Bukhara has existed for at least 2,500 years
Bukhara is a major city on the silk road that has a significant importance in Islamic history as it served as a major center of Islamic culture for many centuries and became a major cultural center of the Caliphate in the 8th century. Furthermore, the city and its surrounding region were the birthplace of many scholars in Islamic history such as Ibn Sina (commonly known in the West as Avicenna), Imam Bukhari, and many others. It was once the capital of the Samanid Empire, Khanate of Bukara, and Emirate of Bukhara. The majority of the people of Bukhara today speak Tajik language, which is a dialect of the Persian language. Bukhara has about 140 architectural monuments of the middle ages and that makes it the “city of museums”. UNESCO has listed the historic center of Bukhara which includes numerous mosques and Madrasahs (religious schools) as a world heritage site.
Bukhara is another must-visit city in any Uzbekistan itinerary. I spent less than 24 hours there so I didn’t see as many places as I wanted to but I still thought it’s a good idea to share my impressions about my short stay in this historic city.
The train from Samarkand to Bukhara
Like I said in my previous post about Samarkand (here), my high-speed train left Samarkand to Bukhara at 10.46 am. Similar to my previous trip on this train from Tashkent to Samarkand, I booked a business class ticket in advance so it was a nice, comfortable, and relatively short ride. The best way to buy train tickets in Uzbekistan is to book your tickets online in advance using Uzbek railways website. The price of my ticket from Samarkand to Bukhara was 99,000 Uzbek Som ($9 USD) which is a great price for a business class ticket. The trip lasted for about 1.5 hours but it was interesting as I started to see the desert from the window, which is something I didn’t notice in the first train ride between Tashkent and Samarkand (it was mostly green with some mountain views). I realized that we started to get deeper into the desert and I was excited about that as one of the coolest things in a trip is when the scenery starts to change. When you see such a thing, you realize that you’re truly traveling
Arriving in Bukhara
Similar to my previous arrivals in other cities in Uzbekistan, I had to deal with a number of taxi drivers and their brokers once again. Bukhara station is located outside the city so it’s about 30 minutes drive to the historic center where my hotel was located. Yandex taxi app doesn’t work in Bukhara so I had to negotiate a price with one of the taxi drivers outside the station and in the end I agreed to go with a taxi driver called Serdar who spoke a tiny bit of English and some Russian so I managed to communicate with him a bit and I even had some silly conversations with him about weather and about where I live and so on. I told Serdar that I am leaving Bukhara tonight (or tomorrow early morning) and I need a ride back to the station at 3.40 am as I will need to catch my train to Khiva that leaves Bukhara station at 4.22 am. Serdar said that he would be there at 3.40 am and we even agreed on a price but unfortunately, he didn’t show up. Luckily, the hotel receptionist saved my life in the middle of the night and called a taxi for me so I was back to the station on time.
I stayed in a small hotel called “Hotel Minaret” that was located right outside my favourite site in Bukhara which is Kilyan Minaret. I fell in love with this minaret and I will share with you more information about it in this blog. The location of the hotel was spectacular and the hotel itself was nice and clean. It basically did the job; I slept there for less than 4 hours as I had to leave it at 3.30 am so sadly, I didn’t get the chance to enjoy the breakfast.
Exploring Bukhara in the heat
After I have checked-in, I went out to walk around the city and to have something to eat as I was starving. I agreed to meet my new Spanish friends in the afternoon (I took the high-speed train while they took the normal train) so I arrived in Bukhara before them. I found a restaurant with good reviews on google maps and while I was on my way to the restaurant, I made some stops to take photos of buildings and alleys. The colours of houses and buildings reminded me of Kuwait where I grew up; they’re not exactly the same but there were certainly some similarities. I felt that I am seeing something I am familiar with, especially the houses made of bricks and the sandy colour of these houses.
I realized that the temperature kept rising the deeper I get into the desert of Uzbekistan; it was hotter in Samarkand than in Tashkent and hotter in Bukhara than in Samarkand. Because of the heat, people there often go out at night so the streets where deserted when I decided to explore the city in the early afternoon.
The best Plov in Uzbekistan so far
After my disappointing Plov experience in Tashkent, I wanted to try this famous national dish of Uzbekistan again as I was sure I would find a tasty Plov somewhere so I headed to Mavrigri restaurant to eat Plov for lunch. I ordered Plov with salad, fresh bread, and a drink and this time the Plov tasted incredible. It was so flavourful and it wasn’t heavy or oily like the one I had in Tashkent. I loved the dish but I wish if there was more meat in it. The restaurant is very beautiful and there’s a huge tree in the middle of it that is bringing a nice shade to the place. The restaurant was almost empty, there was only one person there and by the way, there’s a story that started in this restaurant related to that person but I’m not going to share details about it here 🙂
Reconnecting with my Spanish friends
After the delicious lunch, I visited a small bazaar where they sell souvenirs and antiques and walked around the streets of Bukhara trying to kill time before meeting my Spanish friends. It was so hot that I had to return back to the hotel, shower and change again! I agreed to meet them next to the pond in the center of the old city. We met, had some drinks (Soviet lemonade, of course) and walked around the city. It was late afternoon when we met; I told them about the souvenir bazaar so we headed there and I must say that these guys have some excellent negotiation skills as they managed to haggle and they got very good deals. I was watching from a distance and maybe secretly taking the side of the merchants 🙂
Kalyan Minaret, my favourite!
