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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

Uzbekistan - 31 August, 2002

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Bukhara (Mosque Balyand Hotel) N3946.243' E06424.478' 233 meters .
-  City tour . . . .
Finish Bukhara (Mosque Balyand Hotel) N3946.243' E06424.478' 233 meters

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Total Leg 2:

899 km

Total Leg 1:

3,018 km

Grand Total:

3,917 km

 

Weather: In the morning, clear, sunny, very hot, and breezy.  In the afternoon, partly cloudy, occasional rain and sun, and hot.  Cool at night.

 

 

We are up early this morning and get ready for a busy day of sightseeing.  Breakfast is in the hotel and the room that we have it in is quite grand.  Lots of carpets.  White walls dotted with myriad of cubicles holding all sorts of keepsakes.  We would love to buy some, but they are all in the family's private collection.  Another huge breakfast and then we wait to leave on the city tour.  We have to wait on some people who are suffering from a heavy night - must be the cheap vodka.

 

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Anyway, a bit after 8 AM we are on our way to see the city.  After a short ride in the truck, we are dropped off at the gates to a large park.  The park is still pretty quiet, with just a few people on their way to work.  Our first sight is a short walk through the park.  We arrive at the Ismail Samani Mausoleum so early that even the souvenir vendors have not set up yet (thank god).  This is one of the oldest monuments in the city - completed around 905 BC.

 

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While it is small and simple in concept, it is one of the most elegant buildings that we have seen.  It is the mausoleum of Ismail Samani (founder of the Samanid dynasty), his father and his grandson.  It is built of thousands of baked terracotta bricks that have been laid in amazing patterns as they built up the two meter thick walls.  So thick, in fact, that it has survived for over eleven centuries with virtually no restoration (escaping Jenghiz Khan as it was partly covered by dirt at the time). We walk around the building three times which, according to local legend, will grant us the wish we were making as we walked.

 

We wander back through the park, taking a short break looking for a loo for a couple of desperate people.  A lady is kind enough to let us use hers.  Then on to our next stop - the Chashma-Ayub "Mausoleum".  No one was buried here at the time of construction, but the name means "Spring of Job" and you can go inside and drink from the spring that legend says Job found when he struck the ground here with his staff.

 

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From there we head towards the mighty Ark, stopping first at the Bolo-Hauz Mosque and minaret.  This mosque, built in 1718,  has an impressive huge porch in front that is supported by 20 wooden columns topped with a roof that has intricate wood carvings.  It has a short, stubby minaret and located in front is one of the many pools (or hauz) of water that used to dot Bukhara and provide the city with its water (more on that later).

 

Next stop across the street - The Registan and the Ark.  The Ark is a city within a city and has been occupied since at least the 5th century.  It was the home of the Emirs that rules Bukhara and the surrounding kingdom.  It is largely a ruin now, but there still remain some of the royal quarters, the prisons and the Juma Mosque.

 

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We approach the Ark from the grounds of the vast Registan (meaning sandy place).  The Emir would watch down from the Ark over the Registan and see what was happening in his realm.  It was also a favorite place for executions, which included the public beheadings of the British soldiers Stoddart and Conolly in 1842 who were emissaries from Queen Victoria.

 

We walked into the Ark via the wide stone gangway, up through the massive doorways into the curving passageway where we had to purchase our entrance tickets.  While our tickets were being purchased we, while being pestered by dozens of peddlers, peered into the recreated jails that housed some of the prisoners of the Emir (these were the lucky ones - the unlucky ones were sent to the bug pit - more on that later).  The guards would take the prisoners out on a weekly basis to go and beg to collect money for the guards and to pay for the prisoners upkeep.

 

Heading further up the passageway, we emerged into the bright sun on top of the Ark.  We then went and toured a number of the buildings that still stand.  The most impressive is the 17th century Juma (Friday) Mosque, with its wooden columns.  We also saw the prime ministers residence and the vast Reception and Coronation Court, whose roof fell in with the Red Army bombardment of 1920.  The last coronation to take place was of Alim Khan in 1910.

 

After checking out the porch that the Emir would use to watch over the Registan, we left the Ark and headed back down to the Registan once again.  We then turned right and walked along the ruined outer wall of the Ark to the other side of the huge complex.  Here we visited Zindon - the jail.  This is a chilling place to visit with the many dungeons and cells laid out with mannequins shackled to chains.  But the worst was the infamous "bug pit" where prisoners (including Stoddart and Conolly) where put to languish (usually until there death).  It was literally a pit, with a small opening at the top where the prisoners would be dropped several meters down into the lice, scorpion and vermin infested cell.  It was nice to re-emerge into the bright light and breath some fresh air.

 

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Once out of Zindon, the guide asked if we would like to take a short cut through the back alleys to our next stop.  We said of course.  So off we headed into the twisting, turning alley ways encountering friendly locals along the way.

 

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A short walk later we emerged into the square dominated by the Kolan complex.  The first thing that grabs your attention is the huge Kolan Minaret.  It must have been the tallest building in Central Asia when it was built in 1127, reaching 47 meters (with a 10 meter foundation that includes reed stacks as a form of primitive earthquake protection).  In Tajik, kalon means "great".

