The great Genghis Khan entered Bukhara after chasing away the sultan with the intention of burning everything in the city down. But when he saw the Kalyan Minaret, he spared it and the mosque next door.
But why? I’ll come back to this thought later.
After arriving at the hostel, the manager of our hostel, Bek, offered to show us around Bukhara along with Michael, a Russian-German solo traveler.
We ate and chatted about travel and life. It was interesting to listen to Bek about his take on life in Bukhara and the pull of an Uzbek family.
We had a quick tour of the old part of the city. However, because it wasn’t exactly tourist season, none of the landmarks bothered to turn on lights at night.
We also found two Vietnamese guys who were staying at the hostel and they joined our group. Somehow, at one point, the group was asked to push a dead car out of a driveway. Go figure!
The next day, Michael, Robb and I set out to explore Bukhara. It was great to have Michael since he spoke fluent Russian. We left the hostel with Robb guiding us. We got lost, but eventually found our way.
This was when we started meeting weird guys.
Let’s go through the list:
As we were trying to find our way to the main part of town, we met weird guy #1. He asked Michael if he was from St. Petersburg. Michael responded yes and asked how did he know. The man said because he looked really “juicy”. Then he said the way to old Bukhara was through his house and opened the doorway. We respectfully declined and quickly left.
We met weird guy #2 when we got to Lyab-i Hauz. He was an older gentleman with a rack of gold teeth and very bling rings. We first ran into him as he was telling stories to a family. Michael was trying to overhear and translate for us. Weird guy # 2 noticed this and started talking to him. The conversation was pretty normal. Where are you from? How long have you been in Bukhara? Then we parted ways.
Maybe 10 minutes later after coming out of a building, weird guy #2 spotted us again and ran to us. He asked where Robb was from. He said the Netherlands, then weird guy #2 went into a diatribe about Dutch football back in the day to which Michael had no idea about and couldn’t really translate. But Robb got it.
Then, onto me. I said I was from America to which he said in English, “Wife in America now. Greencard. Good.” Then a big grin appeared.
The conversations itself wasn’t weird but more his behavior. He was touchy-feely with the guys. VERY touchy-feely.
Weird guy #3 came as we got lost again while trying to find Kaylon Minaret. We walked right instead of left. Weird guy #3 walked by and said hello and we responded likewise. Then he asked where we were from. Robb was the first to respond. “The Netherlands,” he said. Then weird guy #3 stopped walking.
In excellent English, he started talking about how wonderful Amsterdam was. He’s an Uzbek but now living in the UAE for work but back in his hometown of Bukhara after being away for three years.
He was once in Europe for business. He didn’t really talk about the Amsterdam sights but more of his love of coffeeshops and space cakes.
He then asked Michael where he’s from. He said Germany. Then he talked about a time in Munich where he was in a jacuzzi restaurant where the waitresses brought him steak and beer. He called it Utopia.
There were more stories about ladyboys in Thailand and his love of space cakes. But no need to go into detail.
Weird guy #3 showed us his old primary school as we walked to the Miranet. He did have some non-exlicit stories. I asked how has Bukhara changed since he was a child. He said every few years when he goes back, he struggles to recognize things. The old charm of the city in which the tourists don’t see has disappeared or left in shambles.
We spent about an hour with weird guy #3 before we made up an excuse that we were going to rest at the hostel.
Weird guy #4 was at dinner. We ate at a no-named restaurant with no menu, very typical in Uzbekistan. The waiter/weird guy came over and Michael asked in Russian what did they have. Weird guy said soup. Michael asked what was in the soup. Weird guy said a lamb soup but it they had run out of lamb. Then we asked if they had salads. He said yes. Michael asked what was in it. He said salad.
We decided to classify him as a weird guy just because it felt fitting to end our day waa meant to have meetings of strange men.
And now, the legends of Bukhara.
Nadir Divan-Begi, the minister of the Bukhara Emir had decided to get married. He gave his bride only earrings as a wedding present which obviously offended her. She was fully aware that her husband was born into a wealthy family and could easily afford a more generous present. But the groom kept silent without saying anything.
A few years later, he had built a mosque, madrasah and a number of other buildings, including the Lyab-i Hauz complex. His wife became indignant and told him that it was unfair to spend such huge amounts of money on construction while giving her such a modest wedding present.
Her husband responded, “My dear, look in your jewelry box.” When she opened the box, she could see only one earring, and thought that she was robbed. Nadir explained that all the constructions he had built was constructed with the price of one earring. “You haven’t realized the value of my present, so please enjoy something that was built thanks to this one earring,” he said to his wife.
Women… (I’m one too, so that’s all I can say.)
The legend of Kaylan Miranet stems from a cruel and wilful shakh. He was a bad ruler and spent all his time in pleasures. The shakh had a wife who tried to help people and to improve the situation in the country. But she did it in secret. Once the secret was revealed, the angry shakh ordered to throw his wife off the Tower of Death. But his wife was very clever. On the eve of execution she asked for one last wish. The shakh agreed.
On the day of execution, she wore all her dresses and skirts and climbed the top of the minaret, carrying her head high. Everyone crowded around the minaret to give the last honors to their beloved ruler. The woman quietly stood at the edge of the minaret and jumped down. People stood breathless, but at the same moment someone in the crowd shouted, “Oh, look!” The woman did not die because when she jumped from the tower, her wide skirts had released as a parachute and resulted in the soft landing without any damages. Paying tribute to the courage and wit of his wife, the shakh forgave the woman and did not execute her.
If I were the wife, I would have had the people start a mutany against the shakh. Some husband!
For me, the stories of Bukhara is what made me appreciate the city more. Of course, there are any other tables to these magnificent buildings. I just picked the ones I liked.
We spent two and a half days in Bukhara including a day of pampering at an Uzbek bath house. It was so peaceful there.
Back to Genghis Khan… So why did he leave Kaylan Miranet alone while he burned the rest of Bukhara down? Was it the 14 ornamental bands, each of them different, surrounding the tower? Was it the glazed blue tiles that became ubiquitous across Central Asia? He was a puzzling man, but glad he left that bit of Bukhara alone.He might have also left his puzzlement in the city for me to experience. Oh well…
- Accommodations: Hotel Rumi is a family run establishment. Bek, the manager, is a great host who sometimes act as a tour guide if you ask nicely. Beds are comfortable and rooms have a homey feel. Breakfast is included and it’s ridiculous how much you get.
- Eating: Minzifa is restaurant with a view of the city. Dishes include local specialties like plov and jiz. Prices are reasonable and there’s no service charge. Bolo Xauz is labeled a teahouse, but they serve food too. Located across the street from The Ark, many locals come here to eat. Although they have no menu, generally they have shashlik and laghman.
- Coffee: Cafe Wishbone is a German/Uzbeks operation that serves mostly drinks and occasionally sandwiches. An Americano costs 8,000UZS. It’s also a good place to people watch.