Aug 19 2013

Uzbekistan: Two days in Bukhara

by in Asia, Uzbekistan

October 20 & 21, 2012

Arrive in Bukhara today and you will be warmly welcomed. This wasn’t always the case, however. Consider the fate of Charles Stoddart and Arthur Conolly, two British officers who traveled to Bukhara in 1838 and 1841, respectively. Stoddart’s mission was to convince the Emir of Bukhara to sign a friendship treaty with Britain and release the Russian slaves held in Bukhara. Stoddart committed a major faux pas, however. Upon entering Bukhara, he did not dismount his horse, as custom required. Worst of all, he didn’t bring any presents for the Emir, and we know how much brutal dictators enjoy being showered with gifts! The Emir responded by throwing Stoddart in the “bug pit”, which is pretty much what you would expect – a fetid pit filled with various bugs (and rats, of course). Sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it? Next comes Conolly, who had arrived in Bukhara intending to free Stoddart, now imprisoned for three years and counting. (Conolly, by the way, was the man who coined the phrase “The Great Game” to describe the struggle between Britain and Russia for domination over Central Asia). Unfortunately for Conolly, the Emir ordered him to be thrown into the bug pit with Stoddart. On June 17, 1842, both men were beheaded on the square in front of Bukhara’s Ark.

But don’t worry, Mom, it’s not like that anymore. These days, the most uncomfortable situation a traveler will experience is to be repeatedly pestered by silk and pottery saleswomen.

We spent two days in Bukhara. This city was where I actually felt like I was on the Silk Road of yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, the Registan and Shah-i-Zinde of Samarkand were incredible. Bukhara doesn’t have anything imposing like the Registan, but here, in the center of the city, the vestiges of the Soviet era were kept at bay and the simple mud houses and traffic free dirt roads have remained unchanged for centuries.


Bukhara’s only remaining synagogue, which dates back to the 16th century. Bukhara once had a sizable Jewish minority population, but it has dwindled to about 300 now.


Jewish cemetery


Sasha & Son, the charming bed & breakfast we stayed at, was a former Jewish merchant’s home.


Some locals hanging out.


Nadir Divan-begi Madrasah, built in the early 1600s.


Statue of Nasreddin, Muslim folk hero


Nadir Divan-begi Khanaka


Lyab-i Hauz (Persian” “by the pond”). Ponds such as this used to exist throughout Bukhara as the city’s principal sources of drinking water, but the majority were filled in by the Soviets to prevent the transmission of water-borne illnesses.


Traditional clothing and veil worn by Uzbek women in in the presence of unrelated men, prior to the eradication of this custom by the Soviets.


Of all the beautiful carpets in Bukhara, this was the one I wanted. Unfortunately, way too pricey (to the tune of $1,200).


Master knife maker


Shopping for tonight’s dinner



The Po-i-Kalyan Ensemble:







Inside the Kalyan Mosque, completed in 1514.




This couple asked to take their picture with me, so I obliged them, and they allowed me to take a photo of them. I felt like a celebrity in Central Asia because so many locals asked to take their photo with me. But why? I have no idea. Maybe I looked like an alien from outer space.



The Kalyan minaret, built in 1127. This is one of the few structures that Genghis Khan ordered his men to spare as they ransacked and destroyed the city. It also served as an execution tool; criminals were flung to their deaths from the top of the minaret. This practice continued until the early 20th century.




The massive walls of Bukhara’s Ark fortress.



Mausoleum of Ismail Samani, built 892-943!



Demonstration on how to make plov, follwed by eating plov! 🙂 It was incredible; I had four servings! (If you can’t tell already, I love plov).



Chor-Minor (“Four Minarets”) formerly part of a large Madrasah (long since demolished)

And on our last day in Bukhara, we drove outside the city to this palace, formerly the summer home of the Bukharan Emirs.



The next morning, after being rudely awakened by the call of a rooster (seriously, does he realize it is still pitch black outside?!) I packed my bags again, had a quick breakfast, and headed down the long, bumpy road to Khiva.

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