Our Stay In the Beautiful City of Bukhara

Trip Start May 14, 2009
Trip End Jun 15, 2009

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Where I stayed
Asia Bukhara Hotel

Flag of Uzbekistan  , Buxoro,
Saturday, May 23, 2009

We arrived in the holy city of Bukhara late in the afternoon. Bukhara is Central Asia's holiest city with buildings spanning over thousands of years of history. The city is believed to be founded in the 13th century BC, some 980 years before Alexander the Great. Like Khiva, it oozes with the rich history of Alexander the Great, Genghiz Khan, Tamerlame and his grandson the famous Ulugbek, and the trading history of the ancient Silk Road. It was once the mighty capital of the Saminad state in the 9th and 10th centuries. Today it has a population of around 255,000.

The oasis city is swathed in fascinating history with magnificently preserved knock your socks off architecture. We met with our guide Behruz and explored the Ismail Samani Mausoleum, one of the oldest monuments in Bukhara and the bizarre but beautiful Emir’s Summer Palace, home of the last emir Alim Khan. The palace was a strange mixture of Russian alabaster works and local architecture. It was debatable to us as to whether it was gaudy or beautiful. We think it was both. Outside was a pool where the Emir’s harem women swam. Behruz told us of the story that the Emir always threw an apple to his chosen bedmate for the night. He laughed that he would need to be an accurate shot.

Our Asia Bukhara Hotel, like the Asia Khiva Hotel was located right next to the old city of Bukhara. Like most of the Uzbekistan hotels we stayed in, the accommodation was clean and pleasant and wonderfully located. However, it was almost as if these hotels had been built to order but with a slight oversight – there was absolutely no service and nothing worked. Flooding bathrooms and a complete lack of amenities (no water, no glasses if we did have water, no electric jugs, laundry facilities and so on) became pretty tiresome. In general there were no clocks and the only wake up call we got was one that we didn’t request.

On the positive side however, we did have BBC television. That WAS a plus. And how could we complain - we were so fortunate to be in one of the most romantic and historic cities in the world!

Sometimes too, we felt that we only saw the negative side of things because on many occasions we were absolutely exhausted. I laughed one day with Alan that I knew I was getting tired when the lack of perforations in the toilet paper stressed me out!

This was my first encounter with the Uzbekistan Internet. An Internet café was located quite close to our hotel but it was unbelievably slow and kept shutting down. I soon gave up trying to send or access emails but it was disappointing not to be able to record my travelogue on line. This happened all through Central Asia.

Our evening meal on our first night in Bukhara was at a chaikana (tea house) in the splendid setting of the Lyabi-Hauz, a plaza build around a mulberry tree shaded pool dating back to the year 1620. While we spent most of the time during our meal feeding the numerous stray animals, it was a truly delightful and atmospheric place to dine and relax.

The next morning I woke up to an unmentionable bout of food poisoning. Was it the blow flies’ sticky feet at the desert restaurant or had I caught something dreadful from the stray animals at the chaikana? It didn’t matter. All I knew was that I was REALLY sick.

Our first morning in Bukhara introduced us to the entrenched police and official corruption in Uzbekistan. It was our first introduction to "bakeesh" or bribes to officials. At the first Bukhara bank we were told that we were not allowed in. “Why not?” we asked. It was a very large bank and there were numerous tellers open everywhere. Well, we just couldn’t. The police were stationed at the entrance of the bank and would not let people in. Well, of course with a little bribe they would... But we resisted and moved on to yet another bank, and another. Later that evening while talking with other hotel guests, we were told that it is not uncommon for locals to have to try ten or so different banks before they would be allowed entry. The young local people were openly disgusted with the practice.

Similarly, bakeesh is a common practice with the police. There are frequent road blocks throughout Uzbekistan. While we had no problems thanks to Naim calling out “tourists!” at every point we were told over and over again by locals about the road police. Apparently being a police officer on the roads is a much sought after profession. Although they are dreadfully underpaid they certainly make up for it in bribes or bakeesh.

Behruz, like our previous guides was university educated and was completing a Masters degree in history. His passion for the history of Bukhara and his depth of knowledge and attention to detail was overwhelming. So was his thoughtfulness for the sick. If it had not been for Behruz recommending that we sat down every so often, I know that I would not have lasted our day tour of the wonderful Bukhara. And what a waste that would have been.

Despite me feeling like death, our day in Bukhara was fascinating. We explored, if rather slowly, Bukhara's oldest structure The Ark - the citadel where excavations reveal finds dating back to the 4th and 3rd Century BC, the Registan (the main square and once infamous place for public executions), the magnificent 47 meters high Kalon Minaret, the covered bazaars and numerous medressas, mosques, mausoleums and museums. Needless to say, we did not avoid visiting the horrendous former jail – now a museum - with its depressing range of torture chambers and dungeons.

Our day finished with a long walk along the back lanes of Bukhara in the shadows of the afternoon to Chor-minor, a quaint small medressa dominated by four minarets that was constructed in 1806-07 by the order of a rich Turkmenian merchant from Bukhara. There we sat absorbing the atmosphere and listening to the low tones of Behruz explaining in intricate detail the history and architecture of this site.

Thankfully I was starting to feel human and on Behruz’ advice we decided to buy some Emir’s bread and tomatoes for our evening meal. Together with our trusty Viola cheese, this sort of dinner was to become common for us with our Bukhara Belly hanging on for the duration of our travels.
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