We woke up to a cold, frosty morning in Bukhara. There were several versions of what the days weather would be. Predictions ranged from a “mild” minus two to a “cold” minus eight!
All bundled up, we set off to explore the old town. Bukhara was gearing up for a round of Samarkand style reconstruction with working crews on overdrive all over the old town. This was disappointing for Nisha who had memories of the way the old town was before – unspoilt with its own old character and few signs of all this unnecessary polishing.
We started at Lyab-i Hauz: a tranquil old pool that defines the heart of the old town. In summer the old mulberry trees are in full bloom and provide shade to residents and tourists alike. The pool sat there uncomplaining in the midst of the reconstruction activity. It was peaceful and stoic, just like the people of Uzbekistan.
While the cold and the construction activity were killing our joy, there was a bit of comic relief in the heart of this square. There is a rather fetching statue of Hoja Nasruddin (we know him as Mullah Nasruddin) on top of a donkey. Zahid narrated a tale of the foolish wise man that lightened our moods a little. There is also a local belief that touching a particular unmentionable body part of the donkey brings good luck!
Most of the freezing day was dedicated to seeing Bukhara’s landmark monuments known for their architectural precision, magnificence and historical significance. The Maghoki Attar is a 5th century Zoroastrian temple that was destroyed by the Arabs and is now Central Asia’s oldest surviving mosque. The 12th century Kalyan (or Kalon) Minaret stands 46 metres tall with a diameter of 9 metres at its base and 14 distinct ornamental brickwork bands. It has stood for 800 years now without once needing repairs. Legend has it that Genghis Khan found it so spectacular that he spared it on his marauding trips to this part of central Asia. Close to the minaret was the Kalyan Mosque with a capacity of over 10,000 worshippers. It was spectacular in size, open, peaceful and not overdone.
Post a heavy lunch of the famous Bukhara plov, we set out to explore The Ark – a royal town within a fortress. It is believed to have been occupied from the 5th century onwards. Large parts of The Ark were destroyed by the Bolsheviks in the early 20th century. The restored sections of the Juma Mosque and Coronation Hall give an inkling of how large, grand and full of intrigue the town would have been.
We wound up the day with our favorite monument of Bukhara – the 10th century Samanid Mausoleum. It’s the oldest intact monument in Bukhara and known to be the first mausoleum in Central Asia. Residents of Bukhara loved it so much that they covered it with sand during Genghis Khan’s raids. The monument has a number of Zoroastrian symbols on its facade and beautiful geometric patterns made with the layering of bricks. It was the first monument in the region made with baked terracotta bricks. The Samanid is small but quiet and peaceful. We stood inside for a while soaking in the tranquil air – there was something special about the place. We can’t describe it but we felt calm as we stood there.
By the end of the evening we were so cold and bitten by our last eating out experience in Bukhara that we begged for a dinner of scrambled eggs and bread at Amelia. The caretaker lady at the Amelia was convinced that these girls will collapse if not fed well. She took us under her wings and gave us a meal that hit the spot. Thank God for mothers – everywhere!