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Bukhara Tour

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May 20

For the first time in many days I had a good night’s sleep. Thank you, Lynley. I was just a few doors down from the breakfast room. It was full of tourists from the big tour groups. I could hear both Italian and French. Was there some Spanish as well? I went straight for my daily serving of crepes. They had a nice strawberry jam to put on top.

This is the day for our tour of the historic city of Bukhara. We drove to our first stop. Throughout the tour we have been able to leave our packs on the buses at the various stops. I thought I could do that today. Luckily the others noticed what I was doing. Only then did I understand that the bus was only taking us to the start of our walk. This was the last that we would see it. That was close. I could have blissfully walked away and only found out an hour later that our bus was not around. At the very least Sasha would have had to chase it down. The worst would have been never seeing my bag again.

The centre of Bukhara is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with many historic mosques and madrassas. Bukhara was a key part of the Silk Road. Back in Tajikistan we learned about the great kingdom of the Persian Samanis, which flourished in the 10th century. We also learned that the centre of the kingdom was the capital, Bukhara, and that Bukhara was now part of Uzbekistan. That happened when the People’s Commissariat of Nationalities, which was headed by a man named Joseph Stalin, made the decision in 1924 that Bukhara and Samarkand, even though they were majority Tajik cities, would not be given to the newly formed Tajik when the five republics, the ultimate Five Stans, were created.

We were now in that city of Bukhara and visiting the Ismail Somoni Mausoleum. Somoni was also part of our history lessons in Tajikistan. Remember that the Tajiks think so much of him that their money is the Somoni.

We parked next to what must be Bukhara Disney World since there were Mickey and Minnie.

The monument was built early in the tenth century and is one of the oldest buildings in Central Asia to have survived without alterations. There are 16 styles of brickwork on its face.

The place was packed with tourists.

We then walked to the Chashma Ayub Mausoleum which was built during Timur’s reign during the 14th century . It is named after Job (Ayub) as in the biblical Job. He is said to have visited this site and made a well which gives pure water that is drunk by visitors for its healing properties. The building has a conical dome which is not common in Bukhara.

There was a museum in the building where Sasha discussed some more recent history. The Aral Sea represents one of the great ecological disasters of all time. Irrigation schemes built to increase the production of cotton has destroyed this great inland sea. Back at the palace in Khujand we had seen photographs of the workers building irrigation canals. Irrigation of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers have reduced the size of the Aral Sea from 68,900 km2 in 1957 to 8,600 km2 in 2017. The Aral Sea was once the forth largest lake in the world.

We took a quick stroll through the market. There were not that many customers (Ramadan?), but the vendors were friendly.

We stopped at the beautiful Bolo Haouz Mosque which was built in 1712. It is still a functioning mosque.

We then moved on the Ark Citadel. Fortresses on this site have defended Bukhara for a couple thousand years. New ones were built on top of old ones. The citadel was made famous in the 19th century. At that time Bukhara was of interest to both the English and the Russians as they engaged in what was referred to as the “Great Game”, vying for control of the Indian subcontinent. Bukhara was then ruled by the emirs of the Manghit dynasty. A British Colonel Stoddart had the unfortunate assignment of meeting with Emir Nasrullah Khan to ask him to join in an alliance with the British East India Company. Stoddart’s manners did not meet the standards of the Emir. He was offensive enough that the Emir had him thrown into the “Bug Pit”, a not so pleasant dungeon under the fortress. He was eventually let out to a more pleasant house arrest after he agreed to convert to Islam. Captain Arthur Conolly then came along to rescue him, but he lacked a message from the Queen that the Emir was expecting, a royal to royal thing. The Emir was not pleased. He had both men beheaded.

We visited the square where the Emir would meet with his subjects. This is where Stoddart committed his first faux pas when the Englishman rode in on his horse rather than on foot. We could even sit in the Emir’s chair. He was not around to get upset at our lack of decorum, so we were not thrown into the bug bit.

Sasha then got us rides in the little electric carts to take us to our restaurant. The place was full of tourists. It did have a nice rooftop so that we could take some photos of the town.

