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Introducing Samarkand (Samarqand)

No name is so evocative of the Silk Road as Samarkand. For most people it has the mythical resonance of Atlantis, fixed in the Western popular imagination by poets and playwrights of bygone eras, few of whom saw the city in the flesh.

From the air your eye locks onto the domes and minarets, and on the ground the sublime, larger-than-life monuments of Timur, the technicolour bazaar and the city’s long, rich history, indeed work some kind of magic. Surrounding these islands of majesty, modern Samarkand sprawls across acres of Soviet-built buildings, parks and broad avenues used by buzzing Daewoo taxis.

You can visit most of Samarkand’s high-profile attractions in two or three days. If you’re short on time, at least see the Registan, Guri Amir, Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Shah-i-Zinda.

Note that the people of Samarkand, Buk­hara and southeastern Uzbekistan don’t speak Uzbek but an Uzbek-laced Tajik (Farsi). Some members of the ethnic Tajik minority wish Stalin had made the area part of Tajikistan, but the issue is complicated by ethnic Uzbek city folk who speak Tajik.