Bukhara’s Best

Highlights of Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Continuing my 2018 tour of Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan by train & car……

A breakfast fit for kings at the Safiya Hotel was a perfect set-up for some serious sightseeing.

We positively galloped towards the Ark, Bukhara’s fortress and home to Uzbekistan’s Royal Sultans through the ages.

We stopped briefly en-route, intrigued by the tap, tap, tap noise emanating from a small courtyard. It was a chap chiseling away to etch an image of what we were about to see on a brass plate to be sold at a later date.

An artisan chiseling a souvenir plate in Bukhara, Uzbekistan

An artisan chiseling a souvenir plate in Bukhara, Uzbekistan

His precision was remarkable and we guessed the guy in his sixties must have done this a fair few times in his life! Watch him at work by clicking ARTISAN.

The Ark of Bukhara

The ruler of Bukhara, Emir Nasrullah Khan, who made the Ark his residence was not a guy to be crossed as this extract out of my Lonely Planet guidebook would testify:

On 24 June 1842 Colonel Charles Stoddart and Captain Arthur Conolly were marched out from a dungeon cell before a huge crowd in front of the Ark, the emir’s fortified citadel, made to dig their own graves and, to the sound of drums and reed pipes from atop the fortress walls, were beheaded.

Colonel Stoddart had arrived three years earlier on a mission to reassure Emir Nasrullah Khan over Britain’s invasion of Afghanistan. But his superiors, underestimating the emir’s vanity and megalomania, had sent him with no gifts, and with a letter not from Queen Victoria (whom Nasrullah regarded as an equal sovereign) but from the governor-general of India.

To compound matters Stoddart violated local protocol by riding, rather than walking, up to the Ark. The piqued Nasrullah threw him into jail, where he was to spend much of his time at the bottom of the so-called ‘bug pit’, in the company of assorted rodents and scaly creatures.

Captain Conolly arrived in 1841 to try to secure Stoddart’s release. But the emir, believing him to be part of a British plot with the khans of Khiva and Kokand, tossed Conolly in jail too.

After the disastrous British retreat from Kabul, the emir, convinced that Britain was a second-rate power and having received no reply to an earlier letter to Queen Victoria, had both men executed.

Nice fella! We later went to the nearby jail (The Zindon) and witnessed the bug pit for ourselves. Even with nothing crawling about it looked extremely unappealing to say the least.

The Walls of the Ark, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

The Walls of the Ark, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

The Entrance to the Ark, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

The Entrance to the Ark, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

The thick walls of the Ark were constructed from mud, the once vast complex now only about 20% of the original size. Much of the building was destroyed by a combination of Genghis Khan, seismic movements and Russian invaders, but enough remained to occupy us for a couple of hours.

The internal highlight was the small Juma (Friday) Mosque with its lavishly decorated interior and wonderful wooden columns – a taste of what lay in store. The Coronation Court was also brightly decorated and worth a linger.

Column & Ceiling,Juma Mosque, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Column & Ceiling,Juma Mosque, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Carved Column ,Juma Mosque, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Carved Column, Juma Mosque, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Carved Column & Ceiling, Juma Mosque, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Carved Column & Ceiling, Juma Mosque, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Carved Columns & Ceiling, Juma Mosque, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Carved Columns & Ceiling, Juma Mosque, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

The Kalon Mosque & Minaret and Mir-i-Arab Medressa

Next up was what was to remain a highlight of the entire trip, a visit to the nearby Kalon Mosque & Minaret and Mir-i-Arab Medressa complex, the site synonymous with Bukhara.

Mir-i-Arab Medressa, Bukhara

Mir-i-Arab Medressa, Bukhara

The main site is a real beauty and we were so lucky to virtually have the place to ourselves on occasions.

Staying in the complex for over two hours, I will always have a magic memory of just sitting in the majestic courtyard in complete silence, in wonderment at the large empty space, intricate columns and shapely arches.

In The Courtyard of the Kalon Mosque, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

In the Courtyard of the Kalon Mosque, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Arches, Kalon Mosque Courtyard, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Arches, Kalon Mosque Courtyard, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Kalon Minaret from Inside the Kalon Mosque Courtyard, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Kalon Minaret from Inside the Kalon Mosque Courtyard

That the silence was broken with the ethereal call to prayer just added to the wonderful ambience. A definite travel high point that you can witness by clicking KALON.

At one point a tour group came in and the guide spent five minutes explaining the history of the complex. He finished with the words “you now have 15 minutes to take a look around.” Hamish & I just looked at each other and grimaced!

As with all the great Islamic buildings we were to visit, the entrance was extra special.

A huge portico richly decorated in shades of blue & green and featuring intricate patterns and verses from the Koran.

