Last night I wandered into the Registan for sunset, and the guards came over for a chat. It seems it’s possible to watch the sunrise from a minaret if you turn up at 5:00am. Thinking this is going to be a mass tourist event I turn up at the crack of doom and meet a Swiss (Stefan) and the two of us are taken up dusty staircases onto the roof of the Registan. It became clear that this wasn’t the normal route. We popped out onto a roof, then clamber over the roofing sheets to the base of the minaret. We waited until just before sunrise and then climbed up a very dark and very dusty spiral staircase to a tiny trap door through which we both barely squeezed. Samarkand was laid out before us and in a few moments we had our reward. Sunrise! What views and what a weird experience. Then back down and into the great courtyard which was entirely empty. I won’t forget that for a long time.
Then it was back to the guest house for my first meal for 48 hours and I was nervous of the consequences. Once I was confident there were no nasty surprises imminent, I went out to see the Amir Temur mosque, and the mausoleums at Shaki Zinfa. I managed a bazaar as well, which cheered me up and had a grandstand view of the local fire service fighting a roof fire. The sun was high by now and so I headed back to sleep the afternoon away.
About 4:30pm I went out to spot a place for dinner. Wandering down through the town, I came on the Guri Amir mausoleum. Having wandered outside I decided to look beyond the gift shop and discovered the most incredible chamber. Exquisitely decorated in gold, white and blue, there were six stone coffins in the centre, the centremost being that of Amir Temur; known to us in the west as Tamerlane. Those who came there were clearly pilgrims as each small family group would offer a prayer. A family sat next to me and the mother posed questions to her son, who spoke to me in good English. Where was I from? Was I a Muslim? Did we have Muslims in England? I obviously gave the correct answers as she and her husband nodded in approval.
As I was about to leave, a group came in with an older man wearing a traditional Uzbek cap. He sat down and in the most beautiful voice began to sing what I take to be prayers. It was extraordinarily exquisite, his rich tenor voice resonating in the chamber. Everyone had stopped talking and had their palms raised. Men, women and children praying side by side. He stopped, each person spoke their own words and then an older woman started to sing another prayer. The setting, the beauty of the place and the possibility of being close to the remains of one of the most powerful leaders in Asia was a deeply moving experience.
Two significant moments, entirely accidental. The right place at the right time. This has certainly been more than the journey I expected.