After lunch we had a full afternoon of touring. Looking back on this trip, I now realize why I was exhausted much of the time. We were on the go almost from dawn to well after dusk! But we agree that there is little we would have skipped.




Before our afternoon travels, however, we walked back to the hotel for a short break. Almost all of us had turned in laundry since this was our longest hotel stay. Imagine our surprise when we found that our socks, undies and other clothes were hanging in the courtyard to dry along with the hotel's towels and sheets!

When they were returned the next morning they were clean and fresh from the open-air treatment.

Bukhara Ark Citadel After lunch we took our bus to the Ark Citadel, the original fortress of Bukhara. The existence of a fortress here has been documented as early as the 3rd century although it has been enlarged and reconstructed many times.

The complex is located just outside the city center which can be seen across what is now a large parking lot:

Bukhara city center
Ark fortification

The walls of the citadel are restored in some places and crumbling in others. There was restoration work going on in some locations while we were there.

The fortifications enclose what is basically an artificial hill that was reinforced first with mud brick and later with more durable fired brick.

The Ark has an evil history as part of the Great Game. Two British officers were brutally imprisoned and later executed as spies here in the mid-19th century. They are said to be buried somewhere in the plaza.

Uzbek Tourists

There were numerous other tourists visiting including this newly-wed couple with friends. I loved the contrast between the hip young women and the bride, who may have been dressed traditionally, but very stylishly as well.

After our visit to the museums located within the fortress, we crossed the street to the Bolo-Khauz Mosque.

I wondered if she dressed like her friends before her marriage.

Bolo-Khauz Mosque

As I said earlier, "registan" is not a specific place limited to Samarkand. Bokhara had a registan as well with one of the city's pools in it. This mosque, built in the early 18th century, is the only remaining structure.

The name of the mosque derives from the adjacent pool. Bolo-khauz means "children's pond."

Decoration detail

Unlike so many of the structures we saw, the decoration of this building was painted rather than mosaic or majolica tile. It was just as beautiful and even more intricate.

Some of the decoration is papier-mache.

I was actually pleased to get away from blue domes for a while (but only for a while).

It was back on the bus to see some outlying areas.

Ismail Samani Mausoleum This little mausoleum was perhaps the oldest structure that we saw. It was built in the 10th century. The mausoleum is believed to be the resting place of Ismail Samani, his father and grandson, the founders of the first local ruling dynasty. (We saw his statue in Tajikistan.) It adjoins yet another pond.

After the colorful decoration, not to mention the blue domes, the monochrome patterning of the buff brickwork was soothing.

Ismail Samani Mausoleum detail
Mausoleum interior

The interior of the mausoleum was as beautifully decorated as the exterior.

Almost everywhere we visited asked for a small payment, typically 3000 cym (pronounced SOOM), to take pictures. This is about $1.50 at the official exchange rate. At this location I had asked Jim to pick up my photography permit while I wandered around the pond. I'm glad he got a receipt because when I began to take some pictures inside the guard challenged me. I was able to show the permit and click away.

Old Bukhara City Wall

The mausoleum was on the outskirts of the old city center. There are decaying remnants of the old city walls nearby.

As a study in contrasts, this quiet lake and the serene mausoleum are reached by walking through an amusement park with many children's rides. It was not open at the time we visited.

Rice Plov

That evening we had a lesson in making the national dish, Rice Plov (spelled pilaf or pilau elsewhere). Our dinner was at a local home within walking distance of the hotel. Whenever we went out at night we were instructed to take flashlights since street lighting is sparse and the pavements are treacherous. Ours came in very handy.

The plov is prepared in this wok-like cooker. First onions, carrots and whole heads of garlic are simmered until soft.

Adding rice

Chickpeas and raisins have been added to the above mixture and now the well-rinsed rice is being mixed in.

After everything has been stirred together, water will be added and the plov will be allowed to simmer without stirring until done. This made enough for our entire group of 24. (Along with the obligatory appetizers, soup, bread and dessert.)

We were always whining to Jama that there was too much food, but he explained that when they had allowed people to order either soup or an entree, it was chaos with folks forgetting what they ordered or changing their minds. "So," he said, "if you don't want it, don't eat it."

Of course we generally ignored that sage advice and stuffed ourselves.

Jamshid helps with cooking

Jama helped with the cooking as well, by monitoring the fire, which was was made using cotton twigs.

