The sights of Samarkand had been spectacular but Bukhara beckoned.
It always felt good to be back on the bike and feel the kilometres pass under the wheels again. The road was reasonable bitumen with little traffic. The weather was fine but it was another 35-40 degree day crossing the dry, semi-desert plains of southern Uzbekistan. But it was only about 270km to Bukhara so it made for an easy, if hot, day’s ride.
By mid-afternoon I had found the guesthouse that had been recommended to me by the flood of travellers surging eastward – mostly Europeans on their summer holidays. On my trip so far I had met very few people travelling westward.
Unfortunately when I arrived at the Rustam-Zuxro Guesthouse, there was no room at the inn so Zuxro asked me if I would be prepared to sleep out the back for one night until a room became available. I said this was not a problem so I ended up spending a night in a room next to the goats! However, Zuxro made sure I got a very good room at a very good price the next day.
During my time in Bukhara, Zuxro and her husband, Rustam, proved to be very accomplished hosts. Even though they spoke little English they made sure that all guests were well catered for – not only meals, but help with money-changing, organising taxis to airports or just general tourist advice.
For me, tomorrow would bring the opportunity to explore the fabled old city of Bukhara.
Like Samarkand, Bukhara has been a major trading centre of Central Asia for over 2000 years, firstly as part of assorted Persian empires, then as part of various Turkic states before Jenghiz Khan’s Mongol hordes put them to the sword – literally. Eventually Bukhara also came under Timur’s control in the 14th century. After the collapse of the Timurid empire Bukhara remained a virtual medieval city-state for the next 400 years right up until the late 19th century when the Tsarist Russians finally captured it.
While Bukhara cannot hope to compete with the architectural wonders of Samarkand it had a number of famous buildings that have great historical significance. The entire old city centre has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Standing tall on the Bukhara skyline is Kalon Minaret. It was built by Arslan Khan in 1127 and has survived to this day. As well as its usual function as a place for the muezzin’s call to pray, it also had a more gruesome role. As recently as 100 years ago criminals were executed by being thrown from the top of the 45m tower. Next to the minaret is the Po-i-Kalon complex which includes the 16th century Kalon Mosque and the Mir-i Arab madrassah. For most of the 20th century the Kalon mosque had been used as a warehouse by the Soviets.
But the most impressive builing in Bukhara is the Ark. The Ark is an ancient fortress or citadel first built in the 5th century AD and remained the residence of the rulers of Bukhara until 1920 when the Soviets used modern artillery to breach its defences and finally evict the last Emir of Bukhara.
After 3-4 hours of roaming the backstsreets of old Bukhara it was time to get out of the heat of the midday sun. So it was back to the guesthouse where Zuxro informed me it was 42 degrees!
That was enough sightseeing for one day!