Museum city Khiva was only the start of our trip through Uzbekistan. Our next stop was Bukhara that quickly rose to the top of my favorite cities in Uzbekistan. In comparison with Khiva, Bukhara is more alive and has even more history. This city has already been with us for over 2500 years and you can really feel that in the old characteristic streets and by looking at the many markets and the mosques and madrassas. For us, Bukhara was also a city to catch our breath. The first few days in Uzbekistan were quite hectic. Short nights, a lot of traveling by plane and cars and so many sights we wanted to see. In Bukhara we could relax for a bit and see the city at a more slower (read: perfect) pace.
Learning the art of making a carpet
Bukhara was known as a market city on the Silk Road, because it was on the crossroad of the Middle East, India and China. The city had 40 bazaars and more than 20 caravanserai (resting place of the traveling merchants). The most important bazaars were located inside the ‘toks’. Toks were the domed markets built on the intersection of two trade routes. Smart, because that way every merchant had to cross these Bukhara bazaars. In the sixteenth century people came to the toks for jewelry, luxurious heads and to change money. Today people this trade has changed into souvenirs and carpets.
Speaking about carpets, behind one of the toks I found a carpet shop where I was invited for tea and mint. I also had the chance to visit the small workshop in the back and learn the art of making a carpet. Something I have never done before, and I clearly don’t have a keen eye for doing this. The girl that helped me was very nice, but right from the start it was clear I was no natural. Still, it was fun and the girls there had a chance to practice their English.
A spontaneous construction site at the holy Poi Kalon
Our visit to Uzbekistan was at the same time the annually Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit took place. This probably does not tell us Europeans anything, but for the Uzbek it is a pretty big deal. Political leaders from China, Russia, Kirgizstan and even Pakistan and India came to the Uzbek soil. We expected traffic to be a bit busier than useal, but we did not expect what we found at the Poi Kalon complex in Buchara. The local authorities had heard the Chinese president was coming to Bukhara and suddenly everything needed to be perfect. This meant: new tiles, new asphalt, new paint and every turquoise tile needed to be cleaned. The result was that we visited the Poi Kalon with a whole group of Uzbek construction workers and cleaners. Personally, I like these little surprises when I am traveling. Moreover, the construction workers made the Poi Kalon come even more to life.
The Poi Kalon with construction workers and cleaners
The Poi Kalon at ease
The result of the sudden construction was that the Poi Kalon looked amazing. This complex consists of a 48 meter high minaret, a mosque and a madrassa. The minaret used to have the nickname the ‘Tower of Death’, because criminals were thrown off with in a sack. The madrassa is still actively used and that is why you cannot visit that. But the court yard of the mosque is accessible and is a good place to finish the day and enjoy the last sun.
Relax at the Lyab i Hauz
The Lyab i Hauz is a beloved spot for many Bucharian people in the evening. You would think (and I really thought at first) the meaning of this word had something to do with a house, but that is not true. ‘Hauz’ means pond and refers to the historical pond that is in the middle of the square. Back in the days Bukhara had 200 water points throughout the city, because water was an issue in a desert country like Uzbekistan. The Lyab i Hauz is one of the last ones left. In the evening the Uzbek people love to go to this square and drink tea (or vodka). There is music and karaoke and kids ride rented electric cars around the pond. I also recommend going into the alleys of the old Jewish Quarter near Lyab i Hauz where I found a great selection of old characteristic doors. I am huge fan of old doors!
Quirky Bukhara: Chor Minor
Of course, I could not leave Bukhara without seeing the cover page of the Lonely planet ‘Central Asia’. The rectangular shaped monument ‘Chor Minor’ has been on the cover of the Lonely Planet for a couple of years and since then it has been stuck in my mind as a must see in Uzbekistan. To get there we had to leave the city center and follow the alleys of a nearby neighbourhood of the Lyab i Hauz. The Uzbek are really friendly people and along the way we are often helped by the locals to find the way. Fortunately for us, because otherwise we would have been circling around the block for at least a couple of times. The four towers are not that noticeable from a distance, because the houses around it stand on higher ground. I was (and still am) very glad I visited this monument, because it was stunning!
And Bukhara offers more
There is so much to see and to enjoy in Bukhara. I cannot tell you about all the sights in this city, because I already wrote more than 900 words so it is enough for now. After all, photos say more than words right?
Would you want to visit Bukhara or other parts of the Silk Road?