Some years back when relations between our countries were better, Jama had traveled to the US as part of an Uzbekistan - US exchange program. He studied the hospitality industry in New Orleans, Memphis & Jackson, Mississippi, about 45 miles from my home town.

It's truly a small world.

Dining room

As noted earlier, most of the houses we visited looked pretty scruffy on the street and were elegant, even palatial, inside. This one was no exception. To be sure, the places we visited were set up to cater to tourists. This particular family had another smaller group eating there on the same night.

The custom-made niches used to display ceramics and other decorative items are common in Bukhara. Our hotel room had a similar, if simpler, display.

Our group was 24 people and I can't recommend any larger number. Jama said he had a group of 40 one time and it was very unsatisfactory.

Bukharan plov

The finished dish arrives! It was well worth the wait. Delicious! (Especially the garlic.)

Chor-Minor Mosque

The 17th century Chor-Minor Mosque (or madrassa) wasn't on our original tour plan, but some of the group had read about it so Jama took us there the next morning. The name means ... wait for it ... four towers!

This unusual building is generally assumed to be the only remaining portion of a vanished madrassa, but according to one online write-up it may be a stand-alone mosque. Unfortunately my "go-to" architectural site has no discussion and simply points to another location that is now part of a Russian tourist site with no relation to Bukhara. Oh well.

The minarets are each decorated differently. At the foot of the structure is another of the Bukhara pools. Given the fact that "only a few" of the original pools remain there must have been very many indeed and we must have seen all of the remaining ones.

Sitora-i Mohi Khosa Our next stop was the summer palace of the last emir of Bukhara. It is also known as the Palace of Moon and Stars. When the Russians effectively took over the government of the area in the mid-19th century, they encouraged the emir to retire to his country dwelling well away from the city and the center of power.

In the early 20th century the Russians built this elaborate palace complex to further isolate the last emir. It is now a museum of decorative arts.

Close-up of one of the carved lions: Lion
Grand reception hall

The grand reception hall clearly shows the Russian influence.


The emir had a small private zoo at the palace and peacocks may still be found wandering the grounds. They shed their long tails at the end of the summer so these guys are a mere fraction of their gorgeous selves. I don't think you could convince them, however.

Miniature Painter

One of the craftsmen who had set up shop at the palace was this miniature painter. Most of his work on display was focused on the Silk Road and intended for the tourist trade, but it was well done and decorative.

Natural dyes

We headed back to the city for a visit to the Bukhara Artisan Development Center. I wish I could remember the name of this lady who demonstrated the use of natural dyes.

Check out the beautiful suzani textiles behind her.

We also had demonstrations by a woman who did embroidery with golden thread (a craft once restricted to men) and a gentleman who worked in papier mache.

And, of course, there was time to shop afterwards.

For the first time we had the opportunity to have dinner on our own. Jim and I were so full that we just wandered down to the local stop & shop for some crackers.

Wine Tasting

We had seen a flyer advertising a wine tasting. It was a holiday and the tasting wasn't scheduled, but Jama knew the people who ran it and arranged for a special session for several of us.

This lovely couple was very knowledgeable about the local wines and in that regard it was an excellent tasting. Unfortunately we don't care for the local wines! To be fair, Uzbekistan doesn't have a terrific climate for grapes – the weather is too extreme.

Jim says the beer, on the other hand, was uniformly good. I stuck mostly to water and tea on this trip. It helped to offset the calories from the irresistible food.

Uzbek Wines

Here were the wines that we tasted. There was a mix of whites & reds, dry and sweet.

The best one was a fortified dessert wine similar to Port.

Bactrian Camel

The next morning we were up bright and early to start our long drive to Khiva. As we were leaving the city we saw two camels tethered by the roadside. Jama stopped the bus to allow us to take pictures. This was the only Bactrian camel we saw on the entire trip.

Jama said the camels were mostly kept for their wool nowadays. It is used to make carpets. At one of the carpet shops we received a tutorial on the characteristics of the various camel wools (the neck hair from juvenile camels is the finest).


Not far from the Bactrian camel was this Dromedary.

Jama explained that Uzbeks take a fairly long time to build houses. Islam forbids borrowing at interest so each family saves money and then builds a bit more when they have enough. Additionally many families do a lot of their own construction work, so the process is seasonal – once the growing season is over they will get to work on the new house.