Opens with a discussion about foreign relations -- normally they had their own sectors in cities, and could not live intermingled with native Chinese -- and various laws about the tribute and the trade. Emperors who wanted to appear virtuous or warlike might reject things as frivolous. Or slaves might be returned home on the grounds that such a breaking of family ties was unfitting. Also a discussion of how the other lands were divided up -- as far as Rome. The Greek legend of the war between the pygmies and the cranes certainly made it to China in this time.
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Passionate about their cultural heritage, Uzbeks maintain a high regard for their visionary emperor—Amir Timur. A pursuit of this history and the famed Silk Road leads to a journey into its historic city of Samarkand, which surprises and overwhelms in equal measures. The skies are lined with striking blue domes and the ground stands testament to a bygone era. The Registan sandy place in Tajik is the star attraction here—awe-inspiring, commanding in presence and replete with historical significance.
Originally a caravanserai for traders on the Silk Route, it derives its name owing to the sand that was spread across the area to keep it clean.
An ensemble of stunning minarets rising to the sky, domes cloaked in azure ceramic and entrances carved exquisitely to the last colourful tile with detail, the large frontal space was probably a bazaar for traders. Standing still, since Genghis Khan destroyed most of what was built before his time are three astounding madrasahs erstwhile Islamic schools, currently maintained only as tourist attractions.
The Ulugh Beg Madrasah—built in the 15th century in a short span of three years—is a prestigious centre for astronomical studies in the Islamic world. He was renowned for a compilation of star catalogues—a directory of planetary positions, 1, stars with coordinates and size specifications and a solar calendar with accurate hypothesis of the stellar year considered off the mark by only 62 seconds from modern calendars.
A room in the Ulugh Beg Madrasah is dedicated to his work, where depictions of his understanding of constellations and zodiacs can be found. Opposite stands the Sher Dor Lion Madrasah, built in the 17th century after nearly 18 hard years of labour to achieve a replica of Ulugh Beg Madrasah.
Decorated with the sun and roaring lions that appear more as tigers, these symbolise strength of the empire and Zoroastrian religion. Stealing central spotlight is the Tilla-Kari or gold-covered Madrasah, completed in with a lavish golden mosque, displaying the wealth of Samarkand at the time. Heavily restored, it was built in majolica style whole ceramic mosaic pieced together.
The turquoise blue dome has 63 ribs in its design, signifying the age of Prophet Mohammed. In June , the grave was exhumed by Soviet anthropologists who confirmed that Timur was lame and had an injured hand, and that Ulugh Beg had been beheaded. Destroyed by earthquakes, what you see now is a restored effort showcasing modern design.
The architect is said to have fallen madly in love with the Queen and refused to complete work until he could give her a kiss. Surrendering to his stubborn demand, the kiss left a mark on her cheek, which Timur later discovered. Locals tell different versions of what happened next. Some say the architect was beheaded and Timur ordered all women to henceforth wear veils to prevent attracting men hence the birth of burkhas. Others argue that the architect made wooden wings and flew to Persia believed to be the first version of a plane , while the Queen jumped from the minaret over ft high to prove her loyalty to Timur.
Whatever the conclusion, recollecting these legends in the open courtyard of the mosque transports listeners to another time and era. Constructed as a private colony, it feels like a mini-city within itself. Tombs of the royal family, their wives, military leaders and generals from the 11th and 12th century are housed here within stunning glazed tile design.
A complex of cool, quiet rooms each with differently designed entrances, this is also a revered site. Qusam ibn-Abbas, the cousin of Prophet Mohammed, is believed to be buried here.
Some locals believe that he was killed, but never died. This tomb is specially placed behind an entrance of massive, intricately carved black wood doors.
Hence, this section gains prominence as the Darvaza Jannat Gates of Heaven. A charming town located in a valley amidst Pamir Mountains, Timur wished to be buried here. The mausoleum he built for himself in the shape of a tent bears an inscription with his guiding principle of life: A wise and powerful man shall seek the advantage in every situation and act on his own, where as a fool waits upon the action of others.
Sometimes under a tree, on the roadside, in a garden or a busy bazaar , a chaikhana is where Uzbeks let time pause and indulge in conversations as the world goes by. Carpeted low day beds are placed on either side of a central table called a takhta. Take off your shoes, sit cross-legged, lean back on the pillows and enjoy tea in dainty china cups. Groups of old men clad in traditional attire of caftans and duppa black and white embroidered skull caps sit around with retired ease sharing a naan local bread.
Plov and somsa familiar to Indians as pulav and samosa are staple Uzbek diet available in meat and vegetarian varieties. Low on the spice quotient, these are normally teamed up with lagman soup and shashlik grilled meat. The showstopper, however, are the deliciously juicy watermelons not to be missed!
From a range of enticing dry fruits including Bukhara almonds, naan, mouth-watering local fruits like apricots, peaches and grapes to colourful sequined scarves, skull caps and local handicrafts—walking through this market is an unparalleled adventure. In Registan, souvenir stores and ceramic workshops fill the Madrasahs. As you walk around, you can see the artisans creating magic with the age-old art of ceramic design.
Imitations of chaikhanas and other ceramic artifacts are a good find. Look out for calligraphy artists who can inscribe chosen names with messages in traditional Farsi on decorative wall hangings—a romantic, memorable souvenir. No other city is as reminiscent of the Silk Road as Samarkand. Where the feet move to next on the Silk Road, is another story altogether. All visitors travelling to Uzbekistan require a visa.
The Silk Road to Samarkand
Along with Bukhara ,  Samarkand is one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia , prospering from its location on the trade route between China and the Mediterranean Silk Road. There is no direct evidence when Samarkand was founded. Researchers of the Institute of Archeology of Samarkand argue for the existence of the city between the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Samarkand has been one of the main centres of Sogdian civilization from its early days. By the time of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia it had become the capital of the Sogdian satrapy.
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