Buildings the colour of pale sand are clustered in the centre. The occasional facade covered in detailed and dramatic tile work of azure, cobalt and turquoise add a striking contrast. The afternoon light is golden. This is Bukhara and it is full of magic.
The great caravan city of Bukhara was once the capital of one of the richest khanates in Central Asia. It was also one of the most important stops along the Silk Road and as a result Bukhara is jammed tight with some of the most incredible architectural buildings in all of Uzbekistan, from the many medressas and minarets to the huge royal fortress, The Ark.
My little guesthouse was close to Lyabi-Hauz, a wonderful relaxed plaza set around a pool shaded by old mulberry leaves. From here the old centre of Bukhara radiates out into a maze of little streets. Perfect for one of my favourite travel activities, getting lost.
As I wandered through the backstreets of Bukhara on my first day the street opened out in front of my to a view that stopped me dead. Bathed in the afternoon golden light was Kalon Minaret towering over Kalon Mosque.
Kalon Minaret rises to 47m and in it’s time was the tallest building in Central Asia. It is so impressive Genghis Khan allegedly spared it from destruction when he ransacked the city in 1220. Pretty remarkable given Genghis Khan usually destroyed everything in his path!
Kalon Minaret stands at the edge of one of the most arresting sights in all of Bukhara, Po-i-Kalon Square. Facing each other across the square stands the impressive Kalon Mosque and Miri-i-Arab Medressa.
Walking through the gorgeously detailed facade of Kalon Mosque it opens on to a large rectangular space surrounded by arched openings. At the far end the mosque itself whose facade is covered in more gorgeous tiles topped with a turquoise tiled dome. Beautiful.
A short walk away brought me to the huge bulking structure that is the Ark, the former citadel which was a city within a city and is Bukhara’s oldest building. The formidable walls slope out and look golden in the afternoon light. Inside are small museums detailing the history of the building and the city, and what a history both have had! The Ark is the sight where the Great Game players (aka. spies) Stoddart and Connolly were executed by beheading in 1842 by the emir of Bukhara.
From the Ark I wandered back towards the centre where three exotic dome covered bazaars from the past are now filled with gorgeous silk scarves, cotton ikat patterned fabrics, suzanis, hats, ceramics and more.
Over the four days I stayed in Bukhara I wandered often past these incredible buildings and bazaars, soaking in the old caravan atmosphere. But some of my favourite wanderings were further from the centre where winding dirt lanes brought me to medressa after medressa standing in crumbling ruined beauty.
The backstreets of Bukhara held another surprise, the well preserved little Char Minar which was once a gatehouse to a medressa now gone and now stands in the midst of a typical residential area.
Another morning while I wandered in the backstreets I came across loud music and a gathering of people preparing to head to a wedding. Despite the language barriers these warm and friendly locals made it clear I was very welcome to join them. I was tempted however they were all piling into a little van to who knows where and I wasn’t sure how I would get back. What a shame the celebrations weren’t continuing right there!!
Such colourful and friendly locals, stunning architecture and gorgeous souvenirs made Bukhara absolutely magical and a highlight on my Silk Road travels.
I stayed at Rustam & Zuxro which had a great location right near Lyabi-Hauz in the old centre. However, be warned the dorm is extremely cramped with barely any room between the beds and the shower had terrible pressure. In contrast the private rooms are spacious with good showers.
The train to Bukhara from Samarkand took three hours and cost 27,000 som.