Sunday Spotlight : Bukhara
Hello! And welcome to the Sunday Spotlight. Each Sunday I aim to provide a post about somewhere in the world I’ve visited that is pretty darned awesome, in my opinion at least. I hope this Easter everyone is safe and enjoying a relaxing weekend with their families and friends. As for me, well, I am off to Mount Fuji today, finally getting up close and personal with this iconic landmark of Japan.
But it’s too Uzbekistan I’m taking the blog to, and the Silk Road city of Bukhara, an ancient place with a middle eastern feel. It’s really the perfect place to appreciate Islamic Architecture and feel a part of history that many tourists worldwide have never considered and have never heard of. And Uzbekistan has loads of this sort of stuff, but the old quarter in Bukhara is quite self contained, great to roam the streets and alleyways, and is somewhat away from the bustle of the larger, more modern part of the city.
Getting there? Well the train from Tashkent, when I visited a couple of years back now, took around 7 hours, but they have since bought Talgo trains so the journey should be somewhat faster.
Sleep where? I slept at a great little guesthouse called Sarafon Bed and Breakfast. Uzbekistan has a great collection of Bed and Breakfasts, and this is no exception. Rooms are $25-30, comfortable, have bathroom and air conditioner, and the owners are friendly and eager to help. Good location in the old town.
Eating – Plenty of restaurants around, try the one in the main square Lyabi Hauz, I had a good meal with a couple of drinks for around $8.
Some of the things to see in the town include (from my ebook ‘Short Journeys: Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan’ –
Wandering the streets is, on its own, a real highlight of visiting Bukhara. Dusty streets, high walls, many of them were pretty much deserted as I wandered around and then suddenly – Bang! A tour group. But I also passed Medressas and mosques in the amazing streets of Bukhara. The Kalon Mosque has a striking minaret which you see above the houses and walls in the area north east of Lyabi-Hauz. It’s kind of nestled between houses and such and it springs up on your out of nowhere.
Inside, the Kalon Mosque continues to impress with its great beauty. It features wondrous high arches and a blue dome, and isn’t quite as popular with the tourist as some of the other attractions in Bukhara. It’s big and mosaic work is exquisite. There are lots of corridors with arches in what are sort of cloisters, it’s also really peaceful. A real highlight of Bukhara.
‘The Ark’ – with a name like that, I expected a big boat! Except of course that I’d researched already and knew it wasn’t. It’s actually a big citadel, reputedly the oldest part of Bukhara that was bombed by the Soviets in 1920. So what you see today is mostly rebuilt. But nevertheless, it’s very impressive.
From Lyabi-Hauz you walk past the Kalon Mosque and Minaret, through to the Registan area. The Registan is the square outside the Ark. You’ll see the Ark rising above the buildings as you close in. Then past a whole stretch of tourist shops selling artefacts and carpets and if you’re lucky postcards (postcards in Central Asia are rarer than hen’s teeth. Well, almost!).
Then there she is, rising out of the sand with huge turrets, a huge entrance, it’s almost a sand castle that got bigger than the kids had intended and will now stand forever. What’s inside? Well it starts with an impressive passageway past the opening gate opening up at the top with various buildings and so forth to explore.
Central inside the citadel is the Juma (means ‘Friday’) Mosque. It’s not massive, but it is interesting. It dates back to the 17th century and inside are many different Korans. There are a couple of courtyards you’ll find once you start exploring. Everything may have basically been rebuilt, but it’s still quite striking and impressive. Be aware if you are there in summer as I was it will be very hot, and as in all of Bukhara there is very little shade.
If you explore the buildings and courtyards you will come across a couple of different museums. I always find the history of the last century or so more interesting than that of ancient times with broken pottery and the like, both are on show here. Perhaps what is best though is the view across Bukhara. Definitely worth the admission price (double if you have a camera) to get up there and look out across this amazing city that was once part of the Silk Road.
Pretty much opposite the Ark, you’ll find the Bolo-Hauz Mosque. It’s a really nice place inside, and worth a peak. If you’re lucky you won’t have too much company, although the tour groups kept coming in and out of there whilst I was there sadly. Its façade features thin wooden columns and a sort of lattice-worked wooden roof, then you enter and look up to a beautiful white dome. There are many arches, and the floor is covered with interesting carpets. It dates back to the early 18th century and was specially built for the Emir of the time.
Outside there is something of a pond and a water tower between the mosque and the Ark. Apparently you can climb the water tower for great views. I didn’t, I hate heights and no-one else was climbing whilst I was there so decided it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.
If you’d like to learn more about Uzbekistan and my experiences there, check out my ebook available on Amazon Kindle – Short Journeys: Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.