Bukhara – Small, colourful and full of character

The city has so subtly crept into the Indian lexicon that we barely noticed. One of the most famous Indian restaurant known for its succulent kebabs was named after it – aptly because some of the kebabs and shashlik in Bukhara was sublime. Plums also derive their Hindi name from this city -“Alu Bukhara”. While “Alu” is a potato in Hindi, it is a Plum in Farsi. Needless to say, some of the Plums and Apricots in Bukhara were close to the best I have had.

It doesn’t have to be grand to be pretty – the city boasts of many historic monuments, save for a couple, none are as grand as their cousins in Samarkand but they still tell their own lovely stories. The city center itself is quite an amazing sight. A small rectangular, brick-lined pond with modern fountains on its sides. Several small madrasas and mosques with ornate facades, grand bazaar-style markets selling ceramics, jewelry, and spices, and in the middle of that a small air-conditioned shop selling gelato – an anachronism if there ever was one.

Stepping out of the train in Bukhara was just like Samarkand – a small practical train station with a bunch of haggling taxi drivers in the tow. I believed we got a little better with the negotiations as we got rides to our hotel in the center of the city. There was a little surprise when the cab drivers stopped a little bit away and told us that we will have to walk the rest of the distance as the roads were too narrow. After a few google maps based discussions, they got us a little closer and then we did walk the rest of the way. It wasn’t as far as we had initially thought. The hotel Bibi Khanum was a small renovated Jewish house on one of the narrow lanes of central Bukhara. Only once we got a glimpse of our room did we realize what a masterpiece we had chanced on. The room looked like a piece of art and was amazingly comfortable and large.

We had reached just around lunch and the couple that ran the place recommended a fantastic restaurant in one of the nearby hotels – Lyabi House Hotel. The food was really good, but the decor was even more amazing. There was an ornate interior, much like the hotel room with a sunny outdoor that had a rustic charm.

It was a hot day and a little too hot for walking out, so we took a short break and then stepped out to the city center in the evening. The architecture was pretty much all from a few hundred years ago, though none of the structures were very grand. We decided to take recommendations from Google Trips. The resulting trip started with a cab ride to the Chashma Ayub Mausoleum – a museum to the water distribution system of Bukhara with an old well inside that you can sample water from. The place is quite small and not worth the entry fee, but then once we had paid, we heard the stories from the guy there and tasted the water – oily and weird.

A few minutes, walk from there is the Mavzoley Samanidov – a 9th-century brick structure built as a mausoleum to a ruler. It’s so small that you would think and it needs to be put in the context of the time it was built to appreciate the brickwork and the design. For the time it was built, it is quite amazing. On the walk back towards the hotel is the Ark – a 5th-century fortress with impressive large structure and these imposing curved walls. There is not much inside except for some small museums showcasing old Qurans and some old possessions of kings. Again, given the context and the time of its construction, the Ark is a good view of the history of the region. Across the road is also a viewing platform with an elevator that charges a bomb for the view. We skipped!

Right behind the Ark is a nice mosque Mirzo Usmon Masjid. We did not get to go inside because it was prayer time but it made for some good pictures from the outside. A short walk beyond led to the best part of the city, the Kalyan minaret, which is the best square in the city. The 12th-century minaret sits between the Kalyan Mosque and the Mir-i-Arab madrasa and at 48 meters tall it probably was the tallest minaret at the time. The lighting at night is fantastic and there is a restaurant right across the road that offers a spectacular view. The mosque and the madrasa are also some of the largest monuments in Bukhara, making the square one of the most impressive place to be.

The walk back further led us past the markets and the city square. Some of the ceramic plates were quite fabulous and we shopped around a bit before some bargaining and purchases. The central square was bustling with people and the gelato was wonderful.

The next day started with a fabulous breakfast in the hotel. For the small scale of the hotel, the breakfast was delicious and served fresh. We walked around a little more and saw a few more monuments, including the Chor Minar which was smaller than expected and houses a local art and souvenir store. After another gorgeous lunch at Chinnor Chaikhana (Chinar Teahouse) on recommendation from our hotel owners, we headed to the airport to catch a flight to Tashkent. Most Chaikhanas serve exceptional local dishes as long as they are not in the path of usual tourists. These are a must-do experience.

The airport was small and had a very unusual design. Post the security there were no washrooms but there were offices of some managers. The flight itself was really sharp and most comfortable and we carried back memories of a small city full of surprises and some beautiful history and architecture.

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