The Afrosiyob high-speed train departs from Tashkent for Samarkand three times a day and the journey takes a little over two hours. The brand new trains are immaculately clean, air conditioned and far more comfortable than travelling by road.
Samarkand was a major stop along the Silk Road, as you will learn from the stunningly well-preserved murals and other artefacts at the Afrosiab Museum. We know that the city was conquered by Alexander the Great in 329 BC and that it flourished under the Hellenistic influence.
The striking buildings you see today, however, almost all date from the Timurid period (1370-1507) when Emperor Amir Timur made Samarkand the capital of an empire stretching from Ankara to Delhi. The city centres on the Unesco-listed Registan Square, surrounded by three bejewelled madrassas, and it is only a short walk from here to the vast Bibi-khanym Mosque and Amir Timur’s own gilded tomb, the Gur-i Amir.
My favourite spot in the city, though, is the peaceful Shah-i-zinda (‘The Living King’). Legend has it that a cousin of Prophet Muhammad is buried here. Despite being beheaded for his faith, he lives forever in the Garden of Paradise. The earliest mausoleum in the necropolis dates from the 9th century and every building is adorned with exquisitely tiled mosaics, mostly in turquoise and lapis lazuli blue.