Samarkand / by Žiga Lovšin

There’s something special about the East: desert sand, stones, camels, buzzing bazaars, colorful clothing, flocks of sheep, a rich history of civilisations and religions … and the most hospitable people in the world.

When I arrived in the city on a spring morning, accompanied by birdsongs and a gentle breeze, admiring a giant dome and minarets rising over flat roofs, I knew I came to the right place. I’m not a muslim, but somehow a piece of my soul got lost in this part of the world: somewhere between Jerusalem and Kabul, Baghdad and Samarkand. In the West we are sticking firmly to our impersonal, plastic, digital lives with a progressive spiritual decline and decadent indifference towards life itself. In the sands and steppes of the Orient, however, one can still feel some romance in the air, a bit of Rumi’s mysticism and Kabir’s wisdom, but also a touch of Nasreddin’s foolishness. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe, but always comes to the surface whenever I see a red sun setting behind the horizon.

I know what I just wrote is highly romanticised. Reality is far more complex and not always pleasant. Uzbekistan is known for its beautiful mosques, minarets and madrasahs. But not far from the huge historical monuments lie muddy streets, polluted rivers and landfills. Go to Tashkent and you will see modern business buildings far greater and grander than those in Ljubljana. In the same city, though, you will also come across donkeys resting in shades of narrow streets, streams full of garbage and children leading a sheep or two towards a small patch of grass. While I do have a keen interest in the living conditions of present day, I’m also fascinated by the long history of this region. This was a place where cultures met, traded, fought and mixed - Persian, Greek, Roman, Chinese, Arab, Mongol, Turkic and Russian. The now turistic cities of Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand blossomed during the almost two millenia long trade via the silk road. Not so long ago caravans were journeying from China through the high Pamirs to Central Asia. In the 14th century Tamerlane moved the capital of his new empire to Samarkand, the city that inspired me to visit Uzbekistan. Years ago I saw a picture of Registan, a square surrounded by three madrasahas built in the 15th and 17th centuries, and I said to myself: one day I will definetly go there!