After the long drive from Khiva to Bukhara I intended to spend two relaxing days in Bukhara. I used the time to get to know the wonderful old town and to learn a few interesting things about the people.
My room in the Nodirbek Hotel was so cozy that I stayed in bed after waking up. Even though the guide book indicates that one should at least take two days to visit the city, I was in no hurry. I am really interested what a writer of such a guide book does durign those two days…
After breakfast I made my way to the Hotel Asia, since they apparently have a very good Internet connection. The gentleman at the reception desk handed me the password and his colleague convinced him that I did not have to pay. It certainly is free for the guests of the four star hotel. However their Internet access did not work, so I left the place and headed for the regular Internet Café. Too bad that the proxy of the place had some bug, such that every now and then I received some error messages. This way it was not possible to update the blog, since it was for example impossible to set any tags. But for these kinds of incidents one can make use of the installed VPN software, which is actually installed to circumvent censorship.
Once I had completed the communication with the non-traveling society, I brought my daypack with all the electronics equipment back to the hotel room. Now that I am wearing my warm clothing, the electronics occupy more than one fourth of the weight of my luggage.
At the reception desk of the hotel I asked for train connections and tickets to Samarkand. The information that there is a fast train leaving Bukhara at 8:05am is still correct. The gentleman offered to buy a ticket of 10US$ for the price of 5US$. I decided to take a Marshrutka to the train station, buy a second class ticket to Samarkand and ride a Marshrutka back to the old town. This had two advantages: first I learned which Marshrutka to take and secondly I only paid 7US$ for everything. Plus I won’t need a taxi arranged by the hotel for another 10US$. At the train station I was surprised about the strict security control when entering the building. Once again I had to show my passport and undergo a personal search. The only suspicious thing the officer found was my pile of Som bills. He did not notice the photo camera.
Back in the old town I strolled along the streets and took pictures of every photogenic building I could find. Numerous medressas, mosques and minarets decorate the beautiful old town. When one can see these building, one has to wonder why the Swiss oppose minarets – it would be much smarter just to pass a law forcing them to look like the ones in Bukhara, they even look good on cloudy days with light rain.
While visiting the Ark, the royal city, I met a local salesmen who was not trying to sell anything to me, but who was interested in improving his German abilities. We talked more than an hour, during which he explained his motivation and the manner in which he studies German. Bukhara is a very touristy city, the old town is like in Khiva almost deserted at this time of the year. Ulugbek explained that the people sort of hibernate with interruptions during winter. He uses the time by studying German in a room inside the Ark of about 3 square meters. Whenever he is not helping out his uncle with the shop, he sits in the small room, heated by one heating element of a stove, and reads German literature. Every word he doesn’t know he looks up in his Russian-German dictionary and writes it down. On the other hand, he also learns complete sentences, which he loves to recite, like the one about hibernation with interruptions. The goal of his studies is to become a German speaking guide for Bukhara. If anyone reading this will visit Bukhara starting from next spring and will need a German speaking guide, I have his cell phone number.
Another topic which I asked Ulugbek about was languages. He thought it was impressive how many languages I spoke. But I did not understand why he was impressed, since he is part of a Tadjik minority in Uzbekistan and thus learned three languages growing up. The three languages have very different roots and are Tadjik, derived from Persian, Uzbek, derived from Turkish, and Russian a Slavik language, which he had to learn at school. For him it is nothing special to speak these languages fluently, even when they are quite different. I wonder how many Swiss are fluent in three of the country’s languages. Ulugbek does not only know the three languages spoken in his country, but he also knows some French and his German is already at a quite impressive level. All he needs to improve his German is conversation, since one can tell that his knowledge comes from books and dictionaries.
When I finished my city tour I rested for awhile in the hotel, before I walked across the old town to head to a restaurant which was not closed. All the restaurants in the old town close at dusk during this time of the year and the one remaining open I had visited the night before. The restaurant next to Ark had some delicious Shish Kebap, much to the disappointment of my stomach.
Saturday morning had another surprise in store for me: the sky was only partially cloudy. This meant I had to get up fast, eat my breakfast, grab my camera and swiftly visit the old town again. The goal was to get some pictures of the beautiful colors of the light brick buildings with their interspersed colored tiles and the blue of the sky. I only walked by the buildings for which the light was good, since the shadows sometimes already were too strong.
Once I had reached the Ark again, I slowed my pace to visit the Samani Park and Mausoleum as well as the old city walls. On the way back I avoided the well kept old town and walked through some side roads. It is impressive how one can tell the distance to the city center by looking at the road surface. The day before I had seen a cleaning team in the old town…
From the center I then headed East from the old town to a big intersection where the marshrutkas leave for the different tourist attractions outside the city center. It was just too bad that all of them were jampacked. I walked in the direction where they came from to hopefully find a space there. I soon was diverted however by a completely different object, which made me forget about tourist attractions: an open market!
I had gotten slightly hungry and a market is always a good place to fill ones stomach. I started strolling through the stalls, took a picture every now and then of the very nicely presented wares, and also occasionally bought some small items to eat, which I eliminated right away. This market was a paradise for a photographer, since the people were very relaxed and did not have a problem with their picture being taken. They especially liked when I showed them the pictures afterwards, which led to very short talks. This is the kind of traveling I enjoy most. This is also much different to the Australian couple I had met in Khiva. They didn’t even have more than 5 minutes time to exchange information about rides and so on, because the had to visit all the tourist sights in the city, since they were leaving on a day trip to Moynaq the next day, which was 400km away.
For dinner I had to look once again for a new restaurant. I intended to eat at the same place as two days before, but the place was unfortunately closed. I thus continued down the dark main road, where I eventually found I place which indicated in Russian that the had “National Kitchen”. I entered and had the choice to eat Chicken Shashlik. I decided to go with it, since the place had a nice atmosphere and draft beer. The beer was not extraordinary but one could recognize that it was supposed to be beer. I am particularly proud that I managed everything from order to payment with the little Russian I know. The big surprise followed when I left the restaurant, since an older man openend the door for me, saying “Bitte”. I replied politely “Dankeschön”, which made him say “Bitteschön”. Nice short interaction.
The next morning I had to get up early to make the train at 8:05am. The train station of Bukhara lies in a small town called Kagan, about 12km from the city center. I was not sure, whether there were already marshrutkas at that time. Had I believed a taxi driver there would be none, because of problems with the availability of gas. My strategy however worked out and at around 7:30am I arrived at the train station. Security control this time was less strict and thus I sat in the train to Samarkand a few minutes later.