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Published: October 3rd 2021
My latest adventure with Trekkup was a whirlwind weekend tour of Uzbekistan: Silk and Spice weekend. I had been trying to do this popular trip for over a year now (thanks Covid and Saudi!). I was a little mentally exhausted due to my busy busy work schedule, but I needed to do this one. Initially we only had 5 or 6 people sign up in our group; at first, I was bummed because this is supposed to be one of the more popular trips, but then I was a bit relieved - with my mind not exactly in the right place to be uber social. However, a few days before, seven people were added to our group - they were supposed to have been six couples who knew each other but all the husbands backed out except one. They mostly kept to themselves, understandably, but I thought they were hilarious. So, we had a merry group made up of Brits, Canadians, a Pole, an Emirati, and a Moroccon-Palestinian, and me the sole American. We kind of sorta met up at the airport checkin, though it was a long wait to get thru the checkin queue - 45 minutes! Fly Dubai in
the Emirates terminal.... not ideal. But, we made it through, and I met N at the gate where I found out just how chatty she was! (She was a friend of another super chatty and click-happy guy I met on two of these trips, G2, so she is now F2). Also, I knew one other woman, E, from Namibia. So, it was kind of a fun flight, though I got very little sleep (I also had almost no sleep the night before due to work obligations).
We arrived around 3 am and quickly got through immigration and found our guide, Dilya, outside. We only had carryon luggage - I had a very light backpack but some of the mom crew had some full on rollers! Dilya took us to our hotel where we would get a whole 2 hours nap time before breakfast and departure. It was a decent hotel; F2 and I shared and the room was a massive suite! I tried to get sleep, but was never able to get it. Breakfast was a nice full buffet, where I mostly ate fruit. Then we took the minibus to the train station where we got right on the
high speed rail to our first stop: Bukhara. We had a couple of extra seats as three people did not show up for our trip and I was able to lay across two of them and get a little sleep, finally!
I was warned about the heat in Uzbekistan, and even though, I was still surprised at the heat the whole time! It was like we never even left Dubai.... Also, apologies if the photos are not coming out correctly - the portrait sized photos do not seem to orient themselves properly all the time and I don't know why! :p
Bukhara is a very old city located on the Silk Road and was once a regional capital, meaning there was a lot of interesting history, architecture and culture. In fact the city center is on the UNESCO World Heritage sites, so we had a full day on arrival after lunch to check it out. Dilya informed us that Uzbekistan got its independence in 1998 and explained to us that at that time the alphabet changed from the Russian Cyrillic to a Latin based one, so the older generation cannot read Latin and the younger cannot read Cyrillic.
There are essentially three main languages in Uzbekistan and most people speak them all: Uzbek (Turk based), Tajik (Persian based) and Russian. Bukhara used to be a marshland where storks were prevalent; they are long gone but continue to be the emblem of the city. Ismail Samani Mausoleum.
Our first stop was the Ismail Samani Mausoleum. We were a bit confused as we parked at what looked like a carnival and Dilya had a good laugh. But no, we walked through the park to our first glimpse of the amazing architecture we would see on this trip. This mausoleum is made out of basically fried bricks and is considered a masterpiece. 80%!o(MISSING)f the building is original, while the rest was restored (though this seemed to be the division throughout the trip). It is originally from the 9th or 10th century and had 18 different patterns in the interior. Previously, people were not buried, but were taken to the hills, fed on by animals, and washed down after the rains, when they would be considered purified - natural cycle. There are a lot of Buddhist influences on the structure (lotus flowers, the universe). It is 15m in height
with 3 different colors of materials, which is subtle initially, but clear with the changing of the daylight: reddish in the morning, yellow brown during the day and greenish in the late afternoon. The dome of the structure is on a square shape and the mausoleum contains the tombs of Ismail, his father and his grandson. There also used to be tunnels to access the site from town, which Dilya had been in once before. Once we got outside, she said the tradition is if you walk around three times, without saying a word to anyone, just focus on your greatest wish, it will come true. So, I did, but we'll see!
