Straight from Samarkand, we found ourselves arriving in Bukhara just before sunset. A super friendly taxi driver took us to our hotel that was set in a former Uzbek home with relaxing views from the balcony, and a filling breakfast in the morning.
The fifth largest city of the country with the historic centre listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bukhara is a former Silk Road “city-museum” with tuns of architectural sites, and an atmosphere like no other. Similarly to Samarkand, it was also once the center of culture, trade, and religion. Part of the Persian and Samanid Empires, it was later besieged by no other than Genghis Khan. It was then revived as the Bukhara khanate, and served as the last capital of the Emirate of Bukhara, before becoming a part of the USSR.
I would say Bukhara is the place that definitely gave out a very laid-back, old and authentic vibe. Around any corner, you could imagine Ibn Sina to be indulging in a rich debate, or a khan family sipping on afternoon tea. And even though you are not likely to, every alleyway gives off an echo of history and a feeling of discovery, while being completely relaxed and unimposing. Even now, when I think of Bukhara, I imagine it to exist somewhere in a fictional world or a fairy tale, inside the golden pages of a book, which you can luckily visit and lose yourself in, along with the colorful characters amidst the ancient buildings.
The first thing we decided to explore was the Lyab-i-Hauz plaza, as it made for a perfect evening stroll with a cooling breeze. Lyab-i-Hauz is one of the only surviving gems of these kinds of ‘hauz’ or ponds, as most of these were filled in the 20th century. This Hauz survived due to its historical and architectural significance, unparalleled to the others, dating to the 17th century. Even today, it continues to act as the main artery and heart of the city, surrounded by mulberry trees, as so many locals and tourists, vendors and restaurants congregate at this very spot, remaining as one of my favorite parts of Bukhara. Here you can really do some great people watching, as everyone is taking an evening stroll, chatting, eating, playing, and relaxing. The Hauz area is surrounded by the Kukeldash Medressah (dating to the mid-1500’s), the Nadir Divan-Beghi Khanaka and Medressa (both dating to the 1600’s).
If you’re wondering who this guy is, this is Hoja Nasreddin. Although he was born and died in present day Turkey, he is considered to be a local in many countries in Central Asia (among others), including Uzbekistan, where it is believed that he is from and lived in Bukhara. In the USSR, there were even movies produced that were set in Uzbekistan that focus on the character of Nasreddin. Whatever the origin, he does play a role in many countries around the globe. Stories that feature Hoja Nasreddin are usually humorous, and involve some type of a moral or educational take-away. Here is a little taste:
Hoja had lost his ring in the living room. He searched for it for a while, but since he could not find it, he went out into the yard and began to look there. His wife, who saw what he was doing, asked: “Hoja, you lost your ring in the room, why are you looking for it in the yard?” Hoja stroked his beard and said: “The room is too dark and I can’t see very well. I came out to the courtyard to look for my ring because there is much more light out here.”
For more Hoja Nasreddin stories, click here.
Lyab-i-Hauz is no less beautiful at night, coming to life, seemingly even more cosy, mysterious and alluring.
2. Food stop: Minzifa restaurant
I will say right away, that I don’t get any commission to “advertise” any of these places, so everything that I share is genuinely what I have enjoyed. And thanks to my genius friend’s advice, this restaurant was my favorite of favorites, an absolutely delicious and beautiful place (right around the Lyab-i-Hauz area)! I would advise it to every person who can spend an evening here, to arrive right before sunset and sit outside on the second floor balcony area. Gorgeous and delicious!
I loved this place so much, we came here for both dinners in Bukhara 🙂 It seems that everything here is delicious, but my all time favorites are “manty” (meat stuffed dumplings), so that’s what I went for, and they were YUM! And of course, we had to start with “samsa” (hot pockets with meat or other fillings, baked in a tandoor oven).
And here is the view that we had at sunset. Not bad, eh?
3. Nadir Divanbegi Medressah and Khanaka
A stunning landmark right in the heart of Lyab-i-Hauz, both during the day and at night, is the Nadir Divanbegi Medressah. As you can see, what makes this landmark exquisite are the peacocks that are holding lambs on both sides of the Sun with a human face right on the entrance facade.In the evening, the Medressah turns into a world of its own, with shay khana, carpets and vendors spread out within its walls. In terms of purchasing gifts or souvenirs, out of all the places I’d been in Uzbekistan (albeit not that many), I found that Bukhara had a few unique pieces that were very different from what you usually come across in Tashkent, Samarkand, or elsewhere. Their pottery, handicrafts, fabrics, etc. can be one of a kind! And it seems that there is nothing you can’t find here! So watch out for those unique pieces. But as I’ve mentioned in my Samarkand post, some similar or more common items can also be purchased at the Chorsu Bazar in Tashkent, should you forget something, and if you’re lucky, maybe even for a cheaper price too.
Across from the Medressah is the Khanaka built for various ceremonies in the 17th century.
