Lobby House Daze

Bukhara Travel Blog

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The Mir-i-Arab in morning light
Bukhara was one place I wanted to go back to for a better feel, and I was justly rewarded. Upon arrival at the Kagan train station, I took a marshrutka to Cafe Duet, where I was to meet Jungsun, my first CouchSurfer of the trip. I was delayed because the driver didn't know where it was, but he put me on another marshrutka and I wasn't too late. Jungsun is a volunteer with a Korean organization similar to Peace Corps, and works at Bukhara State University. I also met Lydia, a Peace Corps volunteer who had finished her service in Kyrgyzstan in August and was traveling around. We all went to Jungsun's friend's house for dinner, where Lydia would stay that night and I would be staying the following two nights. Rahima and her sister Mavluda brightened the room with their smiles and almost competed for attention with questions. I turns out they had known Peace Corps volunteers I knew and asked all about them [Betsy, Kelly, Jason - if you are reading]. We had a good evening chatting until it was late, and Jungsun and I walked back to her flat.

Since she had to be at work by 9, we left around 8:45 and I got an early start on the day. I walked north, aiming for the Char Minar, but got lost in the maze of streets. Apparently I walked well past it and when I rounded a corner deep in the mahalla, or neighborhood, where clearly I didn't belong, an old woman looked up at me as if she knew I was completely lost. She said she was going in that direction and would show me. I offered to carry her heavy bags, but she refused, saying they were light. Occasionally she reminded me that I should ask for directions, and I assured her I would. When we got to a corner she explained where it was but after saying goodbye five times, she said "I'll show you," and walked me to the very street it was on. I thanked her several times and we said our goodbyes.

In the morning light the Char Minar was beautiful and thankfully deserted. Its four minarets reflected the sun's rays while in the distance I heard someone sprinkle water on the dirt paths in front of their house, and a couple chickens cluck. From there I made my way toward the busier and touristy Old City, characterized by Lyabi-Hauz Square, named for the famous pool of water that is now surrounded by cafes and is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon drinking beer, as I later discovered.

There are far too many mosques, medressas and other sights to specifically mention but my favorites were the covered bazaars like the Taqi Telpak Furushon, and the Mir-i-Arab medressa next to the Kalon minaret. Of course the Ark at the far end of the old city is enormous, a city within the city. Just about every nook and cranny was covered with Uzbek suzani, ceramics, knives, carpets or other souvenirs. I remember loading up on souvenirs here before I left, and it's certainly doubled the pool of possible loot you can buy. I was happy to discover that the legendary Spice Guy was still there. I chatted with him for awhile, talking about Peace Corps volunteers that we both might know while I took in the delectable aroma of the freshly ground spices. It was the scent I was most looking forward to! Apparently the Spice Guy has his own teahouse, so later that day I stopped in and sampled three pots of different spiced teas and a cup of cardamom coffee and assorted sweets all for a total of less than $4. Pure heaven, although I could not drink all three pots of tea as much as my taste buds tried to persuade me otherwise.

I walked a little further past the main cluster of tourist attractions to visit the Chashma Ayub, or the Spring of Job, supposedly originated when Job struck his staff on the spot sometime around the 12th century. Still not brave enough to drink the water, I settled for a dip from a bucket to wash my hands and face. I hope with all these spiritual cleansings I will have unstoppable karma on this trip and beyond! The Bolo-Hauz mosque was not too far away, and also very pretty aivan work. I continued walking around and realized I hadn't had much to eat, so I stopped at a store and found oatmeal-raisin cookies for 100 sums each. But combined with the sweets I'd had, I was running mostly on a sugar buzz. I decided to make my way back to the Lyabi-Hauz and chill on a tapchan, or raised platform, with some soup and a cold beer. The weather has been perfect, and just the right ingredients for a perfect day. I walked back to Jungsun's and picked up my stuff to make the switch to Rahima's. We had plov for dinner and after chatting for awhile I went to bed by ten, awakened frequently by divebomber mosquitoes after my blood, or maybe just to annoy me.

Today is October 16th and I'm planning my exit tomorrow. If all goes well I will be in Tajikistan tomorrow night. But this morning I visited two sites I hadn't seen before: the Bakhautdin Naqshband mausoleum and the Emir's Summer Palace known as Mohi Xossa. Both locations were outside of town, but accessible by marshrutkas and fairly pleasant. Naqshband is famous for being the founder of Sufism, a pure form of Islam, and the mausoleum doubles as his birthplace and is a site of pilgrimage. Devotees circled his tomb three times counter-clockwise and kissed the wooden pole with a talisman dangling from the end. In the back courtyard there was an old tree trunk reputed to have sprouted when Bakhautdin returned from his hajj.

The Summer Palace was decadent for this part of the world, with examples of fine china, silver trays, elaborate vases and imported mirrors. Only a small portion of the palace was open for visitors, but the grounds were open and pleasant enough to stroll around. A large pool was located in front of the harem, and a large wooden pavilion stood overlooking the pool. There was also a mysterious peacock farm, perhaps fitting for an emir so as to show off the best he has.

I wandered through a bazaar on the non-tourist part of town and had a pimped up hot dog: beet and carrot relish, ketchup, mayonnaise and cabbage on a fat roll. It set me back 1000 sum but was very tasty, as was the 200-sum ice cream sprinkled with cocoa powder squeezed from an old plastic Coke bottle. I think it's time to head back to the Lyabi Hauz for a beer, or maybe the wine tasting nearby, if I still have enough sum to get by until tomorrow. I don't want to change any more money here, and would like to use what I have up.

Having nine years distance between visits to Uzbekistan has been helpful for me to assess what I have learned from the experience living here and to recognize the impact I had. Even if I hadn't been here, I think I would have had a good time, but being able to speak Uzbek pretty well has ensured me richer experiences and a chance to use a language I wasn't sure I would remember. Hopefully it will come in handy in the other places I plan to travel. Until next time...

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The Mir-i-Arab in morning light
The Mir-i-Arab in morning light
photo by: Vlindeke