Walking through the garden area were some souvenir stalls. Here I bought a nice ring and matching earrings, silver with a few small (fake?) stones, but very pretty and my current favorite! I try to buy a small piece of jewelry for myself in most countries - memorable, small, unique. Next we had lunch at a nice restaurant where I finally got to try their famous plov - which is basmati rice, lamb, and some carrots. It was very yummy and filling. Bobo Hauz Mosque
Our next stop was at the Bobo Hauz Mosque, which was built in 1712 and is distinctive for its wooden pillars at the entrance. I found the pillars the most striking and memorable feature. The interior was somewhat small, surprisingly, since the outside seemed so large. But its as nice and tasteful. There is a minaret near the entrance. There is also a pond in front of the building which we took photos from. Dilya said this is one of the places that people used to use for drinking water, but it is no longer potable. People were getting sick from many of the city's water sources over time as the population grew and the government tested the waters to determine which ones could be used for drinking and those became protected. Ark of Bukhara
Next we made our way across the street to the Ark of Bukhara, a fortress complex originally constructed in the 5th century. This is one of the central features of the city and was impressive. Once Dilya got our tickets, we went in to the museum like atmosphere, with lots to see. Dilya told us of the legend of how the complex came
to be: the hero Siyavusha fell in love with the local leader's daughter. The leader told him he could have his daughter if he could build a palace on a bull skin, which Siyavusha then established by cutting the skin into thin strips and connecting them end to end and the inside is what is now the ark.
The interior museum area is approximately one hectare, while the area outside the inner walls but still within the overall fortress is approximately three hectares. We saw a mosque converted to a calligraphy museum and there were a few other rooms (with some nice A/C!) which housed some of the history, and many historical clothing and artifacts, such as weapons, farm tools, pottery, coins, etc. So, it was nice, but when one of our guides colleagues said he would take us to the outer portion for a fee, about half of us took us up on it. So, we got to see the city with an unimpeded view and walked around some very impressive ruins on the outside. We suggested to Dilya that this should always be part of the package as it was really cool to see! Po-i-Kalyan complex
After getting a cool snack (ice cream for most, but I can't have ice cream so I got an iced tea that took seriously 40 minutes to make apparently.... thankfully it was delicious), we made our way to the impressive complex we got to see from the outer walls. The Po-i-Kalyan complex has three main areas: the Kalan Mosque, Kalan Minaret, and the Mir-i-Arab Madrasah. These were absolutely amazing. The Madrasah, which we did not enter, is an existing school for boys studying to be imams and is very rigorous in studies. It is the only existing functioning madrasah in Bukhara and one of six in Uzbekistan. The Kalan Minaret is located between the two main structures, and is about 46 meters in height. It is constructed entirely out of baked bricks and, as per usual, is considered 80% original and 20% restored. The Kalan Mosque, built in 1515, is quite impressive. Apparently, it has 288 domes lining the interior, where everything faces inward towards a very large courtyard. It was very cool and we spent a bit of time wandering in here. While a bit hard to get good photos, it was really pretty to see at sunset.
We continued walking past the complex towards the souq area, where Dilya took us to an embroidery shop, which was super impressive! They even had their loom (?) where they laid out the fabric and showed how they continued embroidering. Some of their most impressive pieces were hanging on the walls. Dilya said traditionally, this was the way women would win their prospective husbands, as they were often kept at home and fully covered. So the men would fall in love with the beauty of their works instead. Some of the ones displayed were over one hundred years old. It was oh so tempting to buy!
We took our time wandering around the souq and then outside taking photos of some of the impressive old mosques that were converted into souvenir shops. One was the Abdulaziz Madrassah, built in 1652. Another was Ulugbek Madrassah, which had a really cool twisted tile design on the arch. After some people got some souvenirs, we continued with Dilya, checking out the cool store where they design knives and daggers (unfortunately, we were not able or wiling to buy as we all just had carryon backpacks essentially). Our last store was a
carpet store, where they did the usual dramatic rolling out of the carpets. There was one beautiful silk rug that was just screaming to me.... but at $12,000 I could not justify the cost. But there were some other lovely ones that I was tempted to buy, but we were in a hurry so continued on to dinner. We had two tables sitting by an outdoor pool area and it was a crowded atmosphere - definitely a great vibe to this city. We had some salads, kebab and some sweet red wine. The waiter was nice and gave us some beer for the road. Overnight train
By this point, we had to high tail it to the train station, leaving a bit of a tip for our drivers. We walked fast and got onto the train just a minute or two before it left. I was so looking forward to this. Even though it was a four hour journey to Samarkand, we had a sleeper car sharing with four of us each. N and I each got a top bunk and I was a bit too wired to get any actual sleep. It was really cool. We took
lots of photos and videos, got our PCR results back, and then tried to get a little sleep as we had had very little so far this whole trip!
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