June 15, 2008

Silk Road III Day 7: Bukhara sights

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This morning we were meant to go to the bazaar and visit the animal market. This is something that I had seen in Kashgar, and I wanted to have another chance to see people trading sheep and cattle, and perhaps even camels.

But first, I make a quick stop at the Bolo-Hauz Mosque, the place where the emir used to worship. They used to roll out carpet from the gates of the Ark so that the emir could walk to worship with the common people. The woodwork here is really nice.

On the way to the bazaar we pass by the Ismail Samani Mausoleum. The architecture here is pretty unique, and as it was covered with sand at the time of Genghis Khan's invasion, it was spared from destruction.

We run into a little girl who was dressed up and just looooved to be photographed. She was very cute and tried to strike up simple conversation with me in English, and her English was pretty good for her age!

Batir led us on a bit of a hike through people selling various types of used junk, in the search for the "animal bazaar". Evenually we realized that what he meant was the place where people were selling pets, such as rabbits, ducks, chickens...etc. This was a far cry from what we had expected to see, and we were a bit frustrated by the time we were wasting.  We headed back to the covered part of the Kolkhozny Bazaar, where I picked up some more fruits such as melons, apricots and peaches. All were very juicy and yummy.

On our way back to the van, we passed by the Chasma Ayub mausoleum. A spring exists here which locals come to drink from for his magical properties. Legend has it that Job struck his staff on the ground and out came the spring. That Job really does get around, since I remember visiting somewhere in Oman where his presence was also found...

Last stop of the morning was the Ark, the royal citadel dating from the 5th century where the emirs lived. We can still see the throne that the emir used to sit in to watch the procession in front of the gates. We visited the museums inside to get a bit more color on the history and culture of the region.

We are back at Lyabi-Hauz for lunch, this time sitting inside an air-conditioned room. We order up some plov, which was pretty good although not as good as what we had in Samarkand. We also had some beef meatball and chicken shashlik. Of course, no lunch is complete without Sarbast beer...

After a break to avoid the midday sun, we retrace some of our route yesterday and visit the sights around the hotel. First stop was the Abdul Aziz Khan Medressa, which is undergoing some restoration. Across the road was the Ulugbek Medressa, the oldest of the three so-named and predates the one at the Registan Square in Samarkand.  We wander off to the Maghoki-Attar Mosque, reputed to be the oldest surviving mosque in Central Asia, with a beautiful portal dating from the Middle Ages. It is now a carpet museum.

Eric and Stan did a bit more shopping for souvenirs, and we ended up at the Kalon Mosque. It is a beautiful structure, with an octagonal lectern in the courtyard. After walking around the halls, I decide to pay 4,500 Sum for the privilege of climbing up to the top of the Kalon Minaret. I am really glad I did, because the view was spectacular. We had a full view of the old town through which we wandered yesterday. We can also see our hotel next door, plus the Ark and other monuments nearby. And I took lots of pictures of the Mir-i-Arab Medressa across the square, which is still a working medressa and therefore no tourists are allowed to enter. It has two beautiful blue domes. Later on I learned that in the old days, executions were carried out here by hurling the prisoners from the top of the minaret onto the square below. Pretty gruesome, but I must admit that it seems convenient...

It is now sundown, and I decide to go back to the Ark to photograph the outer walls as well as the main gate with the warm light. I did manage the catch the last bits of the warm light, but it would have been better to show up half an hour earlier...

We had a bit of a tough time finding a place for dinner. We walked around the area of Lyabi-Hauz but found no restaurants which looked appetizing. The Russified Korean restaurant, Kochevnik, was not open. It would have been quite an experience to see how Korean cuisine was adapted to local tastes!

In the end we got a tip to go to Caravan, which is in the new town. The two main dishes we ordered were different types of beef jiz - one looking like a normal plate of beef, but the other was stir-fried with sesame and looked downright Chinese! And the funny thing is, it did taste Chinese as the sauce was definitely made of soy sauce. The food was pretty good here, and we continued to drink more Baltika...

After dinner, I once again took my tripod out and photographed the Kalon Mosque, Kalon Minaret and Mir-i-Arab Medressa. The blue domes of the Medressa are particularly striking, and the almost-full moon in the backdrop against the minaret also made for a good picture. As the lights of the Mosque were turned off at 11:30pm, I packed up my gear and went back to the hotel to crash. It's gonna be a really long day tomorrow.

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