Travel Notes. Travel to Samarkand

A little bit of history
The history of the development of railways on the territory of Uzbekistan springs from 1874 when a special commission considered it necessary to construct the Orenburg – Tashkent branch line. However, later the decision was changed. The first steel railway was supposed to join Tashkent with the Eastern coast of Caspian Sea. The construction of the railway began in November, 1880. In 5 years the builders reached Ashkhabad and Charjow in 1886. In May 1888 when a wooden bridge over Amudarya was raised, the train traffic to Samarkand opened. In 1899 the railway reached Tashkent. Simultaneously a section to Fergana Valley was built.

A little earlier, in 1880 – 1881 a railway line that joined Western Turkmenistan and Caucasus was constructed. In 1898, the railway extended to Samarkand and soon ran to Tashkent. Thus, in 1990 one could reach Samarkand from two directions: from the side of Charjow (Turkmenistan) and Tashkent. The Central Asian railway allowed to strengthen the military influence of Russian tsarism in Turkestan, opened a vast market for Russian industry goods, facilitated the export of rich gifts of nature such as cotton needed for the Russian cotton factories, and called into being the striving for expanding the production of this products in the country.

The completion of the economic joining of Central Asia and Kazakhstan to Russia is concerned with the construction of the Central Asian and Orenburg-Tashkent railways. Orenburg-Tashkent railway passed within the bounds of Kazakhstan over the length of 1688 km from Ak-Bulak station to Keles station (now the small city of Keles is located right after the Tashkent boundary). The construction was carried out simultaneously from two directions: from Tashkent and from Orenburg. The railway was built in the course of 1900 – 1905. The carriage of passengers began from 5th January 1905.

Our days
The slowly increasing inflow of tourists and the demands made by the local passengers served as a ground for launching the Tashkent-Samarkand-Tashkent railway route on convenient days: Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The trip takes 3 hours. If you are going to Samarkand on business, then depart on Sunday in the morning. You will have an entire day for an excursion and buying traditional Samarkand gifts: lepyoshkas (round cakes), sweets, wine. From Monday you will have other things in mind – you will be absorbed in the problems of your business. We heard a lot about this train. We were provided by a wonderful opportunity to test the comfort of this route by OJS Co “Uzjeldorpass”. The editor of the magazine – Dilyara Belova and the photographer – Artur Konovalov set out on the journey.

It was very cozy and comfortable in the carriages. The atmosphere was created by small lamps, modern nickel-plated handles, toned glass doors, a new carpet covering in the holding alley and the smiling ladies-conductors. There are 6 soft armchairs and table in front of the window, which is pulled out for breakfast and dinner in each compartment. The cost of breakfast or dinner is included in the cost of the trip. Depending on class the price is US$8 and US$15 per passenger. The food assortment consists of biscuits, cheese and sausage sandwich, chocolate, jam and a sponge-cake. The evening meal includes also a glass of juice. There is a bar where one can go to get stronger drinks in one of the coaches. By the traditions of Eastern hospitality, tea (black or green) as well as coffee await the passengers on the tables of each compartment. The time goes by unnoticed at watching videocassettes with popular films and music videos, at a conversation with fellow travelers. There is a display set in the holding alley, which shows the air temperature in the coach and outside, the speed of train, the journey time and the arrival time. The passenger is given a warm plaid by request but this happens in exceptional cases – the temperature in the train is maintained by special air conditioners and heaters. The equipment in the lavatories conforms to world standards, everything is provided for. We would like to note that the footboard of the coaches is set on the same level with the platform. Both in Tashkent and Samarkand and old or tired tourist will not have to climb ladders. It is enough to simply step into the coach or onto the platform of the railway station.

The route passes the territories of a few provinces: Tashkent, Syrdarya, Jizak and Samarkand. You will receive brief historical, geographical and demographical information as well as find out about industry and agriculture by listening to an audiocassette in three languages: Russian, Uzbek and English. A special impression on the travelers is made by the rocky mountains not far from Jizak – the so-called Tamerlan’s Gates. A great number of legends is connected to them. This piece of line dates from the times, which we have talked about above. Sometimes one may hear that “the railway is built on bones”. There is a grain of truth in this because during the times of Tsarist Russia everything was built by toil, which was beyond the strengths of simple peasants. Every holiday the ladies-conductors decorate the coach with relevant symbolism. In the days of Navruz celebration the passengers may taste sumalyak.

During this trip our photographer was lucky to visit the mausoleum of Imam Bukhari, Registan and other architectural monuments as a member of a tourist group (organized by “Shirin-Sayoh” – a tourist firm from Samarkand).In the Central park of Samarakand the tourist firm organized a delicious dinner: shurpa (soup), plov, salad and sweet-scented tea. Despite our repeated trips to Samarkand on magazine business, we experienced immense pleasure. For the first time we have visited Samarkand like ordinary tourists. An interesting trip in a comfortable train, in a good bus and in a company of young people, delicious lunch and an opportunity to take pictures left a lasting impression on us.

13.10.2008
“Time Out” Tashkent

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