Kalon Mosque Portico, Bukhara

Kalon Mosque Portico, Bukhara

What we were to find typical in these parts, much of the architecture seemed off kilter. Porticos & minarets leaning forwards or sideways, doorways not quite rectangular, arches twisted. This we learned was designed so that the buildings could withstand earthquakes and stand the test of time to be enjoyed for centuries.

The Minaret was also most striking with its tile work patterns rising up its form so that your eyes moved slowly upwards to its pinnacle some 47 metres above the ground.

Kalon Minaret, Bukhara

Kalon Minaret, Bukhara

Rather gruesomely this was also a killing tower with misdemeanors punishable by being thrown from the top as a crowd bayed below.

We were able to get a superb perspective of the complex which also included a closed off medressa directly opposite the mosque, by taking tea (and baklava naturally!) on the high terrace of an adjacent cafe. Another hour ‘wasted’. Fabulous.

Kalon Mosque & MInaret Complex, Bukhara

Kalon Mosque & MInaret Complex, Bukhara

With nearly two days to go in Bukhara we needed to stagger our visits so we could appreciate the sites. We therefore decided to just wander back to our hotel via caravansary, medressas & khans stuffed full of souvenirs – we were not buying. Yet!

Decoration at Abdul Aziz Khan Medressa, Bukhara

Decoration at Abdul Aziz Khan Medressa, Bukhara

Decorative Plates, Bukhara

Abdul Aziz Khan Medressa, Bukhara

Abdul Aziz Khan Medressa, Bukhara

Anur Tours

We booked all of our accommodation and transport through the wonderful Anur Tours of Tashkent.

As well as Uzbekistan they sorted everything we needed for Turkmenistan, including the rather tricky visa.

Every car was waiting for us at the designated place and time, every hotel was excellent and every driver/guide a credit to their country.

I was especially glad to find a car waiting with my name on it after we crossed the Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan border on foot.

Taxi Awaits - Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan Border

Taxi Awaits – Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan Border

Don’t be put off by having to pay 50% up front to Anur via foreign transfer and then the balance when you arrive.

I know we are all told to be cautious in matters such as these, but Anur were true to every detail that they promised, even though I must have given them a headache with my demands!

A special call out to Elina who has the patience of a saint and I was delighted to meet when we got to Tashkent.

If you ever fancy going to Uzbekistan (and let’s face it everybody should), or any of the other Stans for that matter, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Anur Tours. As well as being very efficient and communicative, they are also great value for money.

You can find their very informative website here

Ulugbek Medressa, Bukhara

Ulugbek Medressa, Bukhara

My Wilbur’s Travels Books

Uzbekistan will feature alongside all of the other former Soviets (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, KyrgyzstanMoldova, Latvia, Lithuania & Estonia) in a future book in the Wilbur’s Travels train journeys series.

Part One detailing my travels by train across all the Balkan countries is available now from Amazon.

Travelling By Train Across The Balkans, Book by Will Linsdell


  1. bavariansojourn · · Reply

    It’s just utterly beautiful. I would love to visit, the walls and the ceiling especially are just so different! #citytripping

  2. What wonderful architecture. And how sorry I feel for the people in that guided tour! #citytripping

  3. What an incredible experience – somewhere very much on my bucket list, that detail and those blues are wonderful. I didn’t know as much of the history, so fascinating to read that (and quite glad I live in a time where I probably won’t get thrown into a bug pit…) #citytripping

    1. The pit certainly looked and sounded gruesome! The country is a wonderful experience.

  4. Sounds like a fabulous visit, and a part of the world I still have yet to explore. I’m not much of a tour person either – sometimes with my kids, to be efficient, it makes sense, but when I’m without them I like to do everything on my own time. Thanks for linking up with #farawayfiles

    1. It was fab. When time is short I do begrudgingly use tours but usually don’t listen to the guide!

  5. Wow…. like “take your breath away, with no words” wow. I watched the artisan video as well, it was really cool to watch him etching the temple design. #FarawayFiles

    1. It really was a wonderful place.

  6. Clare Thomson · · Reply

    What an extraordinary place to visit and yes, seeing things slowly is a much better way to experience it in my view too. You could stare at some of those details for a long time – I would hate to be rushed away. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    1. Perhaps a difference between a tourist and a traveller?

  7. What a stunning place to visit, the craftmanship and design of the mosque is incredible. I’m with you, I would much rather visit a place in peace and take in the surroundings in my own time. 15 minutes on a tour would never give anyone enough time to really sample the place and take in its beauty. #farawayflies

    1. I am not a fan of tour groups in any circumstances! Yes the architecture was stunning – I will post my Samarkand experiences soon, even more amazing!

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