After lunch we walked over to the Poi-Kalyan Complex. The structures here were built in the 12th to 14th centuries. The first stop was the Kalan Mosque and Minaret. The Kalan Minaret is known as the Grand Minaret in Persian but is also called the Tower of Death for all the executions that took place over the centuries with people tossed from the top.

The Mir-i-Arab Madrassa was full of vendors, similar to other places in Uzbekistan. It does take a bit away from the experience to have these amazing structures set up as glorified souvenir shops. We also saw some buildings that had not yet been restored. We obviously have been seeing the restored versions in Tashkent and Samarkand.

I had little room in my little suitcase for souvenirs, but I did buy a couple of scarves from this lady.

The cupulas that looked like something from Star Wars were for craftsmen and were full of shops.

We visited a puppet maker. Do you think we look alike? My doppelganger hangs out with a couple of ladies.

We visited a synagogue and heard a talk by the rabbi. He did not speak English, so everything was translated by Sasha. I still found it fascinating. We had heard a lot about Soviet Times, that many people were happy since they had easy jobs and apartments (if they waited long enough). But they did not have the basic freedoms that we take for granted. This could have been a church or a mosque or a union hall, the issue was the same. There are still civil rights issues in Central Asia.

That was the end of our tour. We were on our own until supper. It also meant that it was time for my special outing with Sasha. We were going to a barber. A few days earlier I had told Sasha that I wanted a haircut. I usually get my very stylish brush cut about every three weeks. I knew I could wait another week, but by then my cowlick would be quite prominent. Plus, I thought that it might be fun to get a haircut in Uzbekistan. Sasha wears his hair (or lack of) like me, very short. He brought me to small barber near the hotel and went into negotiations on my behalf. After a few minutes of back and forth he announced that I was getting my haircut for 20,000 Som (about $2.25 US). Later Sasha told me that he was first quoted 70,000 Som. Sasha only pays 10,000 for his own cuts. But the 20,000 did not include a photograph of my barber.

I ran into this guy on the way back to the hotel. He had biked all the way from England.

The Hotel Asia may not be luxurious, but from the reflection in the window you can see that is has a great location.

This ended a great day’s outing. The architecture and history had been incredible. I expected that. But I had also thought that my illness combined with the heat would have me struggling to get through the day. However, we had constant breaks from the direct sun under trees and in buildings. I also felt a bit better (probably thanks to getting some sleep).

Another day in Uzbekistan. Great architecture? Check. Lots of tourists? Check. Great food? Not really. But we had a great architecture with our dinner thanks to the view from our rooftop restaurant. To be fair, we had the usual bread and salads which are always good. Tonight, we were served dumplings, and they were quite okay.

The best part was the view of the Kalan Minaret at sunset.

After dinner I walked with Begaim, Lynley, and Michael to the Ark. Everything was quite magical with the lights.

Back at the hotel the lobby was full of tourists. I found a seat and had a Facebook Messenger chat with Po. Tomorrow we have a long drive through the desert to Khiva.

Posted by Bob Brink 07:37 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged uzbekistan bukhara kalpak_travel

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Wow Bob this looks like a special day! That architecture is out of this world. Was also interested in the synagogue, I like to visit them when I travel. Was wondering about the weather it certainly looks hot! And dumplings yum!

by katieshevlin62

I'd forgotten the Ismail Somoni Mausoleum and that amazing brickwork - thanks for that memory :) But I think we were lucky to visit Uzbekistan when there were far fewer tourists - I certainly don't remember places being anything like as busy!

by ToonSarah

Hi Bob, I've been sent here by Toonsarah to check your blog! I'm mad keen on Uzbekistan and I was wondering what tour company you went with? Sarah went with Explore but I'm up for looking at other options too. Cheers!

by Anna

Hi Anna, I used a small company called Kalpak Travel. I can't say enough good things about them. All was great, from the guides and drivers to the hotels, even organizing visas. They are very hands on.

by Bob Brink

Thanks Bob! I'll check them out!

by Anna

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