TWC'S Odyssey
Tan Wee Cheng's Travels in the Central Asian Republics of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan

16 - 17 Jul   Bukhara

16 Jul

Visited the US--sponsored Bukhara Information & Cultural Center (BICC): They offer tourist information, photocopy, fax, email and telephone services.  Email cost 200 soms per day.  Phone calls are by satellite calls (i.e., immediate connection, with none of the long wait one has to endure in public telephone offices) and are charged on US$ basis, but one can pay in soms converted at the official rate of 90 soms = US$1 !  The BICC is located at the Labi-hauz (Eshoni Pir [Cental'naya] Str. 2; Tel: 7-(3652)-242246; Email:

While Samarkand has grand monuments such as the Registan and Shah Zinda, they are quite far apart from each other.  Bukhara, however, is a very compact city, where the monuments are close by.  One gets a feel what life was in the old days of the khanate.  For that reason, Bukhara is the favourite city of many tourists in Uzbekistan.  We spent much of the day visiting Bukhara's main attractions: Ulugbeg Medressa, Abdul Aziz Khan Medressa, Zargaron, Kalan Mosque & Minaret, Mir-I-Arab Medressa and the Ark (great view of Bukhara from the destroyed part of the Ark - the gates to this area were chained up but one should be able to remove the chain somehow…).

Kalan Minaret & its beautiful square Kalan Minaret close-up Kids cycling
Barrier... Shavkat and family On the Ark

Met Shavkat again.  This time he invited us to his home more than 10km outside the city.  We took a cab there and he insisted on paying, even though that must have been an enormous sum for him, considering that an average Uzbek earns US$30 per month.  His mother had prepared lots of food for us - literally lots, and we were so embarrassed by the hospitality.  We spent the whole afternoon there and wanted to leave - his Mum even asked why we were hurrying - was it because we found the food not tasty ?  And we were further touched by the fact that they paid for our taxi back.  Amazing hospitality.

Met an interesting New Zealander who had travelled from Laos across to China, Russia and then Central Asia.  He also told me about how he travelled through the rugged Tajik Pamirs on Aga Khan's humanitarian trucks, finally ended up in Khorog, where he was told there were no more commercial flights.  He walked into the military airport, passed a Russian pilot US$25, and flew to Dushanbe on a military plane.

A Jewish wedding went on that night in the neighbourhood.  Much feasting and dancing.  Passed by the house a few times in the hope of getting invited for the celebrations.  No luck.  This celebration was to go on for the next few days.

Some thoughts about restoration: Western tourists love to complain about how the extensive restoration work now undertaken in Bukhara and elsewhere destroys the "original" character and "authenticity" of this ancient city.  They complained about the bright new tiles and repainted walls.  I find such thoughts western-centric.  After years of atheistic neglect during the Soviet era, the Uzbek government decided to restore the country's ancient monuments.  Hence, it is now spending much money to refurbish its monuments as well as to restore them to their original bright colours.  Imagine a parish priest in South Dakota USA who suddenly receives a mysterious donation and decides to repaint the church, which had long been neglected due to the lack of funds.  Do you want to accuse him of "destroying the local character" of the church ?

Similarly, I see the parallel of such criticisms in Singapore, where westerners complained about us building skyscrapers and apartment flats, saying that we should have preserved entire old districts.  Come on, let's be realistic - do you want us to live in decaying urban slums ?  We have only 600 square kilometers of land - do you want someone to offer us a Hawaiian island so that our people can live in a comfortable and clean environment ?  And when we did preserve certain areas, they said that the whole project was sterile, as the buildings were brightly coloured.  Give me a break: We have pride in our heritage and are merely restoring them to their original state.  If we can afford it, we want clean streets, clean water and well-tended homes.  We don't fancy having decaying monuments so that you can preserve your stereotyped perceptions of a primitive, backward and dirty Asia.

Bukhara from the Ark Me at the Registan in front of the infamous Ark Char Minar, the most beautiful little structure in Bukhara
The Man that counts: President Karimov Old heroes reinstated: Timur & the Khan Char Minar again...

17 Jul

Visited the Samanid Park, Mausoleum of Ismail Samanid, the ancient Samanid Walls, Farmers' Market and the Char Minar.  Went on a sinful shopping spree too - bought a turkmen carpet, a Bukhara Suzzani and a Karakalpak one.  Spent much time searching for the post office and only found it in the middle of a building complex with the help of a local.  No signposting at all !  Apparently, the staff don't want to publicize its existence, or those irritating customers would interrupt their siesta.

Moved to Mobinjohn's homestay at night for the OVIR registration.  He charged US$10 a night.  No breakfast included.  Met two friendly Belgian ladies who also plan to go to Khiva the following day.


Any news from the Bazaar ? An old man's tales: WWII veteran at the Bazaar An old hero goes shopping...
Helpful kids at a restaurant in the Bazaar Bazaar: Wedding clothes  A driver taking shelter under the Samanid Walls
Inside the Mausoleum of Ismail Samanid: Modern Prayers, Anicent Promise Mausoleum of Ismail Samanid

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