One non-Bukhara story first.... OK, it’s not a 9th century minaret or a piece of rather lovely honey cake. It was a very old Lada Riva seen on the main approach to the fortress. As I’ve mentioned, not a rare sight hereabouts.
I had seen this particular one earlier in the morning. It must be at least 40 years old. But the owner had added a modern touch to it. Instead of the usual torn plastic front and rear seats, he had added black seat covers all round, emblazoned with the brand ‘versace’. Now of course, it looks a million dollars. I was going to take a sneaky pic but it was loaded and drove off.
It was a long 6 and a half hours drive to Bukhara. The road was good and then downright grotty in parts. It’s a little frustrating because you find yourself on a nice smooth section, accelerate to the limit of 90kms/hr and then very quickly have to slow down to 50kms/he at the boundary of the next community. You need to stay at this speed until you pass the town’s limit. This is all fine and dandy but the gap between any two towns was often little more than 400 metres. So, see a city limit sign, accelerate, oops, brakes on. Repeat 3 or 4 dozen times.
The country is a big Gas producer but doesn’t really produce petrol or diesel. Many of the fuel stations are now selling LPG or propane. As a consequence many of the petrol stations regionally have closed down. Most of those that remain are using antiquated ‘rotary type’ pump counters and sell very weak 80 octane fuel. In extremis, I could use this (I have some STP petrol additive to pep it up a bit) but I prefer to hang on if I can. In the event I did find some 91 octane and filled up to the brim.
If Khiva is impressive, well Bukhara is the same but with steroids. It is also far more crowded with tourists.
My hotel was a boutique type, again with a central courtyard. It was comfortable, perhaps a little kitsch on the décor front and more than twice the price of the Khiva one I stayed at.
I ate at a restaurant right in the heart of the old city, with a balcony, to watch the sunset. I’d actually arrived a little early and was nearly blinded and roasted, in equal measure. I chose to have Plov, for the first time. I’ve resisted this a bit because it is ubiquitous in many of the central Asian countries. Naturally, each area has its own nuances and doubtless proclaims theirs as the very best. I can’t say, I've now only had one but I fear I may have to have it rather frequently from now on.
Plov or Pilaf (pilau) is essentially spiced pilau rice with chick pea and raisins, crowned with cubes of beef and shredded carrot. Mine was quite spicy and very tasty. I also had fresh beetroot with a decent vinaigrette dressing and (de rigour) chopped dill. Not bad wine and ice cream – all at the now standard price of £6.
There was a tour group of Brits on the next table to mine. All Southerners – half men and half women, mainly in their sixties. Men at one end, women at the other. They weren’t talking very loudly but I couldn’t help eavesdropping a little. There were clearly some tensions between them but the common thread of conversations surrounded bowel movements and their, how shall I put it, excessive frequency. Quite put me off my Plov, I can tell you!
The Ark represents the wonder but almost the realism problem with Silk Road architecture in the tourist sites. The Bolsheviks invaded in the 1920s and bombed the Ark, with little remaining. Some say it was the retreating Emir who ordered its destruction as he escaped with his entourage (and the nation’s Treasury) to Afghanistan, in order to stop the Red Army desecrated the place, particularly his harem.
Whatever, it was rebuilt, some of it in concrete, and not very sympathetically. But it is quite striking, as are so many other buildings in the City. Much of the ‘restoration’ took place rather hurriedly in order to restore a post-Soviet national pride and earlier, to show what good guys the Soviets were, helping to nurture its subsumed neighbour. But I did spot a UNESCO funded project to redevelop traditional weaving, carpetmaking and woodworking skills. The workshops were all open and free to visitors. Well done UNESCO.