Bukhara is our second stop on the Silk Road in Uzbekistan. It used to be a very powerful Khanate controlling most of Turkmenistan and the surrounding area. The city has been a center of trade, culture and religion which left it with an interesting history and an architecture which is considered one of the finest in all of Uzbekistan. The historic center of Bukhara is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and features lots of what we call the 4Ms (mosques, mausoleums, minarets and madrasahs). Nowadays the Uzbek government invests a significant amount of money to preserve the cities sights and I could observe lots of restoration work in the city.
Exploring Bukhara gave us an excellent impression how Central Asia has been before the Soviet domination. We spent most of the day walking with Jelol, our local guide, around the city. It’s more touristy then Khiva, the last place we visited. There is hardly any sight which isn’t swamped by local people trying to sell souvenirs. They reach from carpets, clothes, books, postcards to Soviet pins and hats. There are also much more tourists around mainly from Germany and France. Uzbekistan seems to be a popular destination for pensioners who have been to many other parts of the world or who have a specific interest in the history of the area and the Silk Road.
The first stop of our walking tour was a carpet museum where we could see a number of historic carpets. Actually carpets are not only a popular souvenir from the Silk Road but also popular amongst the locals. Many of them own a number of carpets and do not only cover the floor with them but also the walls to protect their house from the cold in winter time.
The main sight of Bukhara is the Po-i-Kalyan Complex containing a number of historic structures. One of them is the Kalyan Minaret which was used by the muezzins to summon the Muslims to prayer. The Kalyan Minaret is 45m high and also known as Tower of Death since until the beginning of the twentieth century it was used to execute criminals by throwing them from the top of the tower. Certainly not a way I would prefer to die. Other historic buildings in the complex are the Kalân Mosque and the Mir-i Arab Madrassah at which we had a look at.
The next stop of our tour was the The Ark Fortress. Unfortunately it was closed for restoration so we could only see its wall and entrance. Jelol told us if we would like to visit the fortress we should come back in the evening and bribe the police. There seems to be nothing wrong with bribing in this country and sometimes we got even ask by the police if we would like to have a look at certain closed sights for some small money.
Only a few steps away from the fortress was a mosque which is called the Forty Pillar Mosque. Actually it only has twenty pillars but when you include the reflections in a pond nearby you can count forty pillars. The last stop of our walking tour around Bukhara was the Samanid Mausoleum which is the resting place of a powerful emir. The mausoleum is very well preserved because it used to be covered by soil for many years and therefore it was hard to spot by enemies.
When visiting sights in Uzbekistan we often not just get charged an entrance fee but they also try to sell us a photo permit costing 1-2 USD per sight. Not purchasing the permit, as I did, was never an issue since often you didn’t even receive a ticket proofing you purchased the permit. There is also no staff around checking who is taking pictures and who not so simply save the money.
Before heading back to the hotel some of us tried Pilaf which is a local rice dish. You can buy it everywhere on the street and also find it on the menu of many restaurants.
In the evening we went to a local nightclub which was an interesting cultural experience. The entry fee for women was about half the price of the one for men and after entering the nightclub I found out why this was the case. About 80 percent of the guests were male and not particularly handsome. On the dance floor I literally had to push a number of them away from me because they tried to touch me with their fat little hands or rub their sweaty body on me. Also the music was kind of interesting. It changed from electronic music to local pop songs and belly-dancing music. While the belly-dancing music was played, some of the local ladies where fighting with each other for the fame of the best dancer. It wasn’t really a joy to watch since also the women weren’t particularly beautiful and their dance performance was kind of embarrassing. Although I really enjoy spending the whole night dancing in a club I had enough of it after 1-2 hours so I went back to the hotel and the others were following me. Seems nobody really liked it.