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Published: March 7th 2014
I entered Bukhara on a grey morning day of November with the firm intention to save money on accommodation. In Samarkand many people told me it was impossible to get any cash out in Uzbekistan (and Turkmenistan and Iran!) so I had to make sure the US Dollars I had hidden at the bottom of my bike-panniers would last me for the last 10 days of my stay in Uzbek + 5 more days in Turkmenistan and at least a month in Iran…
After following some large uneventful avenues I found myself in the old quarter of Bukhara: many old and beautiful brick buildings (mostly hotels nowadays), mosques and minarets, medressas and colorful plazas. I entered the first guesthouse… Empty but 15dollars a night. I tried to get the price down to 8 but the owner was not interested. 2nd
hostel: lovely setting but completely empty and dirty, almost abandoned and the guy wanted 10 dollars a night for me to sleep on a carpet and shower in a sink… I may as well cycle outside the city and camp again! I ended up visiting no less than 15 pretty much empty hostels but none of the managers seemed ready
to bargain. Weird, no? I suppose they had made their money in the summer time and didn’t feel like working (at all!) in the off season. And then, I saw it! A little shop promoting Visa Card transactions! IT IS possible to get cash in Bukhara if you have a Visa (they don’t take MasterCard!). I relaxed and chose a guesthouse with a good breakfast and dinner for 12 dollars a night. They agreed that when my friends Nuno and Joana join me, we would all get a cheaper deal.
Bukhara was so quiet. The old town felt completely asleep. The street merchants paid more attention to their game of cards than the few tourists walking around. Most cafés were closed. It seemed like the locals all wanted a break from tourists… I suppose the rain didn’t help. The sky over Bukhara was dark and threatening most of the time. I waited for blue sky to take pictures but it didn’t last long and so I took few photos (much fewer than in Samarqand where I did get carried away…)
I did enjoy walking around the crazy maze of old streets and not knowing where this would get
Lamb + bread + tea!
me. I met a teenager who wanted to practice his English because he was about to take the IELTS test. As I teach IELTS in China (and write books about it HA! ;-) I invited him to join me for a walk and I asked him questions about his hometown and his family. He said his father works in Russia and that he really wants to study in England to learn about business and make money here in Bukhara in the future. I gave him a few tips and I started imagining myself teaching here in Uzbekistan for a few months… Not gonna happen!
My computer crashed while in Bukhara. So I asked the people at my hotel where I could get it fixed… and they gave me directions to follow. I ended up in a Samsung shop where a Russian shop assistant (tall, blond, with blue eyes, you know the kind you usually see inside fashion magazines!) took my laptop and my phone number… Please call me! She told me it would be ready around 4pm… and then she called to say 6pm… and when I turned up at the store, she took me to the back of
Mir-i-Arab was a 16th century sheikh from Yemen who had a strong influence on the Shaybanid ruler Ubaidullah Khan
the shop… to meet the technicians who were re-installing Windows… in Russian!! Oh yeah! So I got a brand new anti-virus in Russian. Words
is in Russian, Skype
is in Russian… How cool! ‘Spasibo!’
I hung out with the 2 guys and their lovely assistant for a couple of hours. My computer kept crashing so it took forever. One of the guys used to play professional basketball in Tashkent but after he blew his knee he had to get a job and he ended up fixing computers in Bukhara. We drank tea in their workshop, surrounded by washing-machines, air-conditioners, computers and other appliances all taken apart. I should have taken pictures (I only took pics of the architecture in Bukhara… shame on me) They laughed when I told them I rode a bike from China. They thought I was crazy. In Asia many locals like to ask questions related to money. In China you start talking to a taxi driver and he will ask you where you’re from, what you do and how much you make. In the workshop the technicians and I started comparing the cost of living in Bukhara and in China. One guy had just bought a
3 bedroom-house for US$ 40,000 (which would cost up to 4 times as much in China) but couldn’t afford a car (Chevrolet Sparks are manufactured in Uzbekistan and are sold for US$ 15,000) and petrol (more than $1.30/liter, which makes it the most expensive of Central Asia). We used Google translation
to talk because none of them spoke English. We laughed at the translations because some weird phrases came up along the way.
Talking about languages, I was absolutely amazed at the street sellers’ ability to juggle Russian, English, French or German with tourists. I had my eyes on a large hand-painted plate and the young lady I haggled with knew so many precise words to describe the pottery and the quality of the ceramics (using words like “pattern, clay, traditional, elegant…” But she was still annoying as she answered my questions by another question:
- Здравствуйте! Hello!
- Hello Sir! Where are you from?
- Oh. Je parle francais. Il y a beaucoup de francais a Bukhara.
- Yes, lots of French tourists everywhere in Uzbekistan. Can you tell me, how much is this plate over there?
- How many
do you want to buy?
- Just one. How much is this one?
- Do you want a big one or a small one? Look, this one is beautiful! Regardez le motif. C’est joli.
- I like the big one. Tell me how much it is please.
- Don’t you want the green one over there? Look at the design. C’est vert, c’est de la bonne qualité, Monsieur.
- Your French is very good. How much is THIS one, the big blue one?
- I can make you a price if you buy 2 or 3. Do you want a bowl too?
As you will see through my photos Bukhara is a lovely place to spend a few days and enjoy a glimpse of what pre-Russian Turkestan used to look like. I learned from my guidebook that until a century ago Bukhara was watered by a network of canals and some 200 stone pools where people gathered and gossiped, drank and washed. As the water wasn’t changed often, Bukhara was famous for plagues; the average 19th
-century Bukharan is said to have died by the age of 32. The Bolsheviks modernized
Thank you guys! See you soon!
visit their website at http://globonautas.net/
They started riding in New Zealand. They are going back to Portugal!
the system and drained the pools. In the 16th
century the Uzbek Shaybanids made it the capital of what came to be known the Bukhara Khanate. The town was a vast marketplace with dozens of bazaars, more than 100 medressas and more than 300 mosques.
My cycling friends Nuno and Joana (from Portugal) eventually made it to Bukhara (I tease them that they ride like elderly people) and we hung out, and looked at maps, and talked about previous traveling experiences, future plans on a bike, and how it would be sweet to be lying on a beach in Thailand instead of freezing our bottoms on a bike in Central Asia! On my last night in Bukhara we went to buy some beef and potatoes, and Nuno and Joana cooked a birthday dinner for me in their bathroom! Great memory! Thank you guys! And see you on the road!
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