Bukhara: A jewel of the Silk Route
Explore Bukhara with The Business Standard
Bukhara evolved into a prominent city during the Samanid era and was known as a religious hub of Central Asia. Located on the Silk Route, this city breathes on a rich history that is almost two thousand years old. Existing through millenniums, Bukhara still awes visitors with its beautiful minarets, cobbled streets, and colourful shops.
We reached Bukhara from the south Uzbek city of Termez on a shared taxi, which is a common, safe, and cheap way of travelling all over Central Asia. We also found a nice, clean hostel near the centre.
It was October when we visited the city and the weather was calm. Winter had not shown up yet, and it was not very hot either. On the night we arrived, we went to the Lyabi-Hauz; a plaza built around a pool during 1620.
It felt like we had travelled back in time as nothing much has changed there. The local craft shops still display colourful pottery, carpets and several other traditional things. The water still flows the same way and the night was the same, warm and full of laughter.
The yellow sodium lights reflected on the pool, which gave the place a more dramatic look at night. With all the nearby ornate tall-buildings, it was the perfect setup for a medieval historical movie.
I spotted one of my favourite people nearby, the wise Nasreddin Hodja on his donkey and went to have a chat with him. Although it was a metal sculpture, I felt a connection with the witty character just the way I used to since childhood.
Many countries claim that Nasreddin Hodja belongs to them, including Turkey and Iran, but there is no evidence of his existence at all. However, tales of his humour and moral lessons are so widespread that people love him and can feel a connection, just like me!
The next day, we set out early morning to see the world-famous Kalon Minaret. When Genghis Khan was destroying Bukhara, for some reason unknown, he ordered his men not to ruin this structure.
Built by the Karakhanid ruler Arslan Khan in 1127, it was the tallest architecture in Central Asia at that time. "Kalon" means "great" in Tajik and this 47-meter tall minaret is 10-meter deep underneath. It has reeds stacked inside, which was an early form of earthquake-proofing and it has survived nine centuries already.
The beautiful Kalon Mosque, which is big enough to hold 10,000 people, rests at the foothill following a trail of stairs. However, the staircase is prohibited from using. It was rebuilt with perfect tile works after Genghis Khan ruined it.
From the corner of the mosque, looking at the luminous blue domes and the Kalon Minaret, we recognised the scenic view as one of the most used pictures of Central Asia. One can also see the wall and the big gate of the Mir-i-Arab Medressa located just on the opposite side of the mosque.
This historical centres of Bukhara are not very big, interested travellers can easily visit all the main attractions on foot within two days. Like all of Uzbekistan, taxi is cheap in Bukhara, although you may not always need it if you insist on walking everywhere.
The next place we wanted to see was the iconic Char Minar. Although the locals call it "chor", it actually means four, like in Bangla, because there are four striking blue-green tile covered minarets. This medrasse built-in 1807 is now a tourist spot.
The souvenir shops surrounding the medressa sell a unique array of things from the Soviet era, such as identity cards, medals, military uniforms, and sculptures.
We went to see the Maghoki-Attar Mosque, which is considered as one of the holiest spots of Bukhara. According to legend, the locals had buried it under the sand to save it from the Mongols' wrath.
When excavation started in 1930, only the top of the mosque was visible from the sand, so the legend may have some grains of truth in it.
Bukhara is full of local restaurants, especially the local pilaf (ancestor of the beloved biriyani) is everywhere, and it is not expensive. Before leaving the place, we ate to our hearts' content at one of the eateries.
The next afternoon, after visiting the Ismail Samani Mausoleum (Ismail Samani is the founder of Samanid dynasty), we went to the rail station to catch the train out of Bukhara. When the train started moving, I realised that Bukhara was going to stay with me for the rest of my life.