I visited the country of Babur and Timur, the “national hero” of Uzbekistan

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Samarkand, Uzbekistan: “Namaste! A voice came from behind as I headed for the Afrosiyob – Uzbekistan’s fastest train that connects the capital Tashkent to the historic city of Samarkand. I turned around to see a burly man who looked like he had landed there straight from the Soviet era. He greeted me with folded hands. I responded with a Namaste, reveling in the image India has painstakingly built for itself over the years.

I was greeted with a similar warm “Namaste” during my visit to Afghanistan in August 2021 when the Taliban returned and many Afghans hoped to come to India, their “true friend”.

I asked the man at the Tashkent train station where he had learned Hindi. He said to me in broken English: “I like Hindi, I like Raj Kapoor. jota hai japanese“, he said, recalling the line of the eponym song from Kapoor’s 1955 film Shree 420, from a time when Bollywood films were all about warmth and cultural ethos and not blindly following Hollywood. He said it was his favorite movie, which he watched as a child and which made him want to learn Hindi.

I explained to him the purpose of my visit: the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). He seemed happy that the Indians were visiting his country.

Before getting on the train, I had to exchange a 100 dollar bill with Uzbekistan Soms. Well, to do this you don’t need to look for a currency exchange. Just look for an ATM. And with $1 being 11,000 Soms, you are definitely going to feel like a millionaire after redeeming a $100 note.

As I boarded the Afrosiyoba rush of excitement filled me – my long held dream of seeing the land of Timur and Babur was about to come true in a few hours!

But what I never thought of was that I would board a Spanish-built Talgo high-speed train that crosses vast arid plains and rugged hills at a speed of 137 mph, winding through small villages and towns that were once among the main transit points of the ancient Silk Road.

Afrosiyob, the high-speed train in Uzbekistan that connects Tashkent and Samarkand | Photo: Nayanima Basu | The footprint

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History, opulence, modernity

Named after an ancient site, the Afrosiyob connects Tashkent to Samarkand and then to the holy city of Bukhara. And what you experience in these cities isn’t even close to what you’ve probably read in the history books. While I certainly didn’t expect to see the Turko-Mongol conqueror on top of his horse, neither did I expect six to eight lane roads, high-speed cars, wide sidewalks, gardens and cafes on every nook and cranny.

If Tashkent has gleaming skyscrapers, designer boutiques, exotic Shashlik joints with museums dotted everywhere, then Samarkand is all about upholding the culture and history of Uzbekistan, whose influence extends from Delhi to Ankara.

Tashkent carries an eclectic mix of old and new. The bygone era and the current opulence that comes from sell gold. Everything in Uzbekistan is gold, whether it’s Timur’s sword or their vodka.

Photo: Nayanima Basu | The footprint

One of Tashkent’s most notable landmarks is the Amir Timur Museum, located a few meters from the iconic Uzbekistan Hotel – a monstrous Soviet-style hotel in the shape of an open book with 17 floors.

Hotel Uzbekistan, Tashkent | Photo: uzbek-travel.com

The museum opened in 1996, marked by the state as “the year of Amir Timur”, in honor of his 660th birthday, after Islam Karimov, the first president of Uzbekistan, issued a decree. Upon entering the museum, I was impressed by its grandeur and cleanliness. The paintwork looked and smelled fresh, the walkways had manicured gardens and the circular shape of the building made it airy and breezy with the perimeter decorated with ornate columns with hadith embossed on them.

Amir Timur Museum in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan | Wikipedia Commons

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Timur – celebrated, revered

Once you enter the main hall, the enormous cultural and spiritual heritage of Uzbekistan engulfs you. And it becomes clear that the Uzbeks revere the Turkish-Mongol emperor, whose name comes after “Allah”.

Timur was the last of the great nomadic conquerors of the Eurasian steppe, and his goal was to restore the great Mongol empire of Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan, who died in 1227, and Timur shared a common ancestor. Timur created a huge army and led many campaigns extending his empire from the Volga and the Caucasus mountain ranges in the west to India in the southwest.

Timur’s greatest ambition was to restore the Silk Road and keep it under his control, which is why he waged large-scale wars with various nations and empires along this extremely long western route. is.

Tashkent Railway Station | Photo: Nayanima Basu | The footprint

According to the Uzbeks, it was Timur who “brought together” several countries and their citizens, and is recognized as their “national hero”. The museum embodies everything Uzbeks believe in.

Equipped with augmented reality and a free high-speed wifi network, the museum brings to life all the rulers of the 10th-15th centuries, including poets, mathematicians and astronomers. Visitors can download an app and immediately see Timur standing next to them or Babur (Uzbek: Bobur), talking in detail about his campaign in India.

Besides the museum, there is an extensive Soviet-era restaurant that sells only fried chicken, served by middle-aged waitresses dressed in white skirts and blouses with red aprons on top. Like a typical Indian, I wanted to explore the ‘menu’. I managed to find an English speaking waitress who told me she only sold “fried chicken”. Apparently she wanted to tell me that the chicken sold there is better than American KFC. They really are, and they come with a whole loaf of bread and a bed of salad. Food in Uzbekistan also resembles its historical past mixed with modern tastes and choices.

A restaurant in Samarkand | Photo: Nayanima Basu | The footprint

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Samarkand – the shining star of the East

Arriving in Samarkand, I was completely taken by surprise. The city, which was once the capital of Timur, is known for its extensive historical sites, variety of ceramics and carpets. And at the heart of it is Registan Square (“Registan” means desert or sandy place). Being in the square, it seems that the whole history of Uzbekistan, its centuries of struggle and splendor, are all enveloped in this one place. For a Delhi University history student, it was a childhood dream come true.

Registan Square, Samarkand | Photo: Nayanima Basu | The footprint
A market inside Registan Square | Photo: Nayanima Basu | The footprint

We begin to have a sense of history when Afrosiyob, always punctual, enters Samarkand station. It takes about 10-15 minutes from the station to the main city center. Taxis are cheap and the drivers are generally friendly. Nine out of ten won’t know English, but you can easily find some who do”thoda thoda hindi”.

When one enters Samarkand, the enormity of Timur as king, the famous Silk Road, the majestic Registan Square, which was the center of crafts and commerce long before the Mongol invasion, everything begins to take root. Registan Square includes Ulugh Beg Madrasa (Islamic School), Tilla-Kori Madrasa and Sher-Dor Madrasa, which houses a museum designed as a Muslim educational institution where clerics, statesmen and scientists have been trained.

Then there is the Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum where Timur, his sons and his grandsons are buried. The interior of the mausoleum is decorated with gold, jade and onyx with a solid decorative coating resplendent with rich and luxurious patterns and colors. The domes are decorated with green onyx overlaid with blue and gold ornamental inscriptions.

Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum in Samarkand | Photo: Nayanima Basu | The footprint
Tomb of Timur | Photo: Nayanima Basu | The footprint

Any Indian looking for a trip abroad should go to Uzbekistan rather than Europe or the United States, although in India’s history books, Timur will always be the one who looted Delhi .

“Mughal history will always link India to Uzbekistan. No one can erase this rich historical bond between us,” said a historian-guide to the mausoleum.

(Edited by Prashant)

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