old Silk Road, the Sogdians - could hardly have been higher.

Samarkand was once one of the greatest cities of Central Asia, the "Rome of the East". I was travelling in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Marco Polo and Tamerlane. Now the second city of Uzbekistan after its capital, Tashkent, the mantle of history lies heavy on Samarkand.

I was making this trip in the height of comfort and convenience, travelling by private jet and chartered train as guest lecturer with a luxury tour company.

Of all the cities of the Silk Road, Samarkand is without doubt the most evocative. To 19th century orientalists such as James Elroy Flecker, who wrote "The Golden Road to Samarkand", it was the home of all the romance and poetry in the East.

For 2,500 years Samarkand maintained its position as the richest and most populous metropolis on the Central Asian section of the Silk Road - the series of routes on which goods, people, philosophies and culture flowed back and forth from China to the Mediterranean and all points in between.

I was attracted to Samarkand as the primary location for my novel, especially when I learned that an equally legendary and despotic ruler made it his capital city in medieval times.

Timur the Lame - better known to us in the West as Tamerlane or Tamburlaine the Great, constructed at a furious pace all the beautiful mosques, madrasas (Islamic religious schools), gardens and squares of this amazing city.   Continued...

Women walk in Samarkand June 9, 2007. REUTERS/Maria Golovnina