We’ve spent the last two days in Bukhara, a complete contrast to the glaze and glamour of Samarkand. I’d say, Bukhara is the face behind the façade. The mud-brick behind the coloured tiles. It’s earthy, small, more old world… cobbled streets, domed bazaars, a mosque here, a mausoleum there and a stunning minaret towering above it all.
I took off for the day with a local guide, while Nisha and Zahid met with the coppersmith, local artists, etc. All tiled out by Samarkand, the fascinating brickwork of the Ismail Samani Mausoleum caught my attention. 18 different designs using bare brick. Take a look at the photographs to see what I am talking about… just beautiful, in a down to earth way.
Next stop: The Hamam. Kunjak Hammom is a ladies only bathhouse. Knock on the black elm door and the lady in-charge lets you in through a narrow corridor that emerges into a central space suffused in warm light. This is the cozy meeting place, carpeted, lined with small wooden lockers to keep your belongings, the charpoy awaits you with a hot pot of chai, once you’re done… I liked it already. Was all set to send my guide packing when the hammom lady invited me into the inner chambers to take a look.
Bending through the threshold of another small doorway, we entered… a nether world. Instantly, the heat envelops you. It comes from everywhere, radiating from the stone floor into the walls. The space is bare, stony grey… a domed chamber surrounded by 4 ante chambers radiating out through brick archways. In the very centre is a hexagonal raised stone platform dimly spot lit by a light shaft. That’s where you can pray she informed me. Just as I was trying to conjure up that image, it hit me.
Like a roomful of damp clothes in the monsoon. The smell was insidious, all around and clawing. It was awful. Of course, the hammom lady had no inkling of my rising discomfort, leading me further into the sanctum sanctorum where the bathing occurs under a low tap. This place is a veritable furnace. Now I am in a cold sweat. I try to distract myself by pulling out the camera. But I can’t see a thing, the lens has fogged up. Claustrophobia time folks! Take deep breaths I tell myself. It’s good for the sinuses. Through all this, the lady keeps giving me the spiel… in hammom, you like Amir’s wife… no worries… no thinking… only wishing. How much time you like… 2 hours, 3 hours, full day? How you like… herbal massage, stone therapy… This was not going the way I had imagined. I could not see myself being flattened on a stone slab, scrubbed down under a rusted tap in a room that hadn’t been aired since the 16th century.
Without another word, I took heel. Raced out the corridors, zoomed under doorways and out into the open. All of a sudden, -1 degree centigrade and grey skies didn’t seem so bad at all.