Trip Start Aug 31, 2005
Trip End Aug 25, 2006

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Flag of Uzbekistan  ,
Monday, May 29, 2006

Sometimes you just get a real 'feel' for a town - for the atmosphere, the people, the buildings. I definitely got this in Bukhara, and ended up staying for days more than planned, just soaking up the ancient silk road feel to this beautiful beautiful town.

Its a fairy-tale town - of magical lamps, blue domes, Eastern beauties, winding alleys, quaint gift stores and stunning buildings bearing mosaic designs made from a thousand shades of blue. And somehow...you can just feel the ghosts of ancient camel caravans laden with silk and other treasures from hundreds of years ago as they traipsed across the desert into Bukhara, the only oasis for days around.

Bukhara is one of the most ancient cities of Uzbekistan, founded in 13th century BC. The name of Bukhara originates from the word "vihara" which means "monastery" in Sanskrit. The city was once a large commercial center on the Great Silk Road and home to the great Sheikh Bahautdin Nakshbandi. He was a central figure in the development of the mystical Sufi approach to philosophy, religion and Islam. In Bukhara there are more than 350 mosques and 100 religious colleges. Its fortunes waxed and waned through succeeding empires until it became one of the great Central Asian Khanates in the 17th century.

Anyway, 'nuff of the history! Just believe me when I say its a living, breathing ancient city, with the alleys filled with kids happily playing and women shopping, oblivious to their beautiful surroundings and the blue domes in the background of the many mosques and other ancient monuments preserved around the town.

I didn't do much while I was here, except spend hours and hours walking the streets, oohing and aahing over the beautiful buildings, checking out the local market, and of course, buying up :) So many goodies!

One night I did make it out to the local very amateur puppet theatre - basically a bunch of college girls putting on their own performance. I was priviledged to be the only one in the audience that night, and so the whole performance was for me alone, making me feel very special :)

Otherwise, I just spent hours chatting with the women and kids on the street. Despite being a tourist centre, everyone was very friendly and curious to talk to a young(ish) independent traveller. Though, sadly, all I initially got was 'how is life in America?' and 'I want to go to America'... I spent a good few hours on educating the youngsters on world geography and the pitfalls of the American way of life!

Perhaps the highlight of my stay however, was getting involved in a Women's Refuge Project. There is unfortunately a lot of domestic violence in Uzbekistan, mainly originating from pressure from the power-weilding mother-in-law on her son, to 'educate' his wife with his fists for being too lazy around the household. The wives have very little power or say, and so suffer terribly. A group of Uzbek women in Bukhara are now busy fund-raising and working with the local government to try and establish a refuge for women with problems to come and escape and learn to be self-sufficient. Through a contact of mum and dad at home, I got in touch with the director of the project and we went to the new proposed site to measure and take photos so students back in New Zealand could design a new refuge for them. A lot of hard work coordinating and measuring, but I did it, with the help of my translator Akmal, who insisted on taking me out afterwards to show me off to all his friends! If anyone is travelling to Bukhara and is interested in helping out (donations are very graciously accepted!) the contact details on the link above are correct :)

Oh yeah, and if you want a nice place to stay, check out Komil B&B - in a beautifully restored 19th century house! Komil is friendly, the massages are great, and the food pretty good as well. He asks $25 for a single, $15 with shared bathroom, but it may be possible to bargain a cheaper room in his father's house. It isn't the cheapest place to stay in Bukhara, but it is lovely and very centrally located!

Anyway, thats enough from Bukhara! Next stop, Khiva!
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