Bukhara, the pearl of Uzbekistan

Bukhara is a name synonymous with the ancient silk route. Another of Uzbekistan’s jewels where the caravans of camels stopped to restock before continuing on their perilous journey across the desert trading route. We were heading there from Khiva in a shit clapped out taxi.

We had a driver who clearly had no interest in road rules and was more interested in opening his door at 100kph to lean out and spit his chewing tobacco on the road every 3 minutes. I had in my mind a vision of what the desert would look like between Khiva and Bukhara. My version was completely wrong. It was a boringly flat journey across an equally flat boring desert.  It is a sandy desert with a thin covering of rocks and interspersed with thin scrub like grasses. As far as deserts go…a 3 out of 10. Six hours of this with the drivers window open and cold air blowing around my already cold body was enough to turn my fantasies to a scene of a murdered taxi driver lying on his bonnet with his throat slit while I huddled around his heater in the car. Sadly my fantasy would never come true…as the heater didn’t work! 

Arriving in Bukhara was also a shock as it failed to match the fantasy in my head of a medieval city in the desert. Obviously the 21st century had arrived even here and it was just like every other Uzbek city. Only this one had a medieval bit in the middle. We checked into our hotel and found the Uzbek owner trying to communicate with us by using Google translate from Russian to English…and failing hysterically! Our first issue was that the hot water was not hot. And the second, was that the heating on our air con was not working either! Our room was a giant fridge. I explained the issue through sign language and shouting in English until he grasped the problem. He suddenly pointed at the floor and held up two fingers. I understood this perfectly and translated to Amy that the underfloor heating would be on in two hours time. Amy cried laughing, questioning my translation and asking me why a hotel in the desert would have got underfloor heating? Within half an hour a heating engineer turned up and ripped the air-con unit apart. We sat outside while he climbed up above our door for the the external unit, and onto a table inside our room for the internal unit. During this process the owner tried to explain the problem and translated using his phone which announced “The pilaf slice is frozen”. We fell about laughing at this complete translation fail and let them continue unscrewing the circuit board. His next attempt at translation failed just as badly. The sentence to explain the air-con would be fixed shortly came out as “Eleanor Olag is big”. Once again we cried laughing while he swore in Russian and grimaced at his phone. We did wonder who Eleanor Olag was though.

True to his word the air con was fixed two hours later, whilst the underfloor heating I had promised Amy mysteriously never came on. After warming up for a bit we went out for an evening stroll around the quite pretty and well lit old quarter. The following day we ventured out to see the main sites. The main attractions of Poi Kaylon and Kaylon Minar were absolutely stunning and lived up to their reputation as being jewels of Bukhara. They are beautifully tiled, huge and stunning. We visited every madrassa, minaret and historical sight of worth and loved them all. After a big day of sightseeing we would usually go to a restaurant, eat some sashlik, rice, vegetables, bread and tomato salad and sink a few beers. On this particular night after eating and having perhaps one or two more beers than needed, we returned to our hotel and shared some rum and coke with the owner. We chatted using sign language, Amy’s limited knowledge of Turkish words, my limited knowledge of Russian words, and good old Google translate. We actually had a pretty nice chat and found out that the 67 year old, who’s name was Hussain, had completely re-built this hotel by hand. The ornate carving of the woodwork was amazing. One of the rooms had been decorated with plasterwork and painted in the traditional Islamic patterns and colours of the Madrassa’s. It was a real piece of art and Hussain had clearly poured his heart into the place. He had four grown children (and a grandson), and his wife was currently in hospital with a bad back. Amy asked him what he wished for in life, and his humble answer had a true human and Islamic value to it. He replied “For my children to be healthy”. I thought it pretty much summed up the people in Uzbekistan. Humble, peaceful, friendly and polite. At the end of our time in Bukhara I felt a sadness at having to say goodbye to Hussain, but I was looking forward to Samarkand.

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