Our next stop was Samarkand (Also written as Samarqand). The journey by road takes about three hours. The road is good. We do see lot of cotton fields on both the sides of the road. The mulberry trees are planted on the roadside. The leaves are fed to silk worms and the bark is used to make silk paper (we are going to see the process.)
Half way we saw an ancient well. The construction is remarkable. It is a well covered by huge dome. The some keeps the water very clean and cool too.
Just opposite to the well, there is an ancient caravan sarai (yes the meaning of sarai is same as in Hindi). Right now, there is not much of it is left now.
Samarkand seems to be a modern town, but still it is there for many centuries. It had it’s dark and forgotten era, but as of today, it looks fascinating. By the time we entered the town, it was already lunch time.
After lunch, we went to Gur Emir. This majestic complex was built at the beging of15th century. It consists of Khanaka, the madrasah of Muhammad Sultan, grandson of Amil Timur and tomb of Amir Timur himself. (The Khanaka & madrasah are not renovated, as of now.)
The front entrance was designed by Architect Muhammed ibn Mahmud Isfanani.
The actual burial chamber is in the basement (which is not open to public.) Amir Timur himself, his two sons Shahrukh & Miranshah, grandsons Muhammad Sultan and Ulugbek and also Timur’s spiritual mentor Mir Said Baraka, are all buried there. There are gravestones in the chamber for all of them.
The walls are beautifully decorated with intricate designs. The grids on windows, panels, paintings are all stunningly beautiful.
You can not take your eyes off the ribbed dome. No wonder the basic design of this structure, was the basis on which, the Tajmahal was designed.
There is one peculiar stone tub in the yard. It served a duel purpose. It was used to extract juice from pomegranates and also served a statistical purpose of counting the casualties of a war. ( While proceeding on war, each warrior would put in a coin and on his return, he would pick one. The remaining number of coins, would be the indicator of lives lost at war. So sad, but true.)
Then we proceeded to Registan Ensemble (Yes, the word Registan, means place of sand, the same meaning of Hindi.) This ensemble of three magnificent buildings is landmark of Samarkand. Actually they were built in different centuries, but still make a harmonious,picture perfect place. The present day glory is due to efforts of Uzbekistani Engineers, who have worked very hard to recreate the glory of these medieval Islamic Architectural masterpieces. It comprises of three separate structures, 1) Ulugbek Madrasah, on the left 2) Tilla Qori Madrasah in the centre and 3) Sher-Dor Madrasah on the right. We will visit all of them.
Though the basic structures are few centuries old, there has been at least two centuries, during which the entire complex was left unattended. It was downfall of Samarakand as an important town on the silk route and the focus was on Bukhara. (Which we have seen earlier.) But once again, it has gained importance and we are lucky enough to witness it’s glory.
This place was actually a central place, where traders used to meet. It was also used to publicly announce the royal decrees. Later Ulugbek (grandson of Amir Timur) ordered the construction of a madrasah. It has 34.7 meters high pishtaq portal ( a projected rectangular portal) of the main iwan entrance. It has intricate geometric mosaic designs and calligraphic inscriptions.
On either side there is a minaret decorated with geometric designs. (Probably there were four, in each corner originally.) What we see today were in very bad condition and were leaning. They were repaired in the year 1965.
When we enter the madrasah, we see a large rectangular area. There is a mosque inside. The entire structure was completed in the year 1420. The architect of this structure is unknown, but it is believed that Ulugbec, himself had contributed to the design. (He was a prominent astronomer of his time.) Earlier it had a dome in the centre. But due to time, it has sunk and not visible from outside.
During the era of Ulugbek, this was the best Islamic education institute. Ulugbek himself and Qadi Zada al-Rumi (who was considered as Plato of his times) were guiding the students here. Unfortunately, Ulugbek was killed, by order of his own son.
This is he central building of the ensemble.It was constructed by order of Yalangtush Bahadur and it’s construction was completed in 1660.
This was the latest construction among the three but it is not replica of either of them. The main portal is smaller compared to other two but the wings are longer with 8 hujra cells each. It has two small minarets at either ends.
It has a mosque with beautiful blue dome. The mosque served the purpose of Friday Community Prayer. The mosque is stunningly beautiful and has highly decorated walls and mihrab.
The yard is surrounded by hujra cells, which are used as souvenir shops.
This madrasah is on the right hand side of the ensemble (when you see from the main road.) The word Sher-Dor means possessing lion. This is not the official name but is derived from the tiger like figure on the pishtaq. Actually it is cross between a lion and a tiger. They are shown catching a white dear and a The Sun is also depicted with human face. But the face is neither of a man or a woman. All these ambiguities may be due the fact that, Sharia does not permit drawing of human or animal figures. (These figures are printed on 200 som currency notes also.)
The construction of this building was completed in 1636. It was intended to be a reflection of Tilla-Qori Madrasah, which was already standing in front for 3 centuries, then. But it is not so. There was elevation difference between these two hence the new building was made shorter.
This madrasah has two ribbed domes on either side. There is no mosque inside.
All the three building have shops inside. It has a shop where you can see, how the mosaic designs were created.
When we went there, it was a Sunday and the place was bit crowded. I wanted to see these buildings again, when they were lit up. So we decided to leave the place for the time being.
To be continued.