Site seeing in Bukhara, or as I like to call it Uzbek Santa Fe

We woke up this morning and had breakfast in our hotel. The owner of the place and his wife introduced themselves to us and asked where we were going next. We said Khiva, they asked where we were staying in Khiva, we said we don’t have a place booked yet, they said we have a place there, so it’s all settled! We’ll stay in their hotel there. That’s good.

I know some people are going to hate reading this from me but Bukhara has been my least favorite Uzbek town. It’s the one with the most tourist infrastructure, I can’t stop mentioning how much it reminds me of Santa Fe, everything is more expensive here, and the vendors are much more aggressive. Plus, we had a negative experience with a black taxi driver this morning. For those of you that don’t know, I don’t mean the color of his skin when I say black taxi, a black taxi is a taxi that’s not an official taxi working for a taxi company, he’s just a guy driving people around for money in his own personal car. This guy was following us on the street and wouldn’t leave us alone. At one point we thought we were going to have to go to the police to make him stop harassing us. We’ve been in Uzbekistan 3 weeks now and traveled in more than 6 cities and it was our first really bad experience so I’m not so upset about it. I’m only pointing it out because Bukhara is different.

There was also a time when Brandon and I were standing a bit away from each other on the sidewalk and I saw him speaking with some guy. As the guy passed me on the sidewalk he muttered under his breath in a really rude tone of voice “yeah man, it’s the desert, of course it’s hot”. I walked over to Brandon and asked were you speaking with that guy? He said yeah he asked how are you and I said it’s hot. I was just making small talk. That’s what you do with strangers.

Santa Fe has a love/hate relationship with tourists. The love tourists because they are the major, or only, source of income for New Mexico, but they hate them because they’re so obnoxious. Maybe that guy is a Bukhara local that feels the same way about tourists. I’m sure my husband’s damn straw hat and Hawaiian shirt and my kid’s I love Samarkand shirt didn’t help, but WTF we are so freakin’ white, we have chosen to embrace the tourist look. There is no escaping it. Anyone in this country could see us from a block away no matter what we were wearing.

I want to be clear after saying all that that the overwhelming majority of Uzbeks are still incredibly kind. If I had to give a percentage I’d say 99% of the people we met in Fergana we nice, 98% of the people in Samarkand we met were nice, and 90% of the people we’ve met here in Bukhara have been nice. So, um, that’s still a huge amount of nice people. It’s really hard to rate a favorite place when they’re all so good, but everyone wants to know where I like best and least so I’m trying to give an honest review. And even when I say prices are higher here, which they are, they’re still dirt cheap compared to western prices. Let’s say a bottle of water in the US would cost me $2, in Samarkand it would have cost me $0.20, and in Bukhara it costs $0.60. A handmade piece of art that would cost over $300 in the US would cost $20 in Samarkand and $50 in Bukhara.

Now, on to site seeing. The first thing we did today was look for an ATM. It was more trouble than we thought. The hotel has one but they disconnect it during the low tourist season because it costs them a lot of money to operate. We walked down the street to find one and that’s when the black taxi guy was harassing us. Eventually we hopped in a traditional yellow taxi just to get away from him. He took us to an ATM then to the old fortress wall around the ancient city of Bukhara.

Then we went to the Ark of Bukhara. We have learned to pay the extra amount for the guided tour while in Uzbekistan. It’s worth it and oh my goodness it was really worth it this time! I’m so mad at myself for not getting a picture of our tour guide. I wish I could put it here for you because he was very knowledgeable. This guy has a degree in Central Asian history. The culture here is so different from my own. In the US, when you go to a museum, the tour guide is not not going to be someone with a degree in history. It’s just going to be someone with a memorized script and if you ask them questions off script they’re not going to know the answer. But this guy! Wow! As soon as I told him we were history teachers his eyes brightened and his tour got really interesting. He was eager to answer all our questions and he could give us all the details we wanted. He knew everything.

Brandon was most interested in seeing the Bug Pit. So, we walked over there next.

Next we went to the Samanid Mausoleum that’s most famous for it’s fancy brickwork but I especially liked for the ferris wheel in the background and depressing zoo mere steps away.

Next we went to the Mausoleum of Muhammed al-Bukhari whom, according to Sunni Muslims, wrote the most authentic haddith collections.

Then we went to see the Bolio Hovuz Mosque but we couldn’t get in. It’s still officially Eid so lots of places, especially places of worship, are closed. I got some pics from the outside.

Then we saw the Mir-i-Arab Madrassa, the Kalon Minaret, and the Ulughbeg Madrassa. They’re all right next to each other. The minaret has a neat story to it! Apparently it was so impressive that when Ghengis Khan came through here and completely destroyed the city he ordered it be left untouched. Also, it used to be known as the the topwer of death because until as recently as 100 years ago prisoners were executed by being thrown from it. This concludes your history lesson from Mrs. Givens for today.

After all that we were done! Oh my god it is hot today! 40°C/104°F and we were out walking around in it for hours. Crazy. I know. That’s us. We’ve had about four liters of water each already today, maybe more, I’m not sure. Anyway, we stopped for lunch. We’ve been told to try plov in each city and we forgot in Samarkand. We have to admit Bukhara has been our least favorite. The difference:

Almaty: rice, raisins, carrots, horse

Tashkent: rice, raisins, garbanzo beans, carrots, horse

Samarkand: sorry-forgot to try

Bukhara: Rice, carrots, horse

Of course there’s other stuff, like oil, salt…that’s the same everywhere but those are the main ingredients and the main differences.

It was time to finish our day with going back to a couple places we promised to return to yesterday. We bought a couple really nice handmade kitchen knives from a blacksmith and then just some cute little scissors from him. He makes the handles from deer antlers and abalone shells and he’s the 6th generation blacksmith in his family. I’ll keep these knives forever and hopefully even pass them on to my kid one day. They’re nice.

Then I bought some art I had seen yesterday and liked. I like to only buy art directly from the artist. I don’t like mass produced crap and I’m at a point in my life where I want to start collecting a little here and there when I travel. As long as the pieces are small enough and I know I can pack them in a bag when we move then I’m happy.

Now we’re back at the hotel and it’s only 6PM. We called it quits early today! It was simply too hot to go any more. We decided to stay here one more day. We still have about 6 more things we want to see but they’re all a little outside town and each far away from each other. We’ll have to take a taxi to each one of them so we can do them all in one day, come back, get a good rest, then leave for Khiva in the morning. It’s a 6 hour drive to Khiva. We hear the road is okay for the first 75% of the drive and then it gets bad, real bad. We’re not sure of what to think about that since it’s all so relative. We did live in West Africa after all.