Three Weeks in Central Asia (Part 10): Uzbekistan – Bukhara, The Silk Road Continues

Heading west from Samarkand was a 1.5 hour high speed train trip to another well known Silk Road pit stop. It was around 10:30pm when we arrived at Bukhara.

Our bus was waiting to take us to our hotel, which turned out to be more memorable than most occasions where I’ve been taken to a hotel. The bus drove for a while, before stopping at this building…

Was this our hotel? Because honestly I’ve seen worse (shout out to that accommodation in Krakow, Poland in which Top Deck wanted me to stay – I didn’t – #HiltonHonors member).
A car came to take our luggage and the driver said to follow him down this …scenic… alleyway…

We joked to lighten the mood – maybe we’ll never see our luggage again? Maybe the hotel doesn’t even exist? Of course, our tour leader Mirza was with us the whole time, so we knew we were safe but at that moment, that late at night, we couldn’t help but laugh… and question.

Our hotel did exist; the Komil Boutique is a spectacular hotel with an open air courtyard that perfectly fits in with the city of Bukhara which is essentially an open air museum.

Bukhara

People have been living in Bukhara, Uzbekistan’s fifth largest city, for over 5,000 years. Tajik is widely spoken here as Bukhara was historically a Tajik city, having been captured by the Samanid Empire in the 900s (the foundation for the modern day Tajik nation).

Bukhara’s position on the Silk Road established it as a cultural, intellectual, religious and economic centre of the region. It became an independent Uzbek-Tajik Emirate in 1785 which lasted until the Russian Revolution, when Soviet government was established. Eventually, all Uzbek-Tajik states were united into the Uzbek Soviet Republic and Bukhara has remained as part of Uzbekistan ever since.

There are around 140 monuments spread throughout the historic city centre, making it perfect for a big day of walking.

Trading Domes

As Bukhara became a commercial centre on the Silk Road, marketplaces popped up throughout the city for locals and travelers to trade exotic and local goods. The marketplaces were built into dome-like structures that kind of look like the buildings on Tatooine (Star Wars reference). Today, there are four surviving trading domes spread throughout the city. Each of the surviving trading domes have souvenir stores where you can buy traditional arts and crafts and textiles of the area.

The vendors of these souvenir stores are a little more used to tourists than the other Stan countries, so if you start looking at their products they will come to ‘encourage’ you to buy and look at more. Don’t feel pressured; a friendly ‘no’ will usually suffice if you’re not interested. If you are interested, remember that cash will be your friend here and they usually accept US$; just make sure you have small notes available.

The Samanid Mausoleum

Ismail Samani was the founder of the Samanid Dynasty and widely considered to be the historical father of the Tajik State. His resting place, built around the 10th Century, is considered to be an iconic example of early Islamic architecture. It is also the sole surviving monument from the Samanid Dynasty and the oldest monument in Bukhara, having been conveniently immersed by a flood during a siege from the Mongols and thus spared.

The Museum of Water Supply

Despite its damp-sounding name (pun absolutely intended), this museum is well worth a visit. It’s in the middle of the city and tells the story of the importance of water in the area and its mismanagement. It also has some shocking information on the Aral Sea. The Aral Sea, located in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, was once the world’s fourth largest lake before it started drying up thanks to a series of Soviet irrigation programs. By 2014, the sea was completely gone. The northern (Kazakhstan) portion of the sea is undergoing various restoration efforts. Nothing is currently happening with the southern (Uzbekistan) part of the sea.

Information board about one of the biggest environmental disasters in human history – the drying up of the Aral Sea.

Bolo Haouz Mosque

The Emir of Bukhara used to perform Friday prayers in this unique mosque. Forty wooden pillars each with different wooden carvings support the ceiling giving it an unusual but spectacular design.

Directly across the road from this mosque is the most significant site in Bukhara – the Ark.

The Ark of Bukhara

This giant fortress was built on top of the ruins of other structures that lay before it. It is a town within a town, with local rulers living in the Ark as early as 500 AD. Still in use during the times of the Emirate of Bukhara, it was heavily bombed during the Russian Revolution of 1920. Now, it is almost completely restored and houses several interesting museums about the history of the city.

Pol-i-Kalyan Mosque complex

No matter how many mosques and madrasahs I see, I am always still in awe at the intricate detail of each building. This one was no different with its stunning decorations.
The Kalyan minaret is a particularly well-known monument in Bukhara, dominating the relatively flat skyline of the city. Built in 1127AD, it was actually known as The Tower of Death with criminals being thrown off the top as their punishment.

Chor Minor

This is a gateway to a madrasah that used to lay beyond it before it was demolished. The name, in Persian, means four towers. Not the most original name.

Can you spot the Stork’s nest on top of the tower in the background? It’s fake. There used to be a huge stork population in Bukhara when the lands were filled with several ponds that attracted waterbirds. Through some human water mismanagement (I see a theme here) the ponds have since disappeared, along with the storks. You’ll see a few of these fake stork nests throughout the city as a tribute to these birds.

Across the road from this building is an op shop like no other. It was a Soviet op shop, where you could buy souvenirs and relics, pins, magnets, and postcards all from the Soviet Era. You can even still buy former Soviet uniforms. Naturally, this provided some photo opportunities…

In the evening we were treated to a dinner at a local family’s house. The matriarch of the family cooked us an amazing pilaf/pilau – a traditional dish in Uzbekistan. Cooked in a huge dish, the matriarch described to us the ingredients and the process behind making the perfect pilaf. Unfortunately, I don’t remember any of those tips… except garlic and rice… and that it was phenomenal…

One day in Bukhara and the world is your pilaf!
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