Tashkent to Samarkand by Uzbekistan Railways ‘Shark’ Train
This review covers a trip on an Uzbekistan Railways ‘Shark’ train from Tashkent to Samarkand.
Tashkent to Samarkand by train
Although Tashkent provided me with a perfect introduction to Uzbekistan, I was even more excited about what lay ahead of me today.
I would travel from Tashkent to Samarkand by train and I certainly couldn’t wait to start exploring this evocative city on the ancient Silk Road.
Samarkand had always been a city that fascinated me as its name alone conjures images of the oriental beauty of the Silk Road.
Besides, I was excited as well to find out how train travel in Uzbekistan would be like.
It’s fairly easy to book your train tickets online on the website of Uzbekistan Railways.
Although I had to exchange my online ticket booking for a paper ticket at the station during my trip, it is worth noting that this requirement has since been removed.
Now, passengers can simply present their e-ticket to the conductor upon boarding.
Tashkent South Station
It was raining cats and dogs in Tashkent on the morning when I was set to travel to Samarkand.
Be sure to double-check before your trip to see whether your train departs from Tashkent’s main railway station in the city centre or from Yuzhny Vokzal, which is located in the southern suburbs.
Due to the heavy traffic, it took a while for my taxi to reach Tashkent’s Yuzhny Vokzal (Southern Station), the departure point for my train to Samarkand.
At least the ride was cheap at just 1.50 euro using the Yandex taxi app.
Like most train stations in Uzbekistan, Tashkent’s Yuzhny Vokzal is built in a modern style with lots of glass.
Inside the station
Before you can enter the station there is a ticket check and a cursory security check, which includes putting your luggage through a security scanner.
Inside the station you’ll find ample seating but not much in the way of shops or food outlets, so it’s probably best to stock up for your train journey beforehand.
Alternatively, you can buy food and drinks on board the train as Uzbekistan Railways high-speed trains and premium intercity and night train services do feature restaurant wagons.
For the journey between Tashkent and Samarkand I had opted for an Uzbekistan Railways ‘Shark’ train (sometimes also written as ‘Sharq’).
The ‘Shark’ trains, which belong to the premium intercity express category, are among the fastest and most comfortable daytime trains in Uzbekistan, second only to the ‘Afrosiyob’ high-speed Talgo trains.
For a ‘lux’ seat I had paid the equivalent of 21 euro in Uzbek som.
Tashkent to Samarkand by Uzbekistan Railways ‘Shark’ Train
Train 010Ф ‘Buxoro’ – Departure: 9.13am – Arrival: 12.29pm
Duration: 3h16m – Distance: 326 kilometres
Price: 21 euro for a ‘lux’ seat.
As I walked along the platform towards the carriage of my train, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement and anticipation.
Today’s ride would be on train number 010Ф, a Shark category train named ‘Buxoro’.
Buxoro is the Latinised version of Бухорo, which is how the Uzbeks call the Silk Road city of Bukhara.
The train had old-fashioned name shields that were pretty cool, showing both the train’s name and a simplified drawing of the skyline of Bukhara, the train’s final destination.
All my excitement did however turn into a slight sense of panic when the conductor didn’t allow me to board the train.
I forgot to stamp my ticket by security officials inside the station building right after the security checkpoint, which was a requirement I completely forgot about.
Although this requirement has reportedly been dropped since my journey through Uzbekistan, the train attendant was firm in his conviction and didn’t allow for any exception.
He told me in limited English that I had to go back inside the station to get the stamp, which was nearly impossible as the train was just minutes away from departing.
At the same time, the conductor came up with an alternative solution: If I gave him $10, he would conveniently forget about the missing stamp and allow me to board without one.
The conductor saw me pondering over his offer for a few seconds and even sweetened the deal by offering an upgrade to what he claimed was “the best seat on the train.”
Knowing very well that running back to the security point inside the station building to get the stamp would likely cause me to miss the train, I accepted the offer, knowing that it was my only realistic option.
Inside the train
Although my original seat would have been a comfortable first-class seat inside a saloon wagon, the bribe offered me an even better seat.
Much to my surprise, I was given a small compartment which had a complete corner sofa in it.
Never in my entire life have I seen such a strange seat on a train.
Although the compartment was a bit bare-looking and lacked charm, it was certainly comfortable.
The sofa was covered with some ugly sheets in some brown-and-gold colours – an eternal Soviet-era favourite.
The floor was carpeted and the compartment also featured a large table and a TV.
Unlimited tea, some candies and Uzbekistan Railways newspapers were also complimentary provided.
The train attendant, known as a ‘provodnik’ if male or ‘provodnitsa’ if female according to common Russian terminology, was a friendly guy.
Although he was rather grumpy when I tried to board the train at first, his mood had lightened up considerably after I gave him the 10 dollar.
Throughout the journey, he frequently stopped by to check on me and refill my tea.
The citrus tea was absolutely delicious, although it also made me extremely drowsy.
I’m not sure if it was because the provodnik perhaps put some polonium or so in my cup of tea or I was extremely tired from all the travels during the previous days, but I kept dozing off every 10 minutes.
Despite waking up several times throughout the journey, I found myself feeling drowsy again within minutes and unable to keep myself awake whatever I tried.
Despite eating some candies or taking pictures out of the window, those activities only provided a temporary respite as I would inevitably doze off again soon after.
Despite the fact that my naps were only 10 to 15 minutes long, I had extremely vivid and intense dreams each time I dozed off.
It surely was one of the weirdest ever train journeys I had taken.
What I can recall from the journey, the scenery during the first half of the journey wasn’t too special, it mostly being some desert or steppe-like landscape.
The torrential rains didn’t help either as at times the visibility was extremely low.
Only when the train was about an hour away from Samarkand, were there some hills visible in the distance and signs of vegetation.
The Shark express train I was on arrived on time at the station of Samarkand.
By that time, I was fortunately fully awake again.
I double checked if I still had my wallet, passport, laptop and most other valuables on me before I disembarked the train.
At the opposite platform of Samarkand station, an Afrosiyob high-speed train was waiting to depart in the opposite direction back towards Tashkent.
I would take this train on my next rail journey in Uzbekistan when I would travel onward from Samarkand to Bukhara.
However, I would first spend two full days in Samarkand and I really couldn’t wait to start exploring this city.
My train journey from Tashkent to Samarkand was one of the most interesting and unusual rail trips I have ever made.
From being almost denied boarding and having to bribe the train attendant to getting my own private mini-compartment with sofa and getting drowsy from the unlimited supply of citrus tea, it sure was one hell of an adventure.
Given the unusual circumstances of my journey I’m not really in a position to comment much about the actual quality of the Shark-category trains of Uzbekistan Railways.
Under normal circumstances, I would have explored other travel classes and the dining car, but due to the unusual circumstances of my journey I was unable to do so.
However, the Shark train did bring me bang on time and in comfort from Tashkent to Samarkand, which in the end is all that matters.
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘From Uzbekistan With Plov‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Review: Prietenia Night Train Bucharest to Chisinau
2. Chisinau Guide: A Visit to Moldova’s Capital
3. Istanbul Ataturk Airport and the Turkish Airlines Lounge
4. Review: Turkish Airlines Business Class Airbus A330
5. Tashkent Travels: A Day in the Capital of Uzbekistan
6. Tashkent to Samarkand by Uzbekistan Railways ‘Shark’ Train (current chapter)
7. Samarkand Visit Guide: Travelling Through Silk Road Splendour
** rest of the chapters to follow soon **