A sunset over Po-i-Kalyon

Showcasing Bukhara must be the easiest job ever, or so I thought with the clarity that suddenly comes when you’re into your third pint-sized bottle of Portland beer (the fact that an Uzbek brew had the picture of a clipper boat and a light house not becoming any less amusing as the days went by). But back to the view.
It was our last evening in Bukhara and, whilst originally I felt ambivalent about staying there for so long – Khiva, Kokand, Termez were all tantalisingly close – I now regretted leaving at all. We had a shaky beginning, Bukhara and I (trading insults with a cabbie outside the mausoleum of a Sufi holy man isn’t exactly an auspicious way to get things off), but by that evening she – because it’s a lady, you see – had crept under my skin and had lodged itself firmly into my heart. To know why, you just need to read on; unless you’re one of those fellows who’d rather go to Nashville* “because it’s safer”, despite it having a murder rate almost three times higher than Uzbekistan’s, I think you’ll agree with me.
Tell me, for instance, how not to stroll around Po-i-Kalyon, or by the walls of the Ark, at sunset and not to agree with an awesomely-named fellow called Fitzroy Maclean, who in 1939 confessed that “I could have spent months in Bukhara, seeking out fresh memories of the prodigious past, mingling with the bright crowds in the bazaar, or simply idling away my time under the apricot trees in the clear warm sunlight of Central Asia”.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
Bukhara steals breaths by the bucketful with its party pieces, its memories of the golden age of Abdullah Khan, its architectural marvels inspired by Persia by way of Herat, Afghanistan. A sequence of dazzling madrassas and gorgeous mosques whose names -Siddikyon, Mir-i-Arab, Nadir Divan-Beg – roll on Bukharans’ tongues like aged cognac.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
But it’s also a place of unexpected quirks. An eight-hundred-year old minaret, decorated with Zoroastrian motifs, that can claim to have caused none other than Genghis Khan to drop his hat. Or the mausoleum of a man, dead for more than 1,000 years, who had become the founding father of neighbouring Tajikistan even without having been born, or having spent any significant amount of time, there. (Just don’t go telling it around in Dushanbe). Or perhaps the gate house of a madrasa, built around the time when Europe started wearing starched collars and talk about electromagnetism. Some would call Chor minor old-fashioned. To me, it’s classy.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
But the thing that, in the end, will really get you, that will haul you onboard like the harpoon of those long-line fishermen over on Discovery Channel, will be the unexpected surprises that Bukhara will randomly dip out of her pocket and toss on the ground, like breadcrumbs for you to follow to her trap. It’ll be a Jewish community who lived in a particular side of downtown for more than 2,000 years before relocating, pretty much en masse, to Queens; it’ll be a small photography museum, whence you’ll depart with more postcards than you’ve ever bought in a decade. It’ll be hand-written Korans, hidden passageways, delicate domes, shops sprouting in the least expected places. Glimpses of treasures that will make you suddenly realise – probably as you down the third beer on your last evening – that you might as well be spending a year here, but it won’t ever be enough.
And this is before we even got to talk about the people.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
*Nothing personal with Nashville; it could’ve been Chicago, Vegas or LA and the numbers would’ve been even more compelling. It’s just that Nashville is the latest addition to London’s as far as non-stop flights go, and it has sent my English friends and colleagues in a state of, well, pryapistic excitement.

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16 Responses to A sunset over Po-i-Kalyon

  1. Oh my, oh my. Set decorators were busy planning your arrival. 🙂 Seriously though, what a magnificent account with images to sip slowly, for about a year is right.

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    • awtytravels says:

      Ahahah you can just about see them in one photo! On a serious-ish note, the risk of a Disneyfication of Bukhara exists; the place from which I took the first photo lies behind a wall erected to ‘hide’ the neighbouring houses, and a couple of blocks had been flattened to make space for some “local-looking malls”. But I think it won’t happen, at least not just yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. J.D. Riso says:

    My god, what a place. Your photos are breathtaking. So mystical. I had a good laugh at your Nashville comments. Priapistic is such a fun word to use. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Hi Julie. It is indeed an OMG-esque place. I showed a few photos around to friends and acquaintances; they’ll still go to Nashville, but at least now they know what they’ll miss.

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  3. lexklein says:

    Bukhara > Nashville any day! (But then again, I’ve been to Nashville any number of times and know it is only moderately interesting.) But this place … wow. I think the most intriguing shot is the bulbous, sandcastle-like exterior (mud brick?) of those fortress walls, but the whole thing is astounding.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dave Ply says:

    Sounds like you’ve found your own personal time machine. Even Europe has a sense of that for us new worlders, I can only imagine it’d be like that in spades in Bukhara.

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Indeed Dave, it really had that ‘out-of-this-century’ feeling; up until you stumbled upon a Chevy Matiz bouncing along the road, or kids on their phones, but at times it felt as if I’d just stepped out the Tardis!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You’re right. How does one even begin to assimilate into one’s being all that complexity, that lyrical architecture born of religion and geometry, the hopeless wonder of contradictions? You managed pretty well it seems, despite your short stay there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      It is indeed bewildering, and I since visiting Iran learned not to try & understand, or see, the whole lot of something – say a mosque – but to look at the details that hit my attention, or the things that, simply, jump to my eyes first. You could stare for years at one of these madrassahs and not quite “get” them! Thanks a lot for the kind words 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Bama says:

    Uzbekistan really is like the queen of Central Asia; its ancient mosques are magnificent, its old walls mysterious, and its minarets a telltale sign of a great civilization that once ruled its land. I never get bored of seeing photos of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva as they are the places I want to visit the most in the country. Your fascinating stories only add to the richness of these fascinating corners of the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      These cities are magic, Bama, and I can’t recommend them enough. But in all honesty, the country of Central Asia that has gotten under my skin is Kyrgyzstan, and the Gorno-Badakhshan province of Tajikistan. They have almost zero architecture and very little history, but the nature and people there make me feel at home. Don’t know why!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bama says:

        Isn’t Gorno-Badakhshan a rather restive region? I remember reading a book written by this Indonesian man who once traveled and worked across the Stans. He said he needed a special permit to enter that part of Tajikistan. Wow Fabrizio! You surely have traveled well in this part of the world.

        Liked by 1 person

      • awtytravels says:

        The permit is a piece of cake, done online. And as for being restive… don’t believe the hype, unless you have a strong interest in elbowing your way in the opioid trade from Afghanistan you won’t have issues!

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  7. Ah, what a wonderful glimpse of Bukhara. A name, which spoken out loud, sounds as beautiful as your photographs.

    Liked by 1 person

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