I saw many minarets in this trip but if I have to pick one as a favourite, I would probably choose this one. It was built in the 12th century (1127, to be precise). It was and still used to call people to prayer 5 times a day but in the past, the minaret was used as a watch tower to lookout for invaders and it was also used to execute criminals by throwing them from the top. The last known execution took place in 1920, during the Russian revolution. The minaret impressed Genghis Khan who invaded Bukhara about 100 years after the minaret’s construction that he ordered it to be spared when all around was destroyed by his men.
While admiring the beautiful structure, we took multiple photos of it:
We went inside the courtyard of Po-i-Kalyan complex which consists of Kalyan Mosque, Kalyan Minaret, and Mir-i-Arab Madrasah (religious school). While looking around, it was time for the sunset prayer and that was the most emotional moment in my trip when I heard the call to prayer. When I heard it, It was so hard to describe the feeling I had with words; it was a mixed feeling of joy and peace. There’s nothing more soothing for a human heart and soul than a beautiful call to prayer, it was such a heartwarming moment.
Right after the call to prayer, it was the time for the actual prayer. The Imam recited verses from the holy Quran with a heavenly voice and the beautiful words touched my soul very deeply and directly. Even birds were tweeting as if they’re praising the creator while listening to these words coming from heaven. It was another emotional moment where I truly felt the greatness of the creator and sensed that no matter how far you are from him, you can always be close to him, the door will always be open. My Spanish friends noticed the change in my face (it was very clear). Listen to the recitation of the Quran in the video below and tell me what do you feel.
After the beautiful prayer, I wanted to take one more photo for the illuminating gorgeous minaret which before leaving this great site and heading back to the center of the old city to have dinner. By the way, the whole ancient city of Bukhara could be covered by walking.
Dinner time and a nice evening
It was time for dinner so we chose a lively open-air place with live music near the pond with many locals and some visitors around enjoying their Saturday night. I ordered a chicken dish and it was so-so but that didn’t matter as we were mostly there for the conversations and to relax after some heavily emotional moments :-). The place was nice and simple yet full of life and everyone looked happy enjoying the moment. They’re playing some Tajik (Persian) and some Russian songs.
I needed to go back to the hotel to get some sleep before heading to the station to catch my night train to Khiva so I needed to wake up at around 3.15 am. While walking around before saying goodbye, we saw a monument to Hodja Nasreddine who is well-known in Arabic literature as the creator of the satirical character “Juha” or “جحا”. Here is one of his funny stories; “One day, Juha was riding on his donkey going to the market. On the way, he met some of his friends. One of them said, ‘oh Juha, I recognized your donkey but I didn’t recognize you!’. Juha replied, ‘That’s normal; Donkeys usually recognize each other’ 🙂
We also saw Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah which is a lively complex with an ornate, mosaic-covered gate and a courtyard with shops and folk dance shows. Sadly, it was already too late to go inside and explore it. I spent less than 24 hours in Bukhara so it was impossible to cover everything I wanted to see in such a short time.
I returned back to the hotel and before entering it, I turned right to see my favourite minaret illuminating with lights. I got a few hours of sleep and I woke up at about 3 am, got ready to leave the hotel, stepped outside the hotel at 3.35 and waited for Serdar (The taxi driver) but he didn’t show up. I went inside the hotel and told my hotel receptionist about it who thankfully called a taxi for me in the middle of the night so I was able to make it to the station on time.
Bukhara is another magical city on the ancient silk road and a must visit if you’re traveling to Uzbekistan, along with Samarkand and Khiva. It’s a city with long history and traditions and ideally, I would spend at least 2 days there but due to my short vacation time (I blame Canada for this), I couldn’t spend more than 1 day there. It was still a great day (at least I’m able to write a long blog about it). If I had more time in Bukhara , I would have visited the Mausoleum of Imam Bukhari as it’s located outside the city so it’s about 30 minutes drive from the center of the city where I was staying.
I enjoyed my visit to all cities across the silk road in this trip but I felt something truly different in Bukhara; I felt serenity and peace more than anywhere else even though it’s probably not as beautiful as Samarkand and Khiva but it has a special taste and I truly liked its taste. I found Bukhara more real than Samarkand and Khiva; less tourists, more locals, and less perfect, maybe that’s why I had such a great feeling there.
That’s all I can say about my visit to Bukhara for now. I hope it’s a pleasant read for everyone. In the next blog, I will be sharing with you my impressions about the city of Khiva (a city from another time) and about my night train ride on the Soviet train from Bukhara to Khiva so stay tuned.
4 thoughts on “Bukhara, Another Silk Road Gem 🇺🇿”
It is a pleasant read and the minaret has a real elegance, especially at night. Although it is not a region that interests me at the moment, I know that once I have covered Europe, I will be interested in Central Asia again, and this series of interesting articles contributes to that.
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I’m glad to hear that my blogs are inspiring you to visit Central Asia, it’s certainly a great region and full of beauty.
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Thanks for sharing, interesting as usual. I’ve heard about Hodja Nasreddine in my childhood, maybe in movies or stories in the books. I’m glad you had a good Plov. I like it too.
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