There is a Heartbreak Hill* in every trip. Last year it was cycling round 25 square miles (or was it 75) of Pagoda ridden Burmese desert on a bike with flat tires in 90° heat. This year it’s the temperature hitting 94° in Bukhara and the relentless desert wind depositing sand into every orifice and developing either a brutal allergy or a brutal cold or most likely both. A year older and wiser, I give up the ghost immediately and retire to the sofa on the shady upper terrace at my B & B with a nice soft toilet roll, a couple of liters of tepid water and a good book. Mine host, Nazira, sends the resident millenial up with tea on an hourly basis and the next day the temperature has dropped 40° and the wind has given up and I am fully restored.
* A notorious feature of the Boston marathon whose name speaks for itself.
A shady terrace oasis when its 94° outside.
Nothing like a restorative tea with meringues to keep the blood sugar up.
Its just as well because in terms of Silk Road romance Bukhara has it all. Of the more than 140 monuments ‘of significance’ only about 20% have been restored so there are plenty to go round. The faithful get their working medressas (I sneak into one by attaching myself to my very own grandma gang. The mullah charges 1000 sum (15 cents) each to sing at us while we assume the praying position with our hands, and then won’t let us go all the way inside after all, eliciting much grumbling. Later Gulnoza (our milenial) says it’s just as well I didn’t tell him he has a lovely voice).
My very own grandma gang is also staying at the B & B. They spirit me off on the abortive medressa adventure, out for dinner – a bowl of lamb bone soup (they thoughtfully skim the fat off mine) and then shopping. The pink lady “Hayat like the hotel chain” is from the Uzbeki restaurant in Brooklyn Olivia and I had lunch at last November.
The less than faithful get de trop gilding as a background for their selfies and the (regrettably many) French and German purists can still stumble across a derelict monument where the janitor will open the padlock for an exorbitant 10,000 sum ($1) so they can commune in solitary and significant satisfaction with the piles of bricks.
In the age of Genghis Khan this minaret was the highest structure in Central Asia. He was so impressed he left it standing for a change. Whoever decided to rebuild the medressas didn’t have a good plumb line.
The oldest monument in Bukhara has Zoroastrian elements from 5 BCE inside. Right now it is repurposed as a carpet museum ‘sorry no photos’.
The Ark of Bukhara – the Khans’ then Emirs’ fort (the inside looks just like any other Welsh castle).
Negotiating for a camel ride. He never does get his pensioner’s discount.
The infamous Zindon Prison: It is the era of the Great Game. Colonel Stoddard has been sent to reassure the Emir that the British intend to stop their invasion at Afghanistan. Unfortunately he has neglected to bring appropriate gifts. What’s an Emir to do except throw him in the Bug Pit? Three years later and Captain Connolly arrives to plea for mercy. Not hard enough, and down he goes too. Later the Emir beheads them both outside the Ark.
A ghostly shadow down the Bug Pit which appears to have been cleared of the bugs, scorpions and vermin thrown down there to keep them company.
My own unrestored Bukhara. Mister accosts me in the street and demands 1000 sum (15c) to see his ‘house museum’. Who can resist?
He is particularly proud of his oven. I give him $1 and he is thrilled, but renovations may take a while at this rate.
No walls or parkland in Bukhara, it has put its energies elsewhere, or to be more accurate it has kept its focus: Let’s not forget that the purpose of the Silk Road was to introduce consumerism to the world, and in that enduring tradition friendly little merchants are perched in every available alcove (and there are many) willing, no determined, to show off their wares and force us to open our purses to their inevitable profit. The Grandma gangs (who vastly outnumber the grandads and are therefore without oversight) sensibly leave the praying for Samarkand in favor of going toe to toe for a bargain. It is only slightly frenetic and a good time is had by all (apart from the French and Germans who are appalled how Bukhara has been despoiled by commerce).
A nice little mosque emerging from the neighborhood; Bukhara doesn’t bother walling things off.
Four rather underpowered minarets, one for some reason sporting a fake nest of storks.
No commercial opportunity shall be passed up.
Madam the master and her apprentice teach me a brilliant new way to do chain stitch.
The original Silk Road trading halls are still in business.
The bona-fide house museum belonged to the guy who conspired with the Bolsheviks to topple the Emir. His glory was short-lived: Once Stalin arrived on the scene he was murdered in a trice.
Another teenage bride arrives for her wedding photos like a lamb to the slaughter.
Bukhara also loves a dance party, and so we launch into 3 full days of merriment in honor of that goof-ball Mullah Nazruddin, who exists to be the butt of all jokes but then inevitably saves the day with the killer bon mot. All the troupes are embraced most enthusiastically no matter how amateur. Mullah wannabes in performance are justifiably met with considerably less enthusiasm. The three flavors of police are an extensive yet stoic presence, but the only guns are wooden and carried by the little boys, none of them are armed with more than a stick.
All Bukhara loves a dance party.
A mullah band with donkey (baseball cap optional)
The stage moms are cropped out.
Stylin’ Tajik girls.
Then there’s always the likely lads.
Its not a party without food (and evidently a donkey). I skip the Uzbeki sushi.
Thanks to ‘One Belt One Road’ Bukhara will soon be forced into the future. Back in the day this whole area was renowned as a fertile plain. Then, in an ill-considered effort to thwart the pre-Soviet and even pre-Great Game Russians, one of the Emirs dammed up the Aru Darya wantonly turning it all into a desert. Releasing the dams years later had little effect; unforeseen silting made the massive river into a delta with an ineffectual dribble of meager tributaries. The Chinese, manifest at my B & B by Lina and Lena, are here for the long haul and taking the irrigation problem firmly in hand. But will this attempt to damp down the mean desert winds come too late? There was very little snow again this year and all the rivers whatever their size are running depressingly low.
Lena and Lina (or Lina and Lena). One Belt One Road comes to Bukhara.
On my way out of town back to Tashkent I am eagerly anticipating luxuriating in my 1st class compartment (seats only 2) for the 7 hour journey.
But here comes Ekaterina, and she has two friends, Svetlana and Evgenia, and they have brought dinner for 4. So the party goes on, and the train, of course, is late.