Day 8: Ulugbek’s Observatory, Registan and a Search Mission for Calligraphy

There are such names in the world, which unwillingly lead people to the world of dreams. The magic and fame of these words immediately impact your mind when you hear or read about them. There is such a name among them that attracts our imagination to itself, it is SAMARKAND. It seems that this name emerged from the whirlpool of clear and diverse colours, the scent of perfume, fabulous palaces, bells of caravans, pure melodies and yet misunderstood feelings.

Federico Mayor (Director General of UNESCO 1987-99)

Museum at Ulugbek's Observatory

Museum at Ulugbek’s Observatory

It was our last day in Samarkand. And we couldn’t agree more with the sentiment above. Samarkand (despite the overzealous restoration) had captivated us and one visit was just not enough to soak in its history, its towering monuments and the stories of warriors, kings and artists who defined this city.

We started the day with a visit to Ulugbek’s observatory. Ulugbek (or Ulugh Beg) was Timur’s grandson and a famous astronomer (who had a rather ghastly end to his life). His observatory is believed to have inspired Jai Singh to build five observatories in India, including the famous Jantar Mantars at Delhi and Jaipur. Ulugbek also set up three medressas in this region and is known to have recorded over 1,000 stars. Way back in the early 15th century, he also accurately estimated the duration of a year (with a minor margin of error of one minute two seconds).

Nisha looked puzzled as we made our way to each monument until Zahid explained that the area around the observatory had been renovated since she was last here in 2005. What looked like a quaint sleepy town then now looks like any European town but with a difference. Walls have been built to stop a tourist from seeing how local people live, especially around the majestic Registan area. It is all a bit bizarre and not really in keeping with a town that has existed for more than 2,700 years. The monuments however are spellbinding. Our firm favourites are the Bibi Khanum mosque and Shah-i-Zinda.

We made a customary visit to the Bukhara Silk Factory. The carpets were all handknotted and to die for but frightfully expensive. We gushed, sighed and had to walk away.

And then Nisha set out on her next mission. She managed to track down the calligrapher she’d met outside the Bibi Khanum mosque when she first visited Uzbekistan five years ago. With a shock of white hair, this painter now had a nifty studio. While he’d diversified into modern art, we insisted that he pull out his classic calligraphy canvases. After mumbling in Uzbek that we were crazy, he took them out. Each panel has inscriptions from Bibi Khanum’s mosque that have been captured vividly. Needless to say, we’ve got most of what he made. They’ll be available soon at the Arastan studio.

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