Uzbekistan day three
09.07.2007 - 09.07.2007
Breakfast in Khiva
Breakfast was served not in our Khiva hotel but in a restaurant in a nearby madrassah. No complaints about that though – the breakfast was fine, accompanied by pretty good coffee, and served in a striking interior which seemed to combine traditional styles of décor with Soviet-style exhortations celebrating the contribution of Khorezm province to the world of science!
Our group at breakfast in the Matinya Madrassah
Chris at breakfast
We ate bread, cheese, sausage, pancakes and jam, with drinking yoghurt, tea and the aforementioned coffee, plus some rather amusingly decorated biscuits with an image of the cartoon character Shrek embossed on each!
Today we had a long drive in front of us, but I was excited at the chance to travel by road and see something more of Uzbekistan than had been possible so far on this trip. We spent most of the day on the bus, so this will be a shorter entry - I can sense the relief of those of you who have waded through the previous one on Khiva
Talking of the bus, I was pleased when we climbed on board to find that it was air-conditioned, but that’s a relative term. This was a rather elderly European bus and having been designed for European summers it really struggled to cope with the 52 degrees we experienced on this drive!
In the heat of the day
Just as the bus was at its hottest, and we hit the day’s high of 52 degrees (according to Marat, our guide), we stopped in front of a small roadside chaikhana shaded (thankfully!) by trees – lunch-time!
Roadside stop on the way to Bukhara
We scuttled across the sun-baked forecourt and into the shade, made use of the rather primitive ‘facilities’ and then lunched under the trees on non, salads and cold drinks. There was also an opportunity for a few photos of these local women who were happy to pose for me.
Women at the roadside chaikhana
Crossing the Oxus
Soon after leaving our lunch place the road crossed the Oxus. This river flows to the north and east of Khiva and cuts off this corner of Khorezm province from the rest of Uzbekistan. It is properly known by the name of Amu Darya, but in ancient times it was the Oxus, one of those places you’ve heard of in old history lessons but never dreamed you would see (another was the Euphrates which we had seen some years previously in Syria). So I was thrilled to realise that to leave Khiva and drive to Bukhara we would have to cross the Oxus, and as we did so I grabbed a couple of photos.
Crossing the Oxus
The bridge itself was unusual and thus also worth mentioning here. Our guide in fact told us it’s the only one of its kind in the world though I have no way of checking that. Its uniqueness stems from the fact that it is single track for both road vehicles and trains (i.e. one track for each).
We stopped a bit further down the road where there was a view of the river from above, although I would have welcomed a chance for a closer look than this.
Arrival in Bukhara
We arrived in Bukhara late in the afternoon and were warmly welcomed at the Hotel Mosque Baland. This was probably my favourite of the hotels we stayed in during our trip round Uzbekistan. It’s a small, family-run affair, not much more than a B&B despite its grand name, situated in a residential street on the south western fringes of the old town, about 15 minutes’ walk from the Lyab-i-Hauz. Rooms are grouped around the typical Uzbek central courtyard. Ours was a good size, nicely decorated, clean and with a comfortable large double bed. We had a fridge to keep our water chilled, efficient air-conditioning and a TV we never got around to switching on.
Courtyard of the Hotel Mosque Baland
One feature that both amused and slightly horrified me was to be found in the bathroom. The toilet had the most unusual seat I’ve come across, covered in a soft slightly fluffy fabric (such as you might use for a child’s pyjamas) adorned with cute cartoon mice (ditto). It seemed perfectly clean, but didn’t strike us as the most hygienic of decorative touches, especially in a country where regrettably foreign tourists do often have to spend more time than they would like in its vicinity
The family who ran the hotel were friendly and keen to be helpful although they spoke little English. They happily changed money for us, served green tea whenever it was wanted at no charge, and other drinks, including beer, at very reasonable ones.
Soon after arriving our group was invited to drink tea in the beautiful dining room of the hotel. This was decorated in typical Uzbek style, with ganch (carved alabaster) and niches displaying colourful ceramics, and was truly stunning. The family produced a beautiful cake for Georgina, whose birthday it was, to accompany our tea – somewhat to her embarrassment, as of course we then all sang ‘Happy Birthday’!