 

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It was so impressive, even Jenghiz Khan spared it.  Legend has it that when Jenghiz Khan was at it's base after conquering Bukhara, he looked up and his hat fell off.  He bent down to pick it up and when he straightened up, he said that this was the first thing that he ever bowed to and ordered it spared.  It has 14 ornamental bands, all different, that include the the first use of the blue glazed tiles that would come to saturate Central Asia under Timur.  The tower was also used as a light house and beacon (to lead the caravans to Bukhara) and watch tower.  The emirs also used to throw prisoners off the tower until forbidden to do so by the Russians.

 

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To the right of the minaret is the 16th century Kalon Mosque, built on the site of an earlier mosque destroyed by Jenghiz Khan.  It is so large that it can hold a congregation of 10,000 people.  We are allowed to visit the central courtyard, which includes a small covered deck.  The views from the back of the courtyard are impressive with the blue domes dominated by the Kalon Minaret reaching into the sky.

 

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Opposite the mosque is the Mir-Arab Medressa - a working seminary since the 16th century except for brief hiatus from 1920 until 1944 during Soviet times (Stalin allowed it to re-open to curry Muslim support during the Second World War - the only functioning medressa in Central Asia under Soviet rule).

 

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We can only peer through the gates into the courtyard beyond.

 

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Back out into the square, where we continue to be harassed by multitudes of young children who are trying to sell us junk or to just get something out of us.  This was a rare experience in Central Asia and we can only hope that it does not spread to far.  One girl insisted that I needed an ugly pouch for my glasses - I told her that I wear them all the time.  This was no deterrent.  She insisted that it was something that I need to have and that I would be glad to pay $10 for it (she would be lucky to get 25 cents from me - I know, sounds heartless, but we do not want to spoil things for future tourists).

 

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Walking on around the medressa, we headed into and through one of the several old covered bazars that dot Bukhara - Taqi-Zargon Bazar (jewelers).  We have no time to shop and can only take a quick glance at the wares and fend off the many fast talking vendors as we pass through the old building.  It was built in fashion typical for the day - a cross road mini-bazar that formed an intersection with a high multi-domed roof that was designed to draw in cool air.  There was enough space to bring in the caravans and unload all the goods into the shops and warehouses built into the walls.

 

We had a quick look at the Ulughbek Medressa built in 1417 - Central Asia's oldest and the model for many others.  Facing it is the Abdul Aziz Khan Medressa, begun in 1652 but left unfinished when he was removed from power.  It is only one of two buildings in Bukhara to flout the Muslim prohibition against the depiction of living animals.

 

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We carried on and passed by one of the old men's bathhouses and entered the 16th century covered arcade called Tim Abdullah Khan.  Along the way we pass parks that once were the sites of the many caravanserais that existed in Bukhara to host the many caravans passing through.  Most were wrecked by the Bolsheviks.

 

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We cannot seem to escape the ancient markets that seem to be at every intersection.  We pass (actually fight our way) through Taqi-Telpak Furushon (cap makers) and after walking along a short alley arrive at the famous Labi-Hauz.  It is a plaza built around a pool in 1620 (the name is Tajik for "around the pool") and is one of the best spots in town.  We arrive there just before 1PM - time for lunch.  We grab a few open air tables set up next to the pool and sit down for a relaxing meal.

 

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While sitting there and waiting for our food, we admired the many sights that enclose the plaza, including a number of medressas.  To the south of the plaza is the old town's Jewish quarter - where Jews have lived since the 12th or 13th century.  We filled ourselves up on our usual selection of shashlyk, noodles, dumplings and some vegetables.  We also fend off the old man trying to sell postcards.

 

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After two hours of relaxing, we decide to explore some other parts of the town that we did not yet see.  We headed down some winding alley ways in search of the Char Minar, a very unique little building.  This used to be the gate house of a long-gone medressa and is adorned with four small towers.  While there, a number of local ladies tries to get us to browse through there shop.  There is nothing special there, but we do sit down on the steps over looking the building and spend some time chatting.  We have three generations represented here and the difference between them is obvious from the way they dress, from the gold or lack of it in their teeth to the way they act.  We talk about life here, in the west and what they are interested in.  They seem very happy actually do not seem to have any interest in traveling and seeing other parts of the world.  In the end, one does express some interest in going to London or New York.

 

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We bid our farewells and head back through the alleys.  We are accompanied by a group of children who talk, shout and run all over the place.  They want to touch everything we carry and to see what it is.  As we emerge into the town center, they scatter and we spend some time in the internet cafe, before going out again and doing some shopping.  We are taking a preliminary look at some carpets and will return tomorrow to do some serious shopping.  As we walk around, a group of old men keeps on inviting us over for some tea each time we pass them.

 

We return to the hotel through a series of winding alleys that pass ruined old buildings, houses hiding behind high walls and small stalls set up on the street selling fruit, vegetables and bread.  Everyone is friendly and welcoming as we pass by.  Once back at the hotel we decide to take it easy for the rest of the evening.  We sit around and chat with some of the fellow passengers and drivers and have a light meal in the hotel.

 

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