5. Covered bazaar
If you haven’t done enough shopping, the covered bazaars will be hard to miss. This is were most of the vendors are congregated with all sorts of things to buy (albeit a bit touristy). From carpets to jackets, purses, hats, shoes, dresses, jewelry, souvenirs, suzanas, musical instruments, and much much more. Again, don’t forget to bargain and get the feel of the prices first!
6. Maghoki-Atar Mosque
I was mesmerized by the facade of this mosque, as it has been well preserved without much of retouching or changes, dating to the Karakhanid era, and considered to be the oldest mosque in Central Asia.
7. Poi Kalyan: Kalon Mosque, Kalon Minaret, and Mir-i-Arab Medressa
Located in the historic part of the city, the Po-i-Kalyan complex adorns the main square. The famous Kalon Minaret stands proudly by the Kalon Mosque, while the latter (dating to the 16th century) was built on the grounds of another mosque destroyed by Genghis Khan. The mosque can fit 10,000 worshipers at the same time.
Across from the Kalon Mosque, the two-domed entrance leads the way to the Mir-i-Arab Medressah also built in the 16th century functioning to this day.
If you’re hungry and want the best view in town, my friend took me to Chasmai-Mirob restaurant, from which you can see the entire square. The food is decent, and the view is marvelous.
8. Ark Fortress
Built around the 5th century AD, the Ark has served as a town in and of itself and as a military fortress. Today, it has become more of a tourist (but also a local) destination with historic stands and information presented within its walls.
9. Chor Minor (aka Madrasah of Khalif Niyaz-kul) built by a wealthy Bukharan of Turkmen origin in the 19th century. I found this place quite unique in the way it is structured, and its petite and manageable size. I also loved the way it was tucked away within a residential neighborhood, a little jewel hiding among daily comings and goings. So to get here, you’d have to walk through a few mahalla’s (which is always interesting).
My favorite part about this place was that for a fee you could go up to the roof! I didn’t have the chance to do this with any other madrassah, so this was a treat. Felt like I was on top of the world, with the little mahalla alleyways opening themselves up right in front of my eyes. A mini-view of Bukhara.
10. Hoja Zayniddin Mosque (aka Bolo Hauz Mosque)
Across from the Ark, this 16th century mosque is probably the most beautiful in Uzbekistan due to its intricate ghanch, wood and tile work that is so prominent and distinct here. Personally, one of my favorites! The mullah of the mosque voluntarily decided to give me a private tour. And of course I went along, as I don’t get private tours of a mosque every day!
11. Ismail Samani Mausoleum and Chashma Ayub Mausoleum
As the name gives out already, this mausoleum was built for an amir of the Samanid dynasty of the 9th and 10th centuries, and represents one of the only architectural sites from that period.The Chashma Ayub Mausoleum has a holy well with water, which was constructed during the Tamerlane era by Khorezm architects, and is thus a unique construction for Bukhara due to its triangular dome.Both the Ismail Samani and the Chashma Ayub Mausoleums are located right in the heart of Samani Park (or Kirov Park) that has been home to two sites since the USSR times. It’s a nice getaway from the main streets of the city, and a relaxing walk in a park where families and kids flock to for a sunny day out.
On the way back from the park we were looking for a place to eat, when we spotted this ↓↓↓. Looks absolutely delicious, and is cheap, so everyone should give this a go! I believe it is a type of shashlyk inside a bread bun covered with onions for ease of eating and transporting (my guess). I’d call it a shashlyk burrito? Yum.
13. Produce bazaar
Bazaars are another favorite of mine, as here you can people watch, try food, chat with people, and observe the local behaviors and delicacies. Must try: Bukhara non, dried fruits, pomegranate, sumalak (a sweet paste made of wheat), halva, and anything else you fancy!
14. Shahriston Market
This very local market in a courtyard sells jewelry, clothes, handicrafts, and more. I personally enjoyed it more for people-watching (again), as there were almost no tourists bargaining around here.
Outside the courtyard much can be found as well.
15. Another point I’d like to stress is to simply wander around the historic sites – Bukhara has so many mosques and medressas and other magnificent landmarks, you may loose count (as did I). For example, we stumbled upon a few of the non-touristy medressas that provided a very personal visiting of the place with no one around. These might be less jaw-dropping or are not yet fully reconstructed, but are nevertheless beautiful.
16. Take an afternoon walk in the mahalla – as mentioned before, getting lost in mahalla’s in Uzbekistan is a favorite of mine, although some locals may approach you and ask what or who you are looking for. Usually though, ladies resting outside smile, and others ask where you are from, and how you like it here. For me, the set up of the houses and layout of each mini-neighborhood is fascinating, as you get a closer glimpse into the every day lives of the people.
After the many walks, rainy and sunny days, much people-watching, and delicious food, we have to move on. Goodbye, Bukhara, it’s been swell!