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THE BACKPACKSTERS

Bukhara: The Holiest City in Central Asia

As children, we have all come across "The Arabian Nights" in some way or another. Many refer to it in its original name, "One thousand and one nights". But what if you wanted to see that in real life? 

 

Stunning, isn't it?

 

Hailed as the holiest city in Central Asia, Bukhara has some really interesting charm about it. Even though the city is more modern today, the heritage is undeniably evident in every major block in the city. Read on to see these illustrious spots!

 

1. The Ark

Just like the one in Khiva, this Ark (or Fortress) is one of the most integral cogs in Bukhara's metaphorical wheel! Its construction dates back to the 5th century AD, but it suffered significant damages during the Soviet wars. The Ark is home to some very interesting museums, which are situated inside the main entrance seen below. 

 

The entrance to the Ark, Bukhara

 

The best time to visit is in the mornings, when the crowds are away. Spending about 2 hours is a very fruitful experience, considering how much is there to admire inside. 

 

 

2. Bolo Hauz Mosque

Across the street from the Ark, is this amazing house of worship. The "Friday" mosque dates back to the early 1700s, and serves as a prayer hall even now. But what makes the mosque stand out from the other monuments in the city, is the sheer beauty of the 20 wooden pillars and the tile work both inside and out.

 

The 20 majestic pillars of the Bolo Hauz Mosque prayer hall

 

The inside of the Mosque is decked in beautiful lighting, with the Qibla Wall and the Mihrab (the holy wall inside the mosque which represents the direction towards Mecca) in hues of blue. Expect to spend around 30 minutes at this site.

 

 

3. The Po-i-Kalyan or the Kalon Ensemble

This Mosque and Minaret combination is extremely popular, almost being the face of the great city of Bukhara. It includes the Kalyan (or "Kalon") Minar, the Kalyan Mosque and the Siddikion Mosque (seen in the first picture at the top of this article).

 

The Po-i-Kalyan, in the warmth of a late afteroon

 

The Kalyan Minar was built in the early 12th century, by the then Khan of the region, to summon the people of the town to the five daily prayers. Even today, the minar stands just as majestically as it did then. The Kalyan Mosque encloses the Mir-i-Arab Madrassah and a large open courtyard, with a tree in the centre. 

 

The rich turquoise majolica patterns are very captivating, especially before sunset.

 

Expect to spend about 2 hours admiring these as well as the Siddikion Mosque inside.

 

 

4. Chor Minor (or "four minars")

This small 4 tower structure, is actually in the opposite side of the city, away from most of the main sights in Bukhara, but nevertheless, its a very interesting building. Most Indians would recognise its similarity to the Char Minar in Hyderabad. There is a separate ticket to this also, as in most other buildings in Bukhara.

 

Those turquoise Onion domes are so perfect!

 

BONUS: Just across the street from the Chor Minor, you will find a souvenir shop, selling Soviet era medals and Badges and other antiques. Knock-off (and maybe an actual original) Soviet Red Stars are also available, but make sure to bargain well - they may be over priced. In case you don't buy them here, it is possible to buy it in Tashkent as well, at the Amir Temur Park.

 

5. Other things to see in Bukhara:

 

Spend an hour admiring the House Museum of the great Fayzulla Khodjaev, one of Bukhara's greatest political leaders.
The house is remnant of the culture that prevailed in the early Soviet rule of the country.

 

Walk around in the back alleys of the city, at dusk

 

And spend endless hours at Lyab-i-Hauz, the city centre, admiring the mosques as well as the statue of the most famous 
Bukharan - Nasruddin Khodja (or Mulla Nasruddin, as he was popularly called, in Indian comic books) 

 

 

  • How much time to spend in Bukhara? Is one day enough to see all of Bukhara?
    • The minimum time required for a satisfying experience is two days, nothing more, nothing less!
    • Most often, the shared taxis from Khiva/Samarkand reach in the afternoon - so you could consider spending that half day as well as the next full day in Bukhara, soaking in all that the city has to offer. You can then leave to the next city on the subsequent morning.
    • One day sightseeing in Bukhara is possible too, maybe if you just visit the top 5 sights, but the city is best explored at a slower pace.

 

 

  • How to get to Bukhara?
     
    • Bukhara is connected with Samarkand, Tashkent and many other towns by high speed trains (Afrosiyob and SharQ trains) and even by air.
    • Samarkand to Bukhara: TRAIN
      Take the Afrosiyob (Spanish built bullet train) at under USD 8 (INR 560, with snacks on board) from Samarkand, it is the most economical way to transfer between the two cities.
    • Khiva to Bukhara: Get a Shared Taxi!
      • At a cost of USD 15 or UZS 100,000 at minimum (for one seat), you can cover the 450 km stretch in about 6 hours. It is the most economical way.
      • Just book with it with your hostel/hotel the night before - its really that easy.
      • You can even hail a taxi from the taxi stand at Lyab-i-Hauz - but bargain hard, these drivers need a good push, otherwise, their rates can seem quite unrealistically high! 
      • The taxi drive is through the desert, and although the highways is excellent, the last 30 kms section of the road out of Bukhara can be potholed, bumpy and very dusty. Air conditioning is not really used in these shared cabs, even though there are 5 persons inside the car and hot outside! The car stops to refuel at a point mid-way and you normally get about 15 minutes to use the restroom and buy snacks. 

 

 

  • Where to stay in Bukhara?
     
    • The best experiences are often found in the old hotels around Lyab-i-Hauz.
    • We reserved a room at Hotel Nasriddin Navruz, a small hotel, run by a very warm family (the grandfather is Mr. Nasriddin, a very fun man!) and is just a hundred metres from the Lyab-i-Hauz common area. At USD 42 (~INR 3,060) or UZS 340,000 (including all taxes), it was pocket friendly considering that it was a private room, including breakfast for two mornings, choi (tea) and snacks. Check it out here.
      The courtyard was perfect for spending lazy hours, in.
       

Fresh fruits, choi and biscuits at the hotel
 

  • There is a bank that changes money at Lyab-i-Hauz at the market rates. 

 

 

  • What to eat in Bukhara? 
     
    • The best collection of cafes and restaurants is at Lyab-i-Hauz, and this is the BEST place to spend your evenings in Bukhara, especially after a long day of exploring the city.
    • The Lagman (flat noodles), noodle soup and plov (rice dish) are all pretty good - these being some of the national dishes.
    • Now, most of these dishes are made with meat, but you can request the waiter for a vegetarian option - and they make sure you get it!
    • Another great cafe is the Alibaba Restaurant, just a little further away from Bolo Hauz (20-pillared) Mosque - they served the best vegetarian Lagman, and the hostess is very kind! (Navneeth even got a 20% discount for apparently looking like an "Uzbeki", from "Hindostan" - YAAAY!)
    • Drink lots of Tea - its so cheap and flows quite freely, really, in many places. And don't forget the freshly baked breads!

 

 

  • BONUS: Suggested way of exploring Bukhara
     
    • Start before 8 am, to make good use of the day! In fact, most of the attractions are easy to get to on foot, and expect to walk around 6 to 8 kms for one day's sightseeing.
    • If you are interested in taking a taxi ride, it is usually within UZS 10,000 (INR 100) or less.
    • But like we mentioned above, some of the best architecture, is found in the back alleys of this city, away from the crowds!
      In fact, the Art Museum in Bukhara is a just a couple of metres down the alley from the Khoja-Gaukushan Madrassah

 

And don't forget to collect your registration slips from your host.

 

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