Birthday cake for Georgina
Life in the old town of Bukhara centres around the Lyab-i-Hauz, both by day and at night. If you want to sense the heartbeat of this special city and immerse yourself in its soul, this is the place to be. Here you can for a while feel part of a way of life that stretches back through the centuries and defines Central Asian society and culture. For centuries people have come here to relax, drink tea at the chaikhanas, meet friends, do business, play backgammon – in short, to live. Nowadays the regular locals, in particular the aksakal or ‘white beards’, have been joined of course by groups of tourists, and the two cultures seemed to me to be mixing and enjoying the pleasures of Lyab-i-Hauz in harmony.
Lyab-i-Hauz at night
The pool is an ancient one, dating back to 1629, and many of the mulberry trees which surround it are even older, having been planted in 1477. It was built as a reservoir of fresh water for the city, and water carriers would deliver large leather bags of its water to those citizens who could afford the service. It fell into disuse however, and for years was stagnant and infected with disease. We have the Soviets to thank for its restoration to the pleasant and tranquil waters we see today.
So we carefully followed the directions we had been given and found our way to this enchanting spot, which was to become one of my favourite memories of Bukhara. We were in search of dinner, but there was no hurry, and the light on some of the buildings around the pool was perfect for photography so that was my first priority.
Nadir Divanbegi Khanagha
Nadir Divanbegi Khanagha
The building on the western side of the Lyab-i-Hauz is the Nadir Divanbegi Khanagha. A khanagha was a hostel for dervishes, with a mosque and cells for these holy men to live in, although you won’t be surprised to learn that this one now houses souvenir stalls.
It was built at the same time as the pool, early in the 17th century, by (as the name suggests) Nadir Divanbegi – a divanbegi being a sort of finance minister. There is a cautionary tale attached to the origins of the khanagha which our guide told us the next morning, but I include it here alongside my photos:
The Divanbegi’s wife complained that he went away too often and the presents he brought her were not valuable enough. On one occasion he brought earrings which she dismissed as a very poor gift. He asked his architect to take one of the earrings, sell it, and build whatever he could with the proceeds; this was the result. He then brought his wife to see it and said ‘See what I was able to build with just one of your earrings. Do you now still say it was worthless?’ And, according to our guide, the next thing he said, repeated three times as was necessary by law, was ‘I divorce you’.
The other buildings I photographed were the Magok-i-Attari Mosque and the Tok-i-Sarrafon or Money Changers’ Bazaar, the smallest and most southerly of the remaining great trading domes of Bukhara. We were to learn all about these tomorrow so I will say more about them then.
Dinner by Lyab-i-Hauz
Bukhara isn’t, or at least wasn’t back in 2007, a place for fancy restaurants but what its eating places lacked in the quality of their cuisine, they made up for in their setting and atmosphere. The place to eat was in one of the chaikhanas and restaurants that surround the pool of the Lyab-i-Hauz, which at night was especially lovely – the coloured lights strung in the trees were reflected in its waters and locals and tourists alike relaxed over a green tea or a cold beer, an ice cream or a grilled shashlik.
This first evening we ate in the chaikhana on the eastern side of the pool. The setting was great, the large beers refreshing after our hot day in the bus crossing the desert, and the bread excellent (more of a flaky pastry than what we could call bread, and different from any we had elsewhere in the country).
Bukhara non and chicken shashlik
The chicken shashliks we both chose however were disappointing – they looked good but were fatty and bony, with very little meat on them. The price was reasonable but given how little we ate was not such good value as other meals we had in Uzbekistan. And I should mention that it was the morning after this meal that I experienced my first attack of ‘Uzbek tummy’, though I can’t be sure I caught it here of course.
Bukhara at night
After dinner I attempted a few night shots and we popped into the Caravanserai Nughay just south of Lyab-i-Hauz. This attractive old caravanserai now, inevitably, houses a number of handicraft and souvenir shops. We didn’t buy anything but enjoyed browsing around. The owners of the shops were welcoming without being too pushy (something that I found was generally the case in Uzbekistan). I was also really taken with the lovely appearance of the courtyard with each of the small shops glowing in the twilight and showing off the colourful textiles to great advantage.
Caravanserai Nughay at night
As we strolled back to the hotel along quiet residential streets we were trailed by a small crowd of young children clamouring to be photographed. As soon as we gave in and agreed they arranged themselves in a tiered group in front of a nearby wall and posed laughing and waving. The only reward they sought was to see the photos afterwards (oh the joys of digital photography that allow this!) and to follow us giggling to the end of the street.
Group of children in Bukhara
Back at the hotel we joined a few others from our group sitting on the dais in the courtyard, where we chatted about the day over a vodka (me) or beer (Chris).