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Published: August 19th 2007
Bukhara in all its glory
I walked a good 30 minutes just to get this shot, simply because it was the same shot on the front of our guide book. Okay, so its not that great, but still worth the walk.
I said it in my previous entry, but it deserves to be said again. This city has a lot of mosques. A lot. And if its not a mosque, then its a madressah (Islamic school). And if its neither, then its a tourist hotel. Thus, if you're a touring Islamic student, you'd have something to do in just about every building.
In the past, Bukhara was known as a center of wisdom - during the middle ages, a lot of famous Arab scholars originated from Bukhara. For example, apparently the anatomy textbook used as late as the early 1900s in Europe was written by a famous guy from Bukhara in the middle ages. This place also thwarted Ghengis Khan - while he destroyed just about every other city in Bukhara, he spared Bukhara because he believed it was a holy city. The story goes that he gave the order to annihilate the city while looking up at its famous minaret - seconds later, the wind blew his hat off so he knelt down to pick it up. At that point he realized that he had just bowed down towards the minaret, and interpreted it as a sign from God that
Money Changer's Tuk
They have these little 'Tuk' archways all around Bukhara, each named according to the type of goods sold in the area. Pretty specific names like Hat Maker's Tuk.
he was not supposed to destroy the city. Apart from being known as the 'wise and learned' city, Bukhara is also known as the green city, due to the numerous and notable greeny-blue domes.
Okay, but enough educational facts - onto the sights. We started the day with a slow saunter through the back streets of Bukhara, meandering through alleyways and backstreets in order to peek in on the locals. Lots of interesting sights here, including watching a local kindergarten teacher trying hard to exhaust her kids by making them run around and around in circles - nap time must have been coming up. Bukhara backstreets are pretty run down with lots of mud-style buildings, mangy dogs and crumbling walls. Interestingly though, a number of houses are actually very nicely decorated inside, with ornate courtyards and massive decorated gates. Its a typical case of where you can't judge a book by its cover.
We emerged from the jumble of alleys close to a local popular mosque, just in time to witness the call to prayer. The speakers started blaring the call to prayer, and slowly lots of old guys in long robes emerged from nowhere and congregated outside.
Bukhara Jame (Friday) Mosque
All the local devotees hanging out waiting for the call to prayer outside the mosque
There were lots of hellos and hugs all round, and lots of jovial laughing, which was in stark contrast to the very serious blaring prayers emitting from the mosque speakers, but it somehow made the whole event all the more human.
We then headed over to the Arq, the official desert citadel of the emirs of Bukhara for 100s of years. The Arq was basically a huge fortress built on a mound of sand, and for years was a beacon of hope and rest for caravans making the long trip from Europe to the far east. It was also the site of some rather brutal executions, since a few of the emirs of Bukhara were fascinated with decapitating European visitors. We were lead through the internals of the Arq by a fairly friendly guide, who did a pretty good job until halfway when somebody who was willing to pay more for their tour lured him away. He dropped us like a sack of hot potatoes promising to return shortly. 20 minutes later, still no sight of the guide, so I hunted him down, yelled at him and grudgingly got him to lead us through the rest of the Arq.
Some memorial tomb
Somebody important was buried here. Can't remember who. But, I do know that it dates back to the 13th centry - pretty good condition considering its sandstone!
He proceeded to tell us a lot of fantastic and hard-to-believe stories about Bukhara, which possibly may all be the complete fabrication of a disgruntled guide. One interesting story was that in the early 20th century, 80% of the Arq was completely destroyed by fire. The Bukharans claim it was the work of invading Russians while the Russians claim it was the work of the crazy emir who couldn't stand to lose his seat of power. Apparently different guides of the Arq will tell you different stories depending on which direction their allegiance lean towards.
We spent the rest of the afternoon just wandering through the back streets taking in the sights of crumbling yet evocative buildings. In the afternoon, we decided to try something truly 'Uzbek' and headed over to the local bathhouse for a full 'bath' experience, complete with massages and body scrubs. We discovered a bathhouse that dated back to the 16th century, but alas was for women only. Melenie thus got to enjoy 90 minutes of complete pampering, lying in cold stony 16th century alcoves that probably hadn't been washed since the 16th century, while overly rotund naked Uzbek women scrubbed her down. Still, it
The local watering hole for caravans making the journey from Europe to the far east. Also apparently the hang-out of thugs, murderers and scoundrels. Oh yeah, and the Emir's house.
was an experience, and she definitely smelled very clean when she finally emerged.
While Melenie was busy enjoying the comforts of the bath house, I decided to do the manly thing and hunt for food. We had read about a very traditional 'home-style' Uzbek house-restaurant hidden somewhere in the back streets. It took a good 45 minutes, but I finally found a young woman who knew the place. She muttered hurried instructions to a little 4-year old girl, who was then ordered to lead me down a side alley to the place. The 4-year-old ran ahead, running past a particularly mangy and rabies-infested-looking dog, and cleverly aroused him from his sleep. Said mangy mongrel decided he didn't like being woken up and thus decided to snarl and growl at me. Okay, so the dog was about the size of an obese rat, but I had paid good money for my 1-bite-only rabies shot, and I wasn't about to let mr. oversized rat take it away from me. So I sat there like a big wuss, looking worriedly from the dog to the little girl and then back again. The little girl rolled her eyes back, and proceeded to hurl
Told you there are lots in Bukhara. But they all look different.
little stones at the dog and shooed him away. Did I feel embarrassed? Yes!! Stupid little girl had just shown me up in front of goodness knows how many other locals who were peering from their windows.
But the story doesn't end there. I hurriedly ran past the dog and then down the alley. The girl lead me to the restaurant door, said 'thank you' and then ran off. Alas, the restaurant was closed, and so I was faced with the daunting task of making my way back past the enraged dog - this time, alone, without the help of the little girl. Of course, this time I was brave, and tough (but of course, sniveling and crying inside). I marched right up to that dog, shook my water bottle at him and yelled out a few agressive 'shoo-shoo's at him. Hah! Mangy dog was no match for my brave yells. The little pansy ran away screaming. Honestly - silly dog, scared of a little water bottle! (btw, I should add here that I am an absolute dog lover, and in this case, the only reason I was scared of this dog was because he looked rabies infested ...
The Emir's throne room
Personally, I would have expected more carpets, and more bling. Poor guy didn't even get a nice throne.
okay, well, maybe I was just a little scared ... well, okay, he had big teeth .... hey, you would have been scared too, you didn't see the mutt - he was immense with big rotting teeth and a festering soar on his snout!)
Anyway, on with the story. Returning back to civilization, I met up with Melenie and we decided it was time for dinner. Alas, once again, we had nowhere to eat, and we weren't going back to touristy Lyabi-haus. So off we went meandering the streets - this time we headed outside the old town into good old 'regular' Bukhara. We were hoping to find a very 'typical' local-style eating place, but obviously the Bukharan's don't believe in such places. All we could find were Italian and Korean restaurants (strangely enough, there must be lots of Koreans in Bukhara, because apart from the Korean restaurants, we also met a few Koreans walking on the street - how Koreans end up in Uzbekistan of all countries still puzzles me). We finally settled for some fancy looking Italian-Uzbek fusion place, which actually wasn't half bad. Thus ended day 2 of Bukhara.
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