Bukhara: Exploring Uzbekistan’s Holiest City

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Set between the slight hectic scenes of Samarkand and the maze-like alleyways of Khiva, Bukhara is a happy medium. Rising from sprawling sand dunes, this twinkling turquoise city was built directly on the Silk Road. It was one of the main intellectual centers of the commerce, education, and religion in the 9th and 10th century.

Be Awed by The Ark of Bukhara

The Ark of Bukhara, is an massive fortress observing the very heart of Bukhara since the 5th century AD. With carved wooden pillars and an intricately designed ceiling, the site was conquered and restored many times in its history. With a height of up to 20 meters, it encloses an area of almost 4 hectares, with rare museum collections of great historical value.

Be Fascinated by Bolo-Hauz Mosque

Just across the road from Ark of Bukhara hides a hidden gem: The Bolo Hauz Mosque (means ‘Children’s Pond’). The mosque was built in 1718 as Emir Shahmurad’s official place of worship to show his people he was no different from an ordinary man to visit for Friday prayers. This richly carved artsy wooden pillars and intricate ceiling monument is definitely a worthwhile stop.

Grand interior of Bolo-Hauz Mosque

Chillax by Lyab-i-Hauz

Lyab-i Hauz (لب حوض ) is Persian and means ‘by the pond’. Centuries ago you would be able to find such hauz in every city of Uzbekistan, as the ponds were the prime source of fresh water during the hot summer months. During the 1920s and 1930s, most of these ponds were forcefully closed due to the spread of various diseases.

This leafy oasis in the heart of old Bukhara makes a central meeting place in town rimmed by quaint cafes that back onto mosaic-adorned madrassas. You are most likely pass through here a number of times during your visit so make time to relax and watch the lives of the locals go by.

A perfect spot to rest your feet and watch the world goes by

Architectural ensemble Lyab-i-hauz is formed with three large monumental buildings: Kukeldash Madrasah in the north, khanaka and Nadrid Divan-Begi in the west and in the east respectively. The Madrasah of Nadrid Divan-Begi is one of the very few examples in Islamic architecture depicting animals instead of just geometric shapes and verses.

Two stylized phoenix birds, a sun and two deer (in the claws of the phoenix) adorned the portal
Lost in mosaic tiles

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Stop by Pretty Little Char Minar

Stands in a maze of alleys among the rambling suburbs of Bukhara, the photogenic Char Minar might be smaller and less imposing than most of Bukhara’s other mosques, yet charming in its own way. Its name is originated from Tajik meaning ‘four minarets’, which each has different motifs that reflect the most famous world religions – Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. It certainly looks fantastic, even though these days there is just a souvenir shop inside.

Found my sand castle in Bukhara

Capture the Beauty of Po-I-Kalyan Complex

Probably the main reason why most tourists come to Bukhara is the Po-i-Kalyan complex. Apart from the tallest and oldest minaret, the complex includes a mosque and a madrasa which is one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the world.

Kaylan Minaret 

Unlike many others minarets which are dressed in bright colours, the 46.5 meters high Kaylan Minaret are embellished with intricate brick patterns, topped with a lantern rotunda having 16 arched windows under a stalactite cornice. In fact, Genghis Khan considered the minaret so impressive that he refrained from destroying it, which is a pretty big deal if you know how much old Genghis loved to destroy stuff.

Magnificent sight by day

While it looks like something straight out of a fairy-tale, there was another gruesome name behind it: The Tower of Death. One of such legends says that, if a married woman was to look at another man, she would be sentenced to death by being thrown from the top floor of the tower. There was one lucky lady managed to survive as she was smart enough to wear 40 dresses to cushion the fall. Consequently, the people of Bukhara believed by surviving the fall, God had forgiven her, so they should too!

Magical sight at night

Kaylan Mosque 

The mosque stands next to the Kalyan minaret and was built in 1514 as Genghis Khan destroyed the former mosque. This enormous space is one of few places along Uzbekistan’s silk road which still used as a house of prayer and not infiltrated by souvenir stalls. The peace and tranquility bleed into every corner of the open courtyard and network of simple white archways that encircle the lonesome tree that stands in its center.

Mir-I-Arab Madrassa 

Facing across Kaylan Mosque is a functioning madrasah Islamic school, the startling blue dome atop the Mir-I-Arab Madrassa. This is the reason why tourists can only venture as far as the foyer from where you can gaze through the latticed window onto the central courtyard.

Grand entrance of Mir-I-Arab Madrassa
A pity that tourists cannot enter the central courtyard

Get Lost Between the Delicate Archways

Browse the colourful bazaars of Bukhara, under the traditional trading domes that shielded silk road traders from the brutal desert heat. Though it’s now mostly filled with stands that are little more than tourist traps, the market was home to traders from every corner of the silk road.

Getting to Bukhara by train

If you are coming from Khiva like us, good news is, starting from 15 January 2019, Uzbekistan Temir Yollari (Uzbekistan Railways) has launched a new passenger train on the route Bukhara – Khiva – Bukhara.

6-hours sleeper train from Khiva to Bukhara

The trains from Khiva to Bukhara will run on even days of the month. From Khiva railway station, the passenger train will depart at 08:45 and arrive in Bukhara at 14:48 on the same day.

If you are coming from Samarkand, you may hop on to Uzbekistan’s high-speed train – the Afrosiyob – which only takes less than 2-hours.

High-speed train from Bukhara to Samarkand
A day dreamer who has a passion in roaming around the world getting lost, experiencing new cultures and meeting the locals. I enjoy staying with a local home (i.e couchsurfing) and work with them (i.e workaway)!

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