Tag Archives: Bukhara

Days in Khiva.

Of the three “Silk Road” cities in Uzbekistan I enjoyed Khiva the most. Samarkand clearly has its well founded reputation, the Registan, The Bibi-Khan Mosque and the Shah-I Zinda are all world class attractions and I would never discourage anyone from visiting the city. But one gets this feeling after a day or two that there isn’t much else to do or see. I walked past the Registan frequently and each time it was jaw dropping, a bit like the Golden Gate Bridge, but one wouldn’t stay in San Francisco for long if all there was to see was the Bridge. As I have mentioned previously the general population is hidden away behind quite substantial, unattractive walls. It’s as if there is a part of town for visitors and once you have seen that you are encouraged to leave. Bukhara had something of a similar feel. Seeing the walls of the Ark are worth the trip alone, quite amazing, but if you pay your $10.00 to go inside the Ark what do you find? Next to nothing. There are beautiful mosaics, fabulous Medressahs, Mosques, the Pond (!), some pleasant roof top restaurants but really, that’s about it. I should qualify the above with the fact that in both cities I woke up every morning with a sense of excitement, the thrill of a day in Samarkand doesn’t come along too frequently in one’s life and really, I am not that jaded.

It was therefore interesting that quite by chance I elected to stay longer in Khiva than anywhere else. My little B and B set just inside the walls was perfect for me, my room could not have been better, the rooftop was dazzling, the reception staff were ever helpful and the breakfast was always interesting, shall we say. My friends, Oliver, Katya and Austin came to visit most evenings to see the sunset and star gaze as night fell before we went for dinner. The legendary walls completely surround the old city and set in them are four gates, the North, South, East and West and passing through any of them felt like stepping back in time. It was like entering a living museum. One felt almost encouraged to walk the alleys and see the population attending to their daily lives, sitting outside their homes just passing the time of day and it was not in the least intimidating. People would say hello, albeit in Uzbek or Russian. Small children would run up and introduce themselves. There were no walls around to keep the visitors away from the inhabitants. Turning a corner, avoiding the gaping drainage system and the mini sand dunes, one could catch a view of a minaret or Medressah right there, in amongst the houses. The bazaar was very busy and very friendly, nobody seemed to mind having their photo taken, and I am getting better at asking. It was interesting to see how it was laid out, there was the spice section, the vegetable section, the electronics, the clothing, the shoes, I particularly liked the rope and hardware area.

Khiva then. Lots to do, lots to see, it felt genuine, not a tourist trap. Worth staying a while to soak up the history. Trips available out into the desert not to be missed. A walk along the top of the walls at sunset. Great people watching. Just remember, drink lots and lots of water.

This was my B and B in Khiva.

This was my B and B in Khiva.

The walls at sunset with the Ark in the foreground.

The walls at sunset with the Ark in the foreground.

Mmmm, biscuits!

Mmmm, biscuits!

A street view in Khiva with the "unfinished" minaret in the foreground.

A street view in Khiva with the “unfinished” minaret in the foreground.

A map.

A map.

A view of a minaret.

A view of a minaret.

 

 

 

To Bukhara.

I seem to be waking up early every day, whether its the excitement or just staying in unusual surroundings, I don’t know. Saturday was no exception, up early, breakfast at 7.30 and then wonder, hmm, I am supposed to go to Bukhara on the noon thirty train but I don’t have a ticket. I should have had one. After the misery of trying to buy a ticket myself at Tashkent train station I thought I would try a ticket agency so phoned one, impeccable English and no problem, yes I can do that, just be in the hotel lobby at 7.00 and give my driver the money and I will have your tickets delivered to your hotel in Samarkand. Great, thanks says I and handed over the money at seven in the lobby. But here I was, three hours to go and no delivery. Called the agent, oh dear she says, our driver forgot and has gone to Bukhara but don’t worry, another driver will pick you up and take you to the ticket office and we will pay for a replacement ticket. Fair enough. Off I go with the surliest Russian you can imagine but it all worked out, I had the ticket and then it was just a matter of packing, paying the hotel and getting to the train station in time for the non thirty departure. Just a bit of a rush but I got it done, no VIP Waiting Room this time but that was ok.

Again I was escorted to my seat by a Commissar in a peaked cap who ejected the person sitting in my seat for which I was grateful and off we went. Slower than the previous Express but only one stop on the three hour ride. My companion insisted on looking through all the photos on my phone and we both had a few laughs despite not speaking a word of each other’s language. Then into Bukhara Junction where there was the usual chaos, greeters, hustlers, beggars and insistent taxi drivers. I had a tip though from the British teachers back at Istanbul Airport, put your head down, barge through the crowd ignoring everyone and when you get to the back you will find your best price. I did. It worked. $5.00 for the ten kilometer drive to the hotel whereas I had heard $20 at the arrival gate. Down the expressway into the town and through the maze of tiny alleys to the Minzifah hotel. Spacious room, TV, shower, power sockets, two beds and wifi, couldn’t be better. After a quick tea I was off into the town to see everything.

A totally different experience to Samarkand. There is no “tourist route” clearly marked by huge wide pedestrian walkways, just alleys and more alleys but here is something, Google maps worked, even here. Put in your location, put in your destination and follow the blue dot. Go up this alley, turn right at the next one, walk forwards for a while, then sharp left turn right and you are there. Excellent.There turned out to be the Ark, a huge walled fortress built in the 5th Century although there is archeological evidence that there have been fortresses on the site since 899. I have never seen such walls even at Carcassonne. The adjacent Mosques and Medressahs were dwarfed by their sheer size. I did pay the $12.00 to enter but shouldn’t have bothered, there is little or nothing left  to see of the resident Emirs and rulers. A large part of the fortress was bombed into ruins by the Bolsheviks in 1920 and the last Emir ordered  the harem blown up as he escaped with the Royal Treasury.

There was much more to see around the old city and one of the delights was turing a corner to be confronted by another huge dome, another tiled Medressah, another Minaret, another market or a gaping trench across the alley. I met the nice German guy from Samarkand and his Mother, we went for coffee and had a conversation, my first since London with Sophie! They had had enough of Medressahs and Mosques and were pleased to be leaving for St Petersburg tonight, but it was good to chat. Personally I liked Bukhara, less crowds than Samarkand, less developed for tourists, more locals out and about enjoying their weekend, basically, more mellow.

Tomorrow the train back to Samarkand, a twelve hour layover back at my B and B then the night train to Khiva leaving at midnight and arriving at lunchtime on Tuesday. Hopefully there I will find the echoes of the Old Silk Road I am looking for.

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The Ark Walls.

The Kalon Minaret.

The Kalon Minaret.

The famous pond in the center of town which caused many outbreaks of plague.

The famous pond in the center of town which caused many outbreaks of plague.

A Medressa with me in it, if you look closely.

A Medressa with me in it